Bloating is one of the most common symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). It may happen just before or during you get your period. According to a GP and medical advisor at Doctor 4 U, 3 in 4 women experience bloating at some point in their life. But the question remains, why do you feel like a pufferfish before Aunt Flo comes knocking?
A consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at HCA UK’s Portland Hospital, Dr Penelope Law, explains that the uterus actually contracts every day in a subtle, almost unnoticeable way. The closer you get to your period, these mild contractions which usually start at the fundus (which is the upper end of the uterus closest to the belly button) and moves towards the cervix with a frequency of about every 40 minutes. When you finally get your period, these contractions become more intense and painful.
Even though period bloating is connected to these contractions, however, the culprit is actually the digestive system, not your reproductive system. The bowel works more slowly during menstruation because the increased contractions of the uterus affect how rapidly food moves through the digestive system, a process known as peristalsis. This results in the bloated feeling that many women experience during their periods, and it’s also why you might feel more constipated during that time of the month.
Nevertheless, there are other contributing factors to the cause of period bloating, such as water retention. This is associated with the changes in the levels of the 2 sex hormones – progesterone and estrogen. These changes in progesterone and estrogen levels affect the body by preserving more salt and water. A week before a woman’s period begins, there will be a decrease in the levels of progesterone and a rise in estrogen levels, which causes the body’s cells being swollen with water, resulting in bloating.
The good news is that there are several easy and effective ways you can practice to prevent and ease bloating.
Period bloating food remedies
What you’re eating could potentially worsen your bloating which is why it is important to be aware of your diet. Food that contains high sodium or processed food should be avoided as it can worsen bloating; instead, consuming ample amounts of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, probiotics, peppermint tea, and staying hydrated can reduce bloating and also, improve your digestive system.
Opt for protein- and potassium- rich foods.
High potassium foods such as bananas, cantaloupe, tomatoes, and asparagus promote a healthy balance of fluids, and the same goes for healthy fats like chia, nuts, and salmon.
Avoid food that cause gas.
Dietary culprits, for instance, broccoli, brussels sprouts, beans, cabbage, cauliflower, and lettuce contain a complex sugar called raffinose, which our bodies lack the enzyme to break it down properly, resulting in gas and bloating.
Reduce caffeine and alcohol intake temporarily.
Alcohol can intensify PMS symptoms which includes bloating, mood swings and breast tenderness. Coffee, on the other hand, can trigger your digestive tract, upset your bowels, and dehydrate you, causing you to retain more water.
Rest more, sleep more.
Aim to get more hours of sleep as it allows the excess fluid in your belly to get back into your body and be eliminated.
Tips to ease period bloating
Drink lots of water
Never restrict fluid. As you get closer to your period, remember to increase your water intake. Ignore the misconception that drinking lots of water will only aggravate bloating. As a matter of fact, this will get your digestive system moving and prevent wind as well as constipation. It will also help to flush out the excess water and sodium, thus, reducing swelling.
Increase your physical activity
This may be the last thing you want to do with all that discomfort. However, exercising can alleviate almost all symptoms of PMS, especially cramps or discomfort around the abdominal area. It helps you to pass gas and ease your digestive system. Keep in mind that it is only recommended that you do light workouts (swimming or yoga); high-intensity activities can cause inflammation and increase bloating.
Is it necessary to go for medical consultation?
Menstrual bloating is completely normal, but if it happens even when you’re not menstruating, or if the bloating and other symptoms are unbearable, you should immediately seek advice from your ob-gyn as it may be a sign of a more serious health condition. Your doctor may suggest oral contraception as it can significantly alleviate pain, stabilizes the hormones and reduces PMS symptoms by over 50%. Besides that, your doctor may also prescribe a mild direutic, especially for women that experience extreme breast tenderness.
Bloating is easily one of the least favorite symptoms for most women, alongside with the cramps. You just want to bury yourself in sweats, or oversized t-shirts. Some may even feel more insecure when that happens. It is amazing how some women on social media are normalizing period puffiness by showing their bloated bellies to encourage others to embrace this realistic version of themselves, because let’s be real, no one has a flat belly 24/7 and that’s perfectly fine. The next time you feel insecure about your bloated belly during that time of the month, remember that there are 70% of women that experience the same thing during their period!