Girls don’t poop, right? Wrong (ok, obviously)! Yes, ladies, not only do we know we poop, but “period poop” (aka those frequent bowel movements [or, worse yet, rampant diarrhea] alongside your vaginal bleeding) is a very real thing. It can come with diarrhea, abdominal pain, and side of bloating during your period. And the first thing you need to know is it’s completely normal. The second, is there are methods to help you avoid it.
“Digestive issues during your period are really common,” says Stefani Davis, a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP). “Helping my patients understand that this is a common complaint among women and being open about the causes helps alleviate anxiety that they may be experiencing something abnormal.” It’s particularly common during the first three days of our periods. Your digestion and stool are both influenced by your menstrual cycle. Additionally, the hormones that regulate your menstrual cycle are influenced by your gut.
What do we have to thank for period poop? Two hormones: progesterone and prostaglandins. The first sets us up for pre-period constipation: "During the second half of the menstrual cycle, your body is making more progesterone, which happens after you release an egg," Raquel Dardik, M.D., clinical associate professor of gynecology at NYU Langone Medical Center, says. That's a good thing, but it comes with a frustrating side effect: "Progesterone slows down contractions of the bowel, so it slows down how quickly food and gas move through. Everything slows down and backs up, so you feel bloated and constipated."
Prostaglandins are little turds responsible for your menstrual cramping by way of strengthening uterine contractions, but they can also affect your bowels. Much like their effect on the uterine wall, prostaglandins cause contraction of the muscles in your intestines. This movement increases the activity of your bowels, which can result in loose stools along with painful menstrual cramps. Talk about an evil vengeance.
Things are about to get a little bit worse… Once some women start their period, diarrhea strikes. “The diarrhea and cramping is a double whammy,” says Dardik. That’s because two things are likely happening. First, progesterone levels drop, which increases bowel contractions so food passes at a faster pace. Second, prostaglandins trigger cramping. Sometimes they cause pain. Other times they give people diarrhea.
The good news for some of you is not everyone may notice this shift in stool patterns. One study found that around 50% of people with IBS or other bowel disorders experience a change in bowel habits around the time of their period. Only a third of women without bowel symptoms experienced a bowel change. Translation: everybody period poops, but if someone already has bowel issues, they may be more likely to have changes in bowel habits around menstruation.
Your action plan
Period poop and its friends are very conquerable. Follow these tips to lessen the likelihood of period poop and soften the experience during.
- Avoid junk food. The majority of premenstrual cravings tend to be for types of foods which can exacerbate bloating and digestive issues, like sugar or french fries. We know it’s hard, but stay away at all costs.
- Up your fiber intake. For all you ladies suffering from period constipation, upping your fiber and water intake in the middle of your cycle (when progesterone levels start rising) may help.
- Add a probiotic to your diet. The beneficial bacteria from probiotics and prebiotic-rich food can help support digestion and prevent diarrhea.
- Start taking magnesium. This supplement is a blessing for constipation. Additionally, 400-800 mg a day of magnesium glycinate (the most easily absorbed form of magnesium) will do wonders for preventing diarrhea.
- Try Ginger. Commonly found in our #periodpainfree herbal blends, ginger helps reduce prostaglandin production which, in turn, helps regulate your bowels.
When to see a doctor
What you need to remember is every single body is different. Variations in your cycle and body are normal and healthy. If you notice something is unusual for you, it may be time to call your doctor. Additionally, you should call your doctor if you experience a change in bowel habits, pain, or distress. Gastrointestinal infections and food poisoning can also cause dramatic changes in bowel habits, so be sure to seek help if needed.
If you experience period poop, #periodpainfree may be able to help. More hormonal balance means less fluctuating bowel activity. Our herbs work to balance hormones and, therefore, help reduce big swings in GI activity. Not to mention you’ll also receive a host of benefits that come from regulating your cycle.