Constipation and other changes in bowel movements are pretty common just before and during your period. They generally happen as a result of normal changes in your hormone levels.
Constipation during your period may be uncomfortable, but it’s fairly normal. As long as you don’t have any other concerning symptoms, such as blood in your stool or intense pain, there’s nothing to worry about.
Read on to learn more about why constipation can happen during your period and how to stay two steps ahead of it.
As with a lot of menstrual symptoms, experts aren’t totally sure what causes constipation during your period. But fluctuations in the hormones progesterone and estrogen are likely a big factor. Underlying conditions can also play a role.
Before your period starts, progesterone builds up in your body. This can slow down your digestive system, possibly resulting in constipation just before and during your period.
There’s also a theory that rising estrogen, not progesterone, is the real culprit.
Certain health conditions can also increase your risk of having constipation during your period. Both irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and endometriosis, for example, can make you more prone to being constipated during your period, especially in the first few days.
Constipation may also be more common if you tend to have very painful periods.
Constipation isn’t fun — especially on top of all the other things that come with menstruation. But there are several things you can do to manage it and minimize its effect on your day-to-day life.
Eat more fiber
Fiber helps to increase the size of your stool, which can help it move easily through your digestive system. This added ease is especially important during your period, when your system may slow down due to hormones.
Some constipation-fighting foods to try include:
- dark, leafy greens
- whole grains
Rapidly increasing your fiber intake can cause gas and bloating, so take things slowly when it comes to adding more fiber to your diet.
Drink more water
You may be more likely to have constipation during your period if you don’t get enough water. Keep in mind that you can get water from both food — such as soups, juicy fruits, and more — and beverages.
If you’re tired of drinking plain water, warm water with lemon is a popular home remedy for constipation. If you’re a fan of sparkling water, no need to switch to tap water. Carbonated beverages may actually help with constipation.
Make time for exercise
Physical movement gets your intestines — and their contents — moving. It can be hard to find the motivation to exercise when you’re dealing with cramps and other menstrual symptoms, but even a gentle 20-minute walk can be a big help.
Don’t hold it
If you tend to hold your bowel movements instead of going as soon as you feel the need, try to break this habit.
You may not want to take the time for a bathroom break, but it’ll only make constipation worse if you try to hold it in. When you’re finally ready to go, your already hard stool will have had time to get even harder, making it more difficult and painful to pass.
Try a mild laxative
You can buy laxatives over the counter at any drugstore, but you may want to check with your healthcare provider before taking one. They may recommend a stool softener or specific type of laxative for your needs.
Laxatives can sometimes be habit-forming, so make sure to read the directions on the package to avoid using them too often or for too long.
Looking for a more natural route? These natural laxatives can help.
If you regularly deal with period constipation, there are several things that can help you stay two steps ahead of it and potentially avoid it altogether:
- Give hormonal birth control a try. It can help to keep your hormones at stable levels, which can prevent constipation and other digestive issues. The pill also has a number of other benefits outside of preventing pregnancy. But it’s not right for everyone. Talk to your healthcare provider if it’s something you’re interested in trying.
- Avoid dietary triggers. To keep constipation at bay, cut back on processed foods, along with any foods high in fat, sugar, and starch. When possible, replace these foods with fresh produce and whole grains. As your period approaches, also consider replacing some of your caffeinated or alcoholic drinks with herbal tea and water.
- Try probiotics. Some people find probiotics helpful for treating constipation and other gastrointestinal issues. Try including more probiotic-rich foods in your diet, such as plain Greek yogurt with fruit, kimchi, pickled vegetables, or miso.
- Talk to your healthcare provider. If you have severe constipation or constipation that bothers you every month, your healthcare provider may be able to recommend additional treatments, including medication.
It’s common to experience digestive issues other than constipation during your period. You might have diarrhea, bloating, gas, or all three.
These issues happen because of prostaglandins, which are hormones that help your uterus contract and shed its lining, resulting in your period. But they can also wreak havoc on your digestive system.
To help relieve these digestive problems:
- Stay hydrated while limiting sweet or caffeinated drinks.
- Cut back on foods high in sodium.
- Cut back on foods that cause gas.
- Try an over-the-counter remedy for persistent diarrhea or gas, such as loperamide (Imodium).
If your bowel movements return to normal within a few days of your period starting, you most likely don’t have any reason to worry about constipation during your period.
But if it’s getting in the way of your day-to-day life or lasts longer than three days, talk to your healthcare provider to make sure there isn’t something else going on.
Be sure to follow up with them if you also experience:
- very painful periods
- blood in your stool
- low back pain
- heavy bleeding during your period
- throbbing pain in your pelvis and upper legs
- persistent and severe digestive issues during your period and other times
- nausea and vomiting during your period
These can all indicate some kind of underlying issue, including IBS or endometriosis.