What is it?
Period bloating is when the abdomen feels heavy and swollen just before and at the start of your period.
Bloating is also one of several premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms that can occur 1-2 weeks before your period.
An estimated 70% of women experience bloating during their period.
Why does it happen?
The main reason you can end up with bloating around your period is due to the hormonal chemical changes that come with your menstrual cycle, namely changes in levels of the sex hormones progesterone and estrogen.
As well as causing menstrual bleeding, research suggests that changes in progesterone and estrogen levels cause the body to retain more water and salt. The body’s cells become swollen with water, causing the feeling of bloating.
A 2011 study found that women retained most water and experienced the worst bloating on the first day of their period.
What can I do?
As bloating is largely caused by water retention, try the following tips to reduce water retention in the body, in turn reducing bloating:
1. Avoid salty or processed foods
These contribute to water retention and can make your bloating worse. Instead, focus on eating fruit, veg and whole grains.
2. Eat protein
Try chicken, eggs and healthy fats like nuts, avocados, salmon and chia seeds.
3. Avoid anything rich in fibre
This will contribute to gas and in turn bloating.
4. Avoid caffeine and alcohol
Caffeine is a stimulant which can further upset your digestive system, and alcohol contributes to bloating.
If you find it hard to skip your morning cup of coffee (especially when you’re feeling even more tired and sluggish than usual), try replacing it with a drink that has less caffeine, like tea, or substitute some of the caffeinated coffee for decaf.
5. Eat foods rich in potassium
Research shows potassium decreases sodium levels and increases urine production, helping to reduce water retention and improve bloating. Potassium-rich foods include: spinach, sweet potato, bananas, avocados and tomatoes.
6. Practice light exercise
This can boost sluggish digestion and help to clear any excess gas from the body to reduce bloating. It has also been found to help many other PMS symptoms. Lighter workouts like swimming and yoga are best. High-intensity workouts can promote inflammation, adding to the bloat.
7. Try diuretics
If something is a diuretic it means that it increases urine production. This helps the body to get rid of water, thus, reducing water retention and bloating. Foods with natural diuretic properties include asparagus, pineapple, peaches, cucumber, leeks, ginger and garlic.
8. Avoid refined carbohydrates
These include white flour and processed sugars, which cause spikes in your blood sugar levels, increasing the amount of insulin in your blood, causing your kidneys to hold onto more sodium. Increased sodium levels lead to water retention.
9. Birth control
Taking birth control pills may help reduce PMS symptoms. You should talk with your doctor about the best birth control method for you. Medical studies have shown that it lowers the effect of PMS by over 50%.
10. Avoid foods that cause gas
This includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, beans, cabbage, cauliflower and lettuce.
11. Avoid fizzy and sugary drinks
These will make you feel even more bloated – even the ones that use artificial sweeteners.
12. More shuteye
While you are sleeping, the excess fluid in your abdomen is able to move back into the body and be eliminated. Aim for 8 hours sleep every night.
For most, period bloating is unpleasant but does not stop a person from being able to get on with their day. However, if period bloating is affecting your daily life, speak to your GP.
If bloating does not go away after a period, it is also a good idea to talk to your GP. Bloating can sometimes be a sign of a more serious health condition.
Information from Healthline, Medical News Today, Women's Health and Google (2020)