Along with painful cramps, embarrassing skin breakouts and hormonal mood swings, feeling like an overinflated balloon is up there with one of the most uncomfortable side-effects of a woman’s period.
Characterised by a tight swelling of the lower abdomen, bloating in the lead up to menstruation is a very common complaint, and the severity and duration can vary from woman to woman.
While bloating is a totally normal PMS symptom, it can make going about your day-to-day activities more difficult, especially when all you want to do is lie down on the sofa and wear loose pyjama bottoms. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to make life easier.
As Dr Claudia Pastides, GP at Babylon (babylonhealth.com), explains: “Although you can’t really change your hormones, their effects on your bowels or how you retain water, you can do a few things to stop the bloating from becoming worse.”
Here, experts explain how to make your monthly cycle sit a little easier on your tummy…
Why do we bloat during our period?
“Bloating before a period is one of the most common symptoms of pre-menstrual syndrome, or PMS, and it’s actually associated with fluid retention,” says Dr Sarah Brewer, medical director at Healthspan (healthspan.co.uk).
“The exact cause is unknown, but it appears to result from an imbalance between the two female hormones, oestrogen and progesterone.”
Dr Brewer explains that these hormones are produced in a cyclical pattern so that, during the first half of the menstrual cycle, a woman’s oestrogen levels are higher than those of progesterone.
“Once ovulation occurs, which is usually in the middle of the cycle, your progesterone levels rise rapidly to become higher than those of oestrogen. This change in the relative balance of the female hormones is what’s believed to cause your body to retain fluid.”
Symptoms tend to start within the two weeks before the first day of your period, and they can last for a while, but Brewer notes that they usually improve within a day or two of your period starting.
What are some tips for relieving bloating at home?
Use a hot water bottle
“It might sound old fashioned, but often, a hot water bottle can really be the best thing to help to relieve any pain or inflammation you’re experiencing,” says Dr Shree Datta, gynaecologist for Intimina (intimina.com).
Drink lots of water
She adds: “I’d recommend drinking plenty of water and consider how much salt and fizzy drinks you are consuming too,” as carbonated drinks and salty foods may further add to the bloating sensation.
Try yoga or gentle exercise
When you’re feeling uncomfortable, the last thing you probably want to do is roll out your exercise mat, but Dr Datta says that gentle exercise, such as yoga, may help relieve the tight feeling. “Try and limit the amount of heavy exercise you take part in though, as this could easily make you feel worse.”
Avoid alcohol and caffeine
Alcohol and caffeine can increase PMS symptoms such as breast tenderness and bloating so are best avoided in the days running up to your period. If skipping your usual cup of coffee in the morning is a struggle, try switching to a decaffeinated brew instead.
Take magnesium supplements
Beyond these simple measures, supplements could provide some relief. “Studies have found that, in particular, magnesium can significantly improve premenstrual symptoms associated with fluid retention, such as weight gain, bloating, swelling and breast pain,” says Dr Brewer, who recommends trying Healthspan Opti-Magnesium (£10.95 for 90 tablets, healthspan.co.uk).
“In some cases, Ibuprofen can help too, if you’re able to take it,” adds Datta, “particularly if you have bad period pains.”
Seek medical advice
“Whilst some bloating may be normal around the time of your period, if it’s affecting your lifestyle, it’s important to get checked over by your GP,” she continues.
“If you have other symptoms too, like debilitating period pains, this may be a sign of an underlying problem, such as endometriosis, so you’d need to be referred to a gynaecologist who can investigate your symptoms further.”