For many people, being on your period also means experiencing a whole host of symptoms, including cramps, aches, mood swings, and even … period poop.
Yeah, you read that right. While you might find it uncomfortable (and even a little gross), if you find that your poop seems to change in sync with your cycle, rest assured — you’re not the only one. Research shows that 73% of women experience some sort of gastrointestinal symptoms (that’s stomach/bowel-related symptoms to you and me) both before and during their period. That includes constipation and diarrhea. So even if no one seems to talk about it, take comfort in knowing it’s definitely not just your body that experiences these changes.
In this article, Dr. Sara Twogood, obstetrician and gynecologist, California, US, walks us through how to best deal with period poop, while explaining why it happens in the first place.
What causes period poop?
Figuring out the causes of period poop can be tricky, as there are so many elements at play. But some of the changes that occur throughout your menstrual cycle, such as hormonal, mood, and physical changes, can mess with your digestive system a little bit. In turn, this can result in some changes to how, and how often, you poop. In some cases, for example for people who have irritable bowels, Crohn’s disease, or endometriosis, this might be especially true.
Why might you poop more on your period?
Do you find that you generally tend to poop more on your period? There’s a reason for that. Let’s delve into it.
When your period starts, your body releases fatty acids called prostaglandins. These cause the smooth muscle of your uterus to contract and shed its lining, which in turn leads to the bleeding you’ll experience during your period. So far, so helpful. However, those pesky prostaglandins can also cause you to feel some abdominal cramping as they get to work, resulting in uncomfortable and painful period cramps. That’s not all; they can also have an effect on your bowels, leading to an increase in your poop or even, yep, diarrhea.
“Prostaglandins make the smooth muscle of the colon [part of your large bowel] contract faster, and that makes it more active. That’s what causes the poop to come out differently,” explains Dr. Twogood. “Most people have looser poop when they’re having their period, especially the day before a period starts and the first two to three days of a period.” Makes sense now, huh?
Why do some people feel like they can’t poop during their period?
As if experiencing an increase in poop or diarrhea during a period weren’t enough, some people actually experience the opposite problem: constipation. If this sounds familiar, you may well have found yourself asking, “Why can’t I poop on my period?” on numerous occasions.
Again, there’s a reason for that. It could be due to the changing balance of hormones that occurs just before your period. Research shows that the time it takes for your “gastrointestinal transit,” meaning how long it takes for you to eat your food, digest, and poop, is increased when a lot of a hormone called progesterone is released in the body. Your progesterone levels will be high just before your period, which could lead to constipation.
On the flipside, another hormone called estrogen can also impact your poop, as it can cause your gut to absorb more water and salt from your poop as it moves through it. Your estrogen levels will be high in the earlier stage of your menstrual cycle, and this can lead to harder waste that’s more difficult for your body to pass, which can, of course, lead to constipation.
Typical characteristics of period poop
Everyone is different, which means there aren’t really any “typical” hallmarks of period poop. As we’ve seen, some people may poop more on their period, while some may poop less. In addition, some people may feel distressed after their period poop, while others may feel relieved. That being said, on top of varying frequency and quantity, you might also see some differences in your poop’s … characteristics. For example, it might look or smell different throughout your cycle. However, Dr. Twogood explains that experts haven’t really been able to blame that one on the changes in hormones you experience on your period quite yet.
But we do know that what you eat can certainly impact your poop. During your period, you might be more drawn to eating fatty or sweet stuff, which can both affect your poop. Of course, there’s no shame there; we’ve all found ourselves reaching for chocolate at the same time as a hot water bottle at one point or another. If you do find yourself craving greasy takeout or candy during your period, you’re definitely not the only one. Research has shown that cravings for fatty and sugary food can peak just before your period arrives.
How can you stop period poop?
There’s no denying that period poop can be a drag to deal with sometimes. Thankfully, there are a few things you can do to try to mitigate how annoying it gets for you.
First, Dr. Twogood says, you can track your period poop just like you track your period, using an app like Flo. Keeping a note of when your poop changes and, more specifically, how can help you prepare for when it’s going to happen again. “If you’re motivated, you could track your bowel symptoms throughout the cycle, and that might help you to understand the way that your body is reacting to your cycle,” advises Dr. Twogood. Information is power, and the more you know, the more prepared you can be.
You might also want to look into monitoring what you eat around those days. It’s totally OK to crave carbs and fatty foods during your period, but if you’re experiencing diarrhea or very loose poop, you might want to try to stay away from foods that can aggravate your bowel and make you gassy or prone to going to the bathroom a lot. These can include dairy, processed foods, sodas, and sugary treats. You also want to make sure you’re staying well hydrated during this time. If it’s constipation that’s troubling you, make sure you’re eating a lot of fruit, veggies, and fiber and drinking enough water to keep you hydrated. That can help to initiate a little bit of movement, which should bring some relief (phew!).
If period cramps make you feel like you have to poop, how can you deal with it?
Remember when we mentioned the fatty acids called prostaglandins, which can cause period cramps and make you feel like you need to poop more? Well, while this is perfectly normal, we know it can also be pretty uncomfortable. Easing your cramps might be one of the solutions here, so you could try some over-the-counter pain relievers or a hot water bottle. Just remember that you should go to the bathroom every time you feel like you have to.
Is it normal that it hurts to poop while on my period?
Annoyingly, your period might also make it a little bit more painful to poop. After all, menstrual cramping, together with any sudden changes in your poop’s consistency, can make an uncomfortable combination.
However, if you’re experiencing a lot of pain while pooping, it might be a symptom of another condition, like endometriosis. Endometriosis is a condition in which tissue from your endometrial lining grows in places where it shouldn’t, and it can attach to your bowels, resulting in some extra pain during period poop sessions. If you think that might be the case for you, check with your doctor, and they can help you figure out what’s happening.
Period poop: The takeaway
Not everyone will experience more period poop, but if you do find that your bathroom habits change during this time, fear not; you’re not the only one. It’s likely to be caused by the changes in hormones that your body experiences during your menstrual cycle, as well as any potential changes in lifestyle that may come from that. Some people get diarrhea, while some people get constipation, and others might start having really funky-smelling and looking poops. But it’s important to remember you don’t need to stress or be embarrassed by any of it. Pooping is a normal part of being human.
If you feel like your period poop is really bothering you or affecting your quality of life, or you see blood in your poop or your symptoms last longer than your period, be sure to talk to your doctor about it. They’ll help you find a solution together.