If you’ve ever Googled “why do I poop so much on my period” or “are period poops a thing,” you’ll want to keep reading. Spoiler alert: You’re not alone.
I’ll never forget the time a friend voiced a sneaking suspicion I’d had for years: Something funky happens when you poop on your period.
As if the high maintenance of menstruation wasn’t enough—not to mention other lingering butt care concerns—we both noticed undesired changes in bowel movements (BMs) on a monthly basis. However, was this merely coincidental or unique to us, or are period poops a real thing?
To get a definitive answer, I spoke to Ashkan Farhadi, MD, MS, FACP, a board-certified gastroenterologist based in Fountain Valley, California.
Are period poops a thing?
As it turns out, my friend and I were on the money.
“Changes in bowel habits are fairly common during menstruation,” Dr. Farhadi confirms, “mainly due to fluctuations of hormone levels that change during menstruation.”
Plus, the experience is actually quite common. In a 2014 study of 156 female participants, 73 percent of those premenopausal women (with no major history of GI, gynecologic, or psychiatric distress) experienced at least one GI symptom before or during menses.
What are period poops?
Now that we know that period poops are real, what are they exactly?
Dr. Farhadi states that period poops involve one or more GI symptoms in tandem with your cycle, such as:
- higher frequency of bowel movements
What causes period poops?
While hormonal imbalances are a major cause of period poops, a few other considerations may also factor in. Here’s a closer look.
As we saw above, the ebbs and *flows* of hormones during your cycle are a root cause of uncomfortable period poops.
In particular, Dr. Farhadi says fluctuations of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone affect gut motility and function, thus resulting in the phenomenon.
High levels of one or the other hormone may cause constipation, while dips in progesterone can lead to diarrhea and/or more frequent BMs.
Existing Digestive Issues
For starters, Dr. Farhadi stresses how common irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is. While one in five people has IBS, he notes that it affects women at a greater rate, and “those IBS symptoms could be aggravated or accentuated during the menstrual period.”
However, this also rings true for those who may not suffer from IBS but still experience occasional GI discomfort—whether that entails bloating, constipation, feelings of heaviness, and the like.
Then, stress is another potential trigger behind uncomfortable period poops.
First, the hormones at play (cortisol included) don’t only impact gut function, but also mental health. “Since the gut and brain are connected through the gut-brain axis, it’s not surprising that all of these hormonal changes affect mood and stress,” Dr. Farhadi shares.
For instance, he says that if you have trouble managing stress, it can lead to a domino effect. First comes stress, then GI discomfort, and soon “an exaggeration of the phenomenon” of painful or loose stools—both on and off your period.
Perhaps a less intense but still plausible cause behind period poops is the strain induced by working out. Exercise can influence gut function, Dr. Farhadi continues, and menstruation may throw a wrench into the equation.
Simply put, excess physical exertion while on your period can potentially contribute to GI issues.
How to alleviate period poops
While period poops can feel unpleasant, Dr. Farhidi reminds us that the experience is transient. After all, uncomfortable BMs should subside once menstruation ends.
However, if they’re too harsh to handle, he suggests following the same gut-friendly diet and lifestyle tips he recommends for others with ongoing GI distress.
Here are a few parting tips that should help alleviate period poops, as well as avoid digestive issues at large.
1. Be Good to Your Gut
First and foremost, it’s always important to stick to a healthy, well-rounded diet. To further support gut health, Dr. Farhadi advises getting enough fiber and probiotics each day.
Additionally, you can “pinpoint certain foods—such as spicy foods, dairy, coffee, and other stimulants—that may aggravate symptoms, particularly during your period,” he suggests.
You may also want to consider trying out a low FODMAP diet to nurture your gut.
2. Find Natural Solutions to Reduce Stress + Pain
Since gut issues can flare up as a result of stress, it’s essential to prioritize self-care to avoid the pitfalls of period poops.
First, recognize your triggers and work from there. For instance, if you know that you stress out before a big test, project, or meeting, incorporate your favorite calming activities into your schedule to proactively protect your mind and digestion alike.
Also, if pain tends to accompany your cycle, take active measures to safely relieve it.
“Pain itself is a major stressor,” Dr. Farhadi shares. “When the gut-brain axis is under this stress, gut function becomes disturbed. So if you’re capable of taking measures to ameliorate pain, you can reduce stressors,” and thus balance your gut to alleviate period poops.
Natural solutions to simultaneously fight pain and stress include:
3. Take It Easy During Your Period
Finally, you may find welcome relief by simply planning your workouts around your cycle.
“It may not be practical to encourage the same amount of physical exertion while on your period,” Dr. Farhidi notes. Instead, he suggests mindfulness meditation as a feel-good substitute.
All said, if you follow these tips and tricks, this monthly pain in the butt should soon become a distant memory of menses past.