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What Are Period Poops and Why Do They Happen?

Periods are messy. They affect our health, moods, and well-being, and they are just annoying to deal with. From painful cramps to pimples and bloating, our hormones just won’t give it a rest. In this article, we look into a little-discussed but common phenomenon—period poops. That’s right, as if bleeding, pain, and mood swings weren’t enough, being locked in your bathroom for hours can be the cherry on top.

Illustration depicting the phenomenon of period poops and its causes.

In the days leading up to and during a menstrual period, you will likely experience various uncomfortable and even weird symptoms. The most common menstrual complaints include abdominal cramping, back pain, bloating, headaches, heightened emotions, and fatigue. But many women also experience changes in their bowel movements.


Period Tracker & Calendar

You can track your period using WomanLog. Download WomanLog now:
You can track your period using WomanLog. Download WomanLog now:

In addition to cramping and bleeding, your poop can become softer and smellier, and you may also have to rush to the bathroom more often. Don’t worry, this additional messiness is also completely normal. Let’s find out why it happens.

Reviewing the menstrual cycle

We are led to believe that menstruation is all about the bleeding. But if you’ve ever had a period, you know that the bleeding is often the least annoying symptom, and period poops can be one of the worst. To understand why our bowels go crazy around period time, let’s review how our hormones change throughout the menstrual cycle.

A typical cycle lasts anywhere from 25 to 35 days; the length can vary from person to person and from cycle to cycle. Over the course of each cycle, a menstruating person experiences a number of hormonal changes orchestrated by the brain, ovaries, and uterus.

At the beginning of the cycle (counting from the first day of your period), the sex hormones—oestrogen, testosterone, and progesterone—are laying low. After a few days of bleeding, the pituitary gland in your brain releases follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), starting the follicular phase of the cycle. FSH stimulates a dozen or more follicles in your ovaries to develop the immature eggs they contain.

Generally, one follicle develops more quickly than the rest, becoming the dominant follicle that allows a healthy egg to mature fully in preparation for ovulation. (When several eggs mature fully, twins or triplets are a possibility.) The rest of the follicles are simply reabsorbed into the body.

The dominant follicle secretes the oestradiol that thickens the uterine lining in preparation for a potential pregnancy and, around mid-cycle, stimulates the pituitary gland to release a surge of luteinizing hormone (LH), triggering ovulation.

During the 12 – 24 hrs of ovulation, the mature egg is released into the nearest fallopian tube where it makes its way to the uterus for potential fertilization.

Following ovulation, the ruptured follicle transforms into a temporary mass of cells called the corpus luteum, which continues to produce oestrogen but also starts to produce progesterone to support a potential pregnancy.

Now the last phase of the cycle, the luteal phase, has begun. If the egg is fertilized and a pregnancy is established, the corpus luteum will continue to produce progesterone for about 12 weeks until the placenta can take over the job of tending to the uterine environment.

If the egg is not fertilized, the corpus luteum breaks down after about ten days. Then oestrogen and progesterone levels drop again, the uterine lining is no longer maintained, and it leaves your body as period blood.

Illustration depicting the relationship between sex hormones and bowel movements.

Sex hormones and bowel movements

You may be wondering why low hormone levels during the first days of your period can trigger increased bowel movements or diarrhoea.

What we commonly refer to as the sex hormones don’t only regulate reproduction, they are involved in many different bodily systems. As they fluctuate, they influence our energy levels, sleep, social drive, libido, and physical health. And they can also mess with gastrointestinal function.

For example, oestrogen has a relaxing effect on the smooth muscles of the digestive tract. When oestrogen levels are high in the days leading up to and during ovulation, you may notice more regular bowel movements. Progesterone, on the other hand, can cause water retention, leading to constipation and bloating.

Prostaglandins and bowel movements

Another key player in this process is a group of lipid compounds called  prostaglandins. Like hormones, prostaglandins are messenger chemicals. But instead of being produced in endocrine glands and traveling through the bloodstream, prostaglandins are produced within cells whenever they are needed.

Like hormones, prostaglandins have many different functions that we are still learning about. We have identified at least nine different types that influence different processes, including dilation of blood vessels, muscle contraction, pain stimulation and alleviation, inflammation, and blood coagulation.

During menstruation, prostaglandins stimulate the uterus to contract and shed the uterine lining, which can cause cramping.

Prostaglandins also stimulate the smooth muscles of the intestines to contract, leading to longer and more frequent bowel movements—period poops.

Common symptoms of period poops are:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Increased frequency
  • Stronger than usual smell
  • Abdominal cramping while pooping
  • Bloating

Of course, we are all wired a little differently, so symptoms vary from person to person. Some women aren’t bothered by period poops at all, while others find they’re actually more constipated at the start of their period.

What can make period poops worse?

Natural hormonal changes are only one reason some people experience gastrointestinal issues. Diet, existing health conditions, and mental health can also cause changes in your bowel movements.

Your diet

It’s no secret your body craves sweet and salty foods in the run up to your period. A recent study has shown that such cravings are related to a drop in insulin sensitivity common in the luteal phase of the cycle. During this phase your body isn’t extracting as much energy as it normally does from the food you eat. Feeling hungrier and craving foods high in carbs is your body trying to satisfy its energy needs.

However, sweet, starchy, and fatty foods aren’t the best option for your health and gastrointestinal tract. They can cause constipation and water retention, especially after ovulation when progesterone is dominant.


Pre-existing health conditions

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and food intolerances are all gastrointestinal conditions that can worsen during your period. While the link between menstruation and gastrointestinal conditions isn’t clear, changes in your diet, cortisol levels, and prostaglandin levels are often implicated.

Increased stress

Many women become more sensitive to stress a few days before their period starts. If you feel more anxious and irritated during the luteal phase of your cycle, it’s probably due to elevated cortisol levels, as many studies show.

An argument with a friend, worrying about unpaid bills, or dealing with cranky kids can all be stress triggers that release a cocktail of hormones into your system. Stress slows down processes in your stomach and small intestine, while speeding movement in the large intestine. Butterflies in your stomach can become stress diarrhoea when tensions run high.

What can you do to manage period poops?

It is a pain in the derrière, but the good news is there are ways to manage period poops and related gastrointestinal symptoms.

Stay hydrated

Drinking plenty of water helps keep the digestive system functioning smoothly and prevents constipation. If you have diarrhoea during the first days of your period, you’re likely losing a lot of liquids without even noticing. It’s important to increase hydration when you have diarrhoea.

Eat a balanced diet

Consuming a diet rich in fibre from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes regulates bowel movements and alleviates constipation. However, during the worst days of your period when you feel bloated and are dealing with diarrhoea, try reducing your fibre intake and focusing more on healthy protein, as too much fibre can make period poops worse.

Limit caffeine and alcohol

Both caffeine and alcohol contribute to dehydration and irritate the digestive system, increasing diarrhoea and bloating. During menstruation your body may also be more sensitive to the effects of caffeine and alcohol causing heightened jitters and nervousness, which can also make period poops worse.

Light exercise is your friend

Engaging in regular physical activity helps stimulate digestion and alleviate symptoms of bloating and constipation. What’s more, physical activity increases blood flow and endorphin production, which reduces prostaglandin levels and the pain they produce. Even a little light exercise, such as walking or yoga, can make you feel better.

Consider over the counter medications

Over the counter antidiarrheals or anti-inflammatory painkillers can help a lot. Ibuprofen reduces cramping and period poops by slowing down prostaglandin production. So, you can address two problems with one pill.

Use heat

Heated blankets, a hot water bottle, or a warm bath or shower will reduce the uterine contractions caused by prostaglandins. This in turn can help alleviate the pain and reduce the number of bathroom breaks you need. Heat is not a magic cure, but it can certainly help make you feel more comfortable.

Track your symptoms

Keeping a menstrual diary or using a period tracking app can help you identify patterns in your bowel movements and other menstrual symptoms. Keeping a record helps you understand if the symptoms you experience are related to your period.

WomanLog provides a convenient app for registering period days, following along with hormonal fluctuations, and tracking hundreds of potential associated symptoms.

After logging your symptoms for a few months, the app will be able to identify patterns, which can help you understand if changes in your bowel movements are related to your period or something else. The longer you track your symptoms, the clearer the patterns become.

Talk to your healthcare provider

Spending a few extra minutes on the toilet at the start of your period is one thing, but suffering from heavy diarrhoea, painful bloating, and constipation every month might signal other issues. If your symptoms become severe and last longer than 1–3 days, talk to your doctor in case you have other gastrointestinal issues that need to be addressed.

Final words

Periods can be physically, psychologically, and emotionally challenging. Remember, there’s nothing weird about the way your body feels, and many people go through the same thing every month. We hope you now have a better understanding of what period poops are, and how to manage them.

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