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No, it’s not your imagination: Your poop and pooping schedule can change during your period.
So why didn’t you learn about this from sex ed classes or awkward puberty talks? Maybe someone could have said, “Now that you’re growing up, you can expect to bleed a little each month… oh, and you’re gonna get torrential diarrhea.”
Some people feel uncomfortable talking about bathroom habits, menstruation, and hormonal changes — let alone when their powers combine to form Captain Period Poop. It’s no wonder many of us are in the dark about how our periods affect our bowel movements.
Well, you’re here now. Keep reading for the full scoop on why your bowels go wild when your flow comes to town.
Go ahead and thank your hormones for period poop. It’s as simple, and as complicated, as that.
Let’s go back to sex ed for a second: Typically the menstrual cycle is 28 days long, but it can be longer or shorter. Your menstrual cycle is regulated by the hormones progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone, which all work together.
These hormones release an egg from your ovaries and prepare your uterus for the egg to implant. But if the egg isn’t fertilized by sperm, your body releases it, along with the uterine lining. That’s your period. The blood is mostly liquid but might also contain small, jelly-like chunks.
Raise your hand if you get bloated, crave a Snickers, or feel hella weepy when watching sappy commercials before or during your period. Yup, you have your changing hormones to thank for all those side effects.
Changes in bathroom habits — like constipation, diarrhea, and stomach cramps — are side effects of your period too.
People don’t talk about poop-related side effects as much as, say, chocolate cravings. But they’re far from rare: In fact, one small study found that most women have gastrointestinal issues, particularly abdominal pain and diarrhea, before or during their periods.
Everyone’s different when it comes to pooping, and according to a 2007 study, it’s hard to even say what is “normal.” There’s no one right amount or right number of times to do it.
Some people poop multiple times every day, others only a few times a week. Either of these can be healthy.
The same is true for the consistency of your poop — it may be more solid at some times than at others. And your poop can change over time due to diet, exercise, stress, hormones, and other health issues.
Pooping too much: Is it normal? What’s the deal?
You might notice that you poop more often during your period. Well, there’s a reason for that.
Compounds called prostaglandins tell your uterus to contract to give your uterine lining the heave-ho — that’s why cramps happen.
But prostaglandins can migrate to other areas, including your gastrointestinal tract. So if you’re pooping more often or having diarrhea during your period, it’s because the same hormones that cause cramps are romping around your midsection.
Pooping too little: Our good friend constipation
Constipation can happen before your period even starts. You may feel like you’re straining when you go or like you haven’t fully emptied your bowels afterward. Your poop may also be smaller or harder than usual.
The most likely culprit for constipation is your fluctuating hormones. When progesterone builds up in your body before your period, it may affect your digestive system and cause constipation.
Here are a few things you can do to make your poop softer and bulkier and help your intestines do their job:
- Drink more water.
- Eat foods with more fiber, like beans, veggies, and fruits.
- Get some exercise.
- Take a mild laxative.
Can your period mess with the consistency of your poop?
For some of us, diarrhea is a special treat that comes along with our period.
Diarrhea means your poop is soft and watery, and you may have to go a lot. You may have stomach cramps or nausea or have to rush to the bathroom and have a hard time holding it in. (Period underwear is truly a gross but reliable friend.)
Once again, the main culprit is prostaglandins. They cause the muscle contractions that help your uterus shed its lining during your period. They also cause period cramps, stomach cramps, and diarrhea.
Diarrhea is a particularly annoying side effect because it can cause dehydration and even malnutrition because you’re expelling many of the nutrients you get from food.
And for some people, period diarrhea interrupts their lives. They may miss school or work because they can’t leave the bathroom or they’re worried about having an accident.
So it’s important to try to get period diarrhea under control. Being mindful of what you eat, before and during your period, can help.
Some suggestions include:
- Stay hydrated with water, broths, or electrolyte-laden sports drinks like Gatorade.
- Follow the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast), which helps replace nutrients while being gentle on your stomach.
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine.
When you’ve got the big D, over-the-counter medications like loperamide (Imodium) and bismuth subsalicylate (Kaopectate or Pepto-Bismol) can help.
However, if your diarrhea is bloody, get checked out by a healthcare provider.
What about the smell? Asking for a friend
Period poop is a totally normal thing, but it might not smell or look like your usual poop. What gives?
It’s likely that your eating habits change around your period (pint of Ben & Jerry’s, anyone?). Those shifts in your diet mean you’re probably eating different amounts of fat and carbs than usual, which can change the way your poop looks and smells.
And don’t get us started on period farts. Some women experience more gas before their period or notice that their farts are extra-smelly. Once again, this is due to the magic of hormones!
Period farts happen because the increase in estrogen in the days before your period can cause gas to pass from your digestive system. As for that uniquely rank smell? Period farts smell so awful due to gut bacteria changing during your period.
Period farts might be unpleasant, but do not be embarrassed. Just like everybody poops, everybody farts.
Can my period affect my poo’s color?
You betcha. Poop can be different colors, usually shades of yellow or brown. The color can vary based on what you eat, but you might also notice your poop gets reddish around your period. This could just be menstrual blood that dripped out when you pooped.
However, bleeding from the rectum — that’s where you poop from — can have more serious causes, such as endometriosis (a disorder of the tissue that lines the uterus). Or you might have a hemorrhoid — a swollen blood vessel — that burst or fell off while you were pooping.
If your poop has blood in it when you don’t have your period, check with your healthcare provider to find out what’s up.
Why does it hurt to poop on my period?
It may hurt more to poop during your period than it does at other times. This, too, is normal.
If you’re dealing with constipation, straining to poop can be painful. Plus, your butt might be sore from all the extra bathroom trips and wiping (especially if you have diarrhea). Your whole body might feel more sensitive to pain at that time of the month.
Over-the-counter pain relievers might help with some of this pain. You can try acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Motrin), or naproxen sodium (Aleve) for overall pain and bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto Bismol) or antacids for digestive pain.
When your rectum is irritated, wet wipes or an ointment like A&D Ointment (which helps with diaper rash) might help ease the pain. Also, wipe gently! Basically, you want to keep that area as clean and dry as possible.
Using tampons may seem tricky when your period messes with your business. Some people have a hard time keeping a tampon in while they poop, while others have no problem.
If you always lose your tampon when you poop, and you’re pooping a lot, you may want to try another period product. Menstrual cups, absorbent underwear, or pads may save you from going through box after box of tampons.
If you do use tampons, mind that string! Clearly, you’re a pro front-to-back wiper. You might try holding the tampon string in front of you while you wipe or tucking it between your labia.
If you have watery poop or diarrhea, you’ll have to pay closer attention than usual. If any poop gets on a tampon string, change that tampon immediately. Bacteria can reach your genitals and cause a bacterial infection.
Here’s how you can clean up properly after pooping during your period:
- Wipe thoroughly from front to back, making sure poop stays away from your vagina.
- Use separate wet wipes to clean your vagina, your booty, and anywhere else you might have period blood or poop.
- If things are particularly messy, hop in the shower and rinse off (external parts only — no need to clean inside your va-jay-jay).
- Change your tampon if any poo or toilet water gets on it.
- If this is a continual problem, take your tampon out before pooping.
Now you know that period poop probs are normal. But something else may be going on if you have poop or diarrhea that:
- isn’t helped by changes in diet and habits
- keeps you from going to school or work
- lasts more than a few days
- seems worse than usual
- is new and troubling
A healthcare provider can check to make sure there’s no other health condition causing those symptoms. We understand: It may feel really awkward to talk about poop with medical professionals. But trust us, it’s NBD for them at all.
The most important thing to remember about poop is that it’s different for everyone, and it will be different for you before and during your period.
It may take a while for you to learn how your body reacts during this time and how best to care for yourself (and your aching uterus/gastrointestinal tract). But with some patience, you can become a period poop pro!