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Reproductive Health

Everything You Were Too Embarrassed To Ask About Period Poop

by MARIA DEL RUSSO

If you’re someone who gets a period, you’re probably someone who has experienced period poop: bowel movements that are at once dreaded and, in some cases, incredibly relieving. There is, after all, nothing like a good movement when you’re feeling bloated and crampy. But period poops can also be a cause for concern for some people, especially because it’s not something many people talk about. What does a normal period poop look like? What does a normal poop feel like? When should I be concerned? 

We’ve got all of that information ahead. That’s right — we’re doing a deep dive into period poops, and answering all of the questions you’ve always had, but were too afraid to ask. 

Why do I poop so much on my period?

Like most everything having to do with your period, you can blame the fact that you’re constantly running to the bathroom on hormones. “The release of prostaglandins during the menstrual cycle is what causes the pain and cramping felt,” says Dr. Jessica Shepherd, a board certified OB/GYN, women’s health expert, and minimally invasive surgeon. “But these prostaglandins also increase contractions of the uterine muscles and the bowels.” So in much the same way that prostaglandins contract your uterus, they also contract your bowels. And the more your bowels contract, the more frequently waste will be pressed out.

And when that waste is pushed out, it tends to be looser, according to Dr. Shepherd. But that’s not all that prostaglandins cause. “They begin to relax smooth muscle tissues as menstruation begins and may cause bloating, water retention, and abdominal cramping.”

But what if I’m backed up instead?

Not everyone sees a spike in their bathroom visits during their period. In fact, some folks may find themselves not visiting the WC as often. This is, once again, thanks to hormones — but not prostaglandins. Between ovulation and your period, there is a spike in the hormone progesterone. (1) High levels of progesterone can cause food to move more slowly through your system, causing constipation. Fun fact: Progesterone is also abundant during the first trimester of pregnancy, and causes constipation for the exact same reason. (2)

Why does it sometimes smell awful?

You know those cheeseburger cravings you only seem to have in the days leading up to your period? They’re caused by progesterone, which has been linked to compulsive eating before your period. (3) If you’re typically one to eat healthier, it’s that drastic change in your diet which can lead to foul-smelling bowel movements. 

Is there a consistency that’s considered “safe” and “normal?”

The answer, for the most part, is no. “As long as stool is not completely liquid, doesn’t have blood, or isn’t associated with severe weakness, fevers, or vomiting, it’s normal,” Dr. Shepherd says. But if there is any blood in your stool, or if the pain from cramping or bowel movements is beyond pain medication control, it’s time to see your doctor, as this can be a sign of a more serious issue like endometriosis. Also, if your poops don’t get back to normal after your period, it’s time to visit your doctor, too, Dr. Shepherd says. 

Is there anything I can do to make them better?

Aside from eating healthy to avoid the smelliness, and eating fiber-rich foods to help the consistency, there isn’t much to do to make period poops better. Over the counter medication can help with the pain. But it’s important not to strain when you’re passing stool, because this can cause issues like hemherroids and anal fissures.  

REFERENCES

  1. Endotext. The Normal Menstrual Cycle and the Control of Ovulation. Accessed on September 4, 2019. View resource
  2. Mayo Clinic. First trimester of pregnancy: What to expect. Accessed on September 4, 2019. View resource
  3. International Journal of Eating Disorders. Differential associations between ovarian hormones and disordered eating symptoms across the menstrual cycle in women. Accessed September 4, 2019. View resource
  4. Healthline. 10 Reasons It Hurts When You Poop. Accessed September 4, 2019. View resource.