Simple Ways to Beat Bloat When You’re on Your Period

Take control of this pesky menstrual symptom with these easy tips.

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As if cramping and mood swings aren’t enough, that time of the month can also cause bloating—that uncomfortable feeling of fullness and tightness that challenges the waistband of even your best-fitting jeans.

In general, bloating is caused by a variety of things—constipation, stress, an imbalance of gut bacteria and, of course, your diet. And while bloating during your period is normal, the cause is not well understood, says OBGYN Melissa Hague, MD, of Wesley Medical Center in Wichita, Kansas. There are some theories, though: some experts think PMS bloating is related to higher progesterone levels, while others think it may be because of the drop off in hormone levels. “Basically, we all think it’s related to hormones somehow, but the exact mechanism is not known.”

No matter what the cause, bloating can often be relieved by making certain diet and lifestyle changes. Here are some effortless ways to de-bloat while you’re on your period (or really any time).

Medically reviewed in January 2020.

Steer clear of dairy

2 / 6 Steer clear of dairy

“Honestly, dairy is probably one of the worst culprits for pre-menstrual bloating. A lot of women who steer clear of things like ice cream notice that their symptoms improve,” says Hague.

The rumors are true: dairy can really aggravate your stomach. Foods made from milk, like cheese, ice cream and yogurt, have a natural sugar in them called lactose. Many people have a hard time digesting it, which can lead to gas and bloating.

If you have issues with bloating, cutting back on your consumption of dairy products is worth a shot. Lucky for you, plant-based milks and cheeses are gaining popularity, so you can still enjoy your favorite dishes, sans lactose. Try coconut yogurts, cashew cheeses and cashew, almond, soy or coconut milk options in place of cow-based products.

Stick to clean eating

3 / 6 Stick to clean eating

“You’ve got to stay away from all of the bags and boxes of processed foods and sugary things,” says Hague. This is good practice in general, but especially if you’re having issues with bloating. The ingredients in processed foods, particularly sweeteners and sodium, worsen bloating.

Foods low in fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols (FODMAP) can also help relieve bloating. Not everyone has gas and bloating from eating these foods, but here’s a rundown of what you may want to limit if you’re trying to de-bloat during your period.

Oligosaccharides: wheat, onions, garlic, legumes and beans
Disaccharides: lactose-based foods like milk, yogurt and ice cream
Monosaccharides: fructose sugar in foods like honey, apples and pears 
Sugar alcohols: foods like apricots, nectarines, plums, cauliflower, chewing gum and candy

It may help to keep a food journal during your menstrual cycle. Write down what you eat for each of your meals, plus any days you have severe bloating. You may start to notice patterns and certain foods that trigger the discomfort.

Get regular exercise

4 / 6 Get regular exercise

The last thing you probably want to do when you’re on your period and feel bloated is work up a sweat, but exercise can actually help gas move through the digestive tract.

Exercising while you’re on your period can also help relieve some other menstrual symptoms, such as cramping.

And remember that you don’t have to get all of your exercise at one time. Breaking it up into 10 or 15-minute intervals is just as effective, too. Most women should aim to get at least the recommended 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week. And resistance training is important, too—try muscle-strengthening exercises twice a week.

Try certain medications

5 / 6 Try certain medications

Sometimes, over-the-counter products containing an active ingredient called simethicone are worth a try. The drug helps break up gas bubbles in your digestive tract. Other medications that work to break up complex carbs can be helpful after eating foods like beans.

Look for options in your local drugstore, and ask your gynecologist or primary care physician for some treatment recommendations that are right for you.

If symptoms persist, see your gynecologist

6 / 6 If symptoms persist, see your gynecologist

Like most health conditions, if your symptoms don’t subside at the end of your cycle, see your gynecologist. You’ll want to get checked out if your symptoms become more intense, too. Bloating that is accompanied by nausea, vomiting or bloody stools—anything gastrointestinal-related—is usually a sign that you need to see a doctor.

Your age plays an important role in determining whether or not your bloating is something more serious, too. If women who have had normal menstrual cycles don’t experience bloating until their 40s, it could be a sign of something more serious, like ovarian cancer or certain gastrointestinal diseases, says Hague. Bloating isn’t usually a sign of something more serious for women in their 20s.

The important thing to know is that you should see your gynecologist if you have persistent or painful bloating more than 12 times in one month, accompanied by other symptoms like weight loss or gain or pelvic pain, or you notice changes (your bloating is more severe or happening more often).

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