Periods are rough. Pooping on your period is an entirely different level of rough. No matter how much effort you might put into having a less stressful or painful period, it can still be a hard experience. Your body is literally shedding itself: your uterus is contracting to push blood out of your body. And no, it's not in a beautiful, easy stream of red. It's in big clumps and explodes out of you the moment you dare stand up or sneeze or god forbid, laugh. As if that doesn't sound awful enough, having a period comes with a whole host of other issues. You get cramps. You get headaches. Your legs and lower back hurt. You kind of want to throw up.
And, of course, you start shitting your brains out.
Those of us who have periods are well aware of just how unpredictable they and their symptoms can be. You can be at a work meeting, or running on the treadmill, or reaching for that third cookie (because chocolate really is a period essential) and suddenly it hits you: the period poop.
So, why do we poop so much on our periods and how can we manage this kind of discomfort?
First things first: you're not imagining things.
You really do poop more when you're on your period.
"It’s not in our heads that we, as women, with working menstrual cycles, would feel like we poop more during our periods," says Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist Jenifer La. "There are two main reasons attributed to this – hormones and diet."
Dr. La says the two hormones that can cause more pooping on your period are prostaglandins and progesterone. "Prostaglandins help our uterus to contract in preparation to effectively push out blood," she says. "You can consider prostaglandins as Lord Walder Frey from Game of Thrones, as [they] can cause not only just uterus cramping, but the 'Red Wedding' scene in a toilet bowl (a.k.a. period diarrhea)."
Progesterone, meanwhile, aids in contraception, pregnancy and a person's menstrual cycle. "Progesterone can either slow down or speed up our GI system, leading to symptoms of either irritable or frequent bowel movements," Dr. La says. So, your butt might be mad at you, or your butt might be doing its thing more than usual, or both. So. Much. Fun.
You can blame it on the location of your uterus.
"The science behind period poops has a lot to do with your bodily logistics," SUNY grad Katie Speller says. "Your uterine lining is thick and your hormones are going wild — and your uterus is located near your colon. So, the wild chemistry experiment going on in your uterus can have some effect on your poop-making materials, leading you to either never be able to poop or have to poop aggressively."
"I always forget that period poops are a thing until they happen every month," says Felicity. "I always confuse my actual period cramps and period poop cramps. I never know if I need to take, like, three ibuprofens or just need to sit in the bathroom for a half hour. Oh, and don't even get me started on the gas that comes before — [it] literally feel[s] like my stomach is going to blow up from the pressure."
Having the right underwear can help solve some of your period woes.
One of the worst things about period poop is that it doesn't care about what else you have going on in your life. You're probably very busy. You probably don't want to tell your boss/professor/date you can't come anymore because you're stuck on the toilet. But your period continues on, poop included.
Katie says having the right underwear will help make the tribulations of periods and period poop easier. "I strongly suggest having in your underwear collection undies that are either dark (period panties), white [and bleachable] or just crappy, so you don’t mind that they might get some racing stripe action."
While chocolate and crying is all good and well, working out and eating veggies will help more.
What you eat does matter when it comes to having a better period. "Maintaining your fiber-rich diet will ease your period diarrhea symptoms," Dr. La says. "The fiber will help bind your stool to solidify itself. Gradually increase your fiber intake throughout the week and make sure you are drinking plenty of water to help ease any more symptoms of constipation. Aim for 25 grams of fiber per day, and at least 64oz of water per day."
Sarah*, meanwhile, recommends drinking "lots of water with lemon" to help with cramps. "[This] makes [your cramps] worse temporarily, but then you flush it all out and you're gucci," she says.
Do you really have to work out, or can you just sleep on your heating pad all week? According to Dr. La, you should get moving to get it moving (har har. But really). "Healthy bowel movements also require physical activity," she says. "If we choose to wallow in our sorrows of bleeding, we aren’t helping our symptoms of cramps, bloating and constipation/diarrhea. Going outside for a brisk walk or doing low-intensity-steady-state exercises for at least 30 minutes, 3-5x per week can be just as impactful. It does not have to be a consecutive 30 minutes; whether it is 15 minutes of an at-home workout video before work and another 15 minute power walk during your lunch break, 30 minutes is 30 minutes."
Treat yourself and your butt.
"Buy wet wipes. Pamper your butt like the fancy baby you were meant to be," Katie says. "You deserve this."
Jenna agrees. "I started carrying [baby wipes] around in my bag," she says.
You can also use products like Blume's Cloud 9 PMS Oil and Athena Club's organic tampons to make that time of the month easier. I'm also a big fan of Yogi Tea's Woman's Moon Cycle Tea to help ease cramps.
Don't be embarrassed - not with your friends and especially not with your doctor.
Suffering tends to be a bit less sucky when we suffer together and without shame. "Period poops are normal — they happen," Dr. La says. "We should not be embarrassed of something that happens naturally! Plus, there are far more disgusting things than period poop."
Jenna holds a similar sentiment. "I wish women weren't so self-conscious about this topic because it's normal," she says. "I feel like we don't acknowledge what our bodies are going through and we just think it's gross. But it's so natural and normal."
Dr. La is all about sharing, regularly and proudly. "I would highly recommend speaking to either your primary care physician or obstetrician/gynecologist for further questions if you believe your cycle and bowel movements are far more irregular than usual," she says. "It is important to talk about our periods and all that [they] encompass (i.e. bloating, cramping and period poops for that matter), as it is all related to women’s health."
Be sure to pay a visit to your doctor if you're concerned. After all: you won't know what's up with your body unless you talk about it. "I have met both friends and patients who had undiagnosed conditions such as endometriosis because they grew up thinking their symptoms were normal, since they 'never talked about it,'" Dr. La says. "You truly won’t know if something is 'normal' until you speak up and openly discuss it with your friends, parents and health care team!"