Pregnancy and periods can both cause bloating. While bloating is never pleasant, it is often useful when it comes to working out when your period is coming or if you’re pregnant.
The trouble is, if you’re feeling bloated close to the time you’d usually get your period, it can be difficult to tell whether your bloating is a period symptom or a sign of early pregnancy.
Of course, the easiest way to tell is by taking a pregnancy test, but assessing the nature and timing of your bloating can also help you to determine what’s going on.
What Is Bloating?
Bloating is a gastrointestinal symptom that can be indicative of many conditions, including periods and pregnancy.
This symptom occurs when gas or fluid gets trapped in the abdominal cavity, causing distention, a feeling of fullness, and often, discomfort.
The reason bloating is so common both before and during periods as well as throughout pregnancy is due to hormonal changes. A rise in period and pregnancy hormones will cause more water and salt retention, which can lead to bloating.
These hormones also cause the intestinal muscles to relax, slowing down digestion and causing a buildup of gas, which contributes to abdominal bloating.
What Is Period Bloating Like?
Bloating due to your period is likely to occur within the week leading up to when your period is due, although it can start as early as 2 weeks before your period (if your periods are regular, this would be around the time of ovulation).
Alongside this bloating, you may experience mild to moderate fatigue, mood swings (including crying), headaches, and gastrointestinal issues such as constipation and diarrhea.
One tell-tale sign that your bloating is likely caused by the onset of your period rather than pregnancy is that it is accompanied by cramping. Cramping can be an early pregnancy symptom, too, but it is usually mild and infrequent, whereas period cramps may be more consistent and intense.
What Is Bloating Like In Pregnancy?
Pregnancy bloating typically gets worse during the third trimester, but it can also be an early pregnancy symptom.
Unlike period bloating, however, bloating from pregnancy doesn’t typically start before the 4th week.
Because pregnancies are counted from the date of your last period, the earliest you can expect to experience pregnancy bloating is around the time you’d get your period (assuming that your cycles are the standard 28 days).
66% of pregnant women were affected by bloating during their first trimester.
While period bloating is often accompanied by cramping, breast tenderness and perhaps mild swelling, early pregnancy bloating is likely to come with painful breasts that are significantly fuller in size.
Usually, bloating accompanied by nausea would be cause for concern, but this can also be an early sign of pregnancy. You could experience nausea as a PMS symptom too, but nausea caused by pregnancy is usually more severe.
If your nausea is severe enough to limit your appetite, you might find that your bloating is accompanied by weight loss.
Severe fatigue is also a common early pregnancy sign that might hit you at roughly the same time as bloating, while the fatigue accompanying period bloat is often not as overwhelming.
Frequently Asked Bloating Questions
Is Bloating A Serious Symptom?
In most cases, mild to moderate bloating is not a sign of a serious problem. It might simply be a side effect of your period or pregnancy. Often, bloating is an indication of an unbalanced diet or dietary intolerance.
Irritable bowel syndrome is another common cause. Keeping track of your menstrual cycle, bowel movements, and daily food intake can help to identify any correlations.
However, if you are experiencing severe, persistent bloating, particularly when accompanied by nausea, vomiting, intense pain, or unexplained weight loss, you should make an appointment with your doctor.
While bloating is only rarely a cause of serious concern, it can be a symptom of ovarian cancer, bowel obstruction, or Crohn’s disease.
Is Pain Normal With Bloating?
Some amount of discomfort is to be expected when you’re feeling bloated. More severe bloating may even be described as painful.
Feeling uncomfortable and sore while bloated is not necessarily a cause for concern, but if the pain does not go away, interferes with your daily life, or continues to get worse, you should seek medical advice.
How Can I Reduce Period Or Pregnancy Bloating?
Although bloating is normal during your period or pregnancy, it can be uncomfortable. Luckily, there are ways of minimizing bloating.
Reducing your intake of foods that commonly cause gas and fluid build-ups, such as salty foods, beans, lentils, cabbage, sprouts, and carbonated drinks, can be helpful. You should also try to eat slowly, avoiding swallowing too much air and making sure to chew your food thoroughly.
If you find that you bloat more after consuming gluten or dairy, speak to your doctor about running some tests or adjusting your diet.
Getting more exercise has also been shown to reduce bloating.
The bloating caused by pregnancy can feel very similar to that caused by PMS. Instead of looking for differences in the bloating itself, it’s important to look at the timing of the bloating as well as the accompanying symptoms.
If your bloating starts around the same time as you’d usually start your period and is accompanied by sore, enlarged breasts, severe fatigue, nausea, vomiting, mild cramping, and crucially, a missed period, it’s likely to be an indicator of early pregnancy.
However, if the bloating starts between 1 and 2 weeks before your period is due and comes with breast tenderness, painful cramps, mild to moderate fatigue, or mood swings, this might simply be your menstrual cycle.
The bottom line is that if you experience bloating that is unusual for you leading up to your period, you should seek a medical opinion, especially if it co-occurs with severe nausea and fatigue.
There could be many reasons for this bloating, from PMS to pregnancy to underlying health conditions, so make sure to get any unusual symptoms, including bloating, checked by a doctor.