Your pants feel tight, you’re gassy, and you don’t want to leave the house: all three are symptoms of bloating. But fear not, we won’t let your bloating get in your way of living a normal life. Want the scoop on the big, bad, bloat? Read on.
Before we begin, if you're interested in finding out about other side effects of birth control, you can check out our article on the subject!
I’m so bloated! Help!
Bloating is seriously no fun. Most times you have to unbutton the top of your jeans, you feel uncomfortably full, and your mood drops below zero. Bloating is extra irritating and upsetting, and it may be because of your birth control.
Why is my birth control making me bloat
The biggest culprit: hormones.
Let’s first talk about your period. You know how you bloat when you’re PMSing? That’s because your hormones fluctuate during your menstrual cycle. Levels of estrogen rise in the first half of your cycle, and then they drop. Similarly, progesterone levels go up during the second half, and then they drop. (Your period begins at this point.) These fluctuations can lead to increased water retention (aka bloating). Not cool.
Well, the same thing happens when you’re first starting hormonal birth control. Oral contraceptives are meant to balance the levels of estrogen and progesterone in your bloodstream. So, why do you bloat on birth control? When you add hormones to your system, as the pill does, your levels can go out of whack. When you begin your birth control regimen, you’ll experience major rises and falls in your sex hormones.
Like when you’re on your period, this leads to water retention, especially in your hips and breasts. (This is why your breasts may also feel tender.) Levels smooth out roughly 3 months after starting the pill and by then your bloating should subside.
Rising levels of hormones also directly affect your gastrointestinal tract. First, the fluctuation of estrogen and progesterone causes your GI tract to not empty as quickly. This is why women often feel constipated when first starting birth control along with bloating as their stool moves more slowly through the intestines. The changing level of hormones also introduces more gas-producing bacteria into the gut, which also causes us to feel gassy and bloated.
Could other factors be at play?
Gender. Just being a woman can cause bloating. Women have longer colons than men that are kept in a smaller body, and this is what makes us more prone to digestive problems. Instead of a nice and curvy colon, a woman’s colon has sharp turns and twists, and these twists can cause bloat. Ugh.
Depression. Depression is not only a side effect of hormonal birth control, but it’s also a cause of bloating. There’s a link between our gut and our brain. We feel depressed when starting birth control because estrogen affects the production of serotonin, a feel-good neurotransmitter. Over 90% of serotonin is actually made in the gut, so depression and gut health are seriously connected. Depression can change the makeup of the bacteria in the gut, which can then cause bloating. Also, many antidepressants list bloating as a side effect.
Food Intolerance. Some foods aren’t absorbed by the small intestine and instead end up in the colon where they interact with bacteria. These bacteria can cause fermentation, which in turn leads to bloating. Lactose and gluten intolerances are some of the major causes of bloat. Check with your doctor to see if you are allergic or have a sensitivity to these foods, and if you are, try to avoid them as much as possible.
Should I be worried?
Sometimes bloating can be a side effect of more than just your birth control:
Irritable bowel syndrome. The change in hormones can disrupt the bacteria in your stomach, which can lead to such digestive issues as irritable bowel syndrome, leaky gut, and even Crohn's disease. Studies show that oral contraceptive pills can lead to a 5x increased risk of irritable bowel syndrome. One symptom of IBS? Bloating. If you’re feeling abdominal pain as well as experiencing chronic diarrhea or constipation in addition to your bloat, talk to your doctor.
Ovarian cysts. If your bloating persists, it could be an ovarian cyst. Ovarian cysts can put pressure on your bladder and bowel, which can lead to digestive distress. If you’re bloated and are worried something is up, talk to your OB/GYN as soon as possible.
What can I do?
There are plenty of things you can do to reduce bloat. Here are just some of your options.
Drink more water. Though it sounds crazy counter-intuitive, drinking water can help reduce bloating. We know bloating is caused by water retention, but trust us. Drinking water flushes out your system, including salt, which is a big factor in having a puffy tummy.
Get exercise. Exercise helps everything. Putting your body into motion helps remove water from your system. Exercise is also great for your digestion, not to mention your state of mind.
Be aware of your eating habits. As we already mentioned, bloating can be caused by food intolerance. Salt intake also affects water retention; so try cutting the stuff from your diet. Though leafy greens and broccoli can cause gas, eating them regularly can help cut down the bloat. Adding fiber also helps as it gets the GI tract moving and grooving.
Take a probiotic. Birth control pills can cause bad bacteria to build up in the gut. One way to fight it? Probiotics. Top Up Tonic contains a probiotic complex, which will help fight bad bacteria and work to fill your gut with more friendly microbes. In addition to taking Top Up Tonic, also try eating fermented foods like kefir, yogurt and kimchi. Yum.
Switch birth control pills. Switching birth control is always an option. Low-dose hormonal birth controls can ease the fluctuations of estrogen and progesterone in the body, reducing bloat. You may also want to try progestin-only pills that release drospirenone. This progestin acts as a diuretic that eliminates sodium and prevents water retention. Of course, you can always switch birth control methods. Copper IUDs contain no hormones so there aren’t big changes in estrogen and progesterone levels which cause bloating. As always talk to your doctor to find a birth control method that works for you.
So, unbutton those jeans if you have to, but know that bloating caused by oral contraceptives won’t last forever. As always, be aware of what your body is telling you. If you find your bloating persistent or you’re experiencing other digestive system issues, talk to your doctor. You don’t want to take any risks.