What Is Seasonale?

A survey by the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals found that many women aren’t fond of their periods. More than 75 percent say their periods are something they have to “put up with.”

Today, women don’t have to have a period every month. With continuous birth control pills such as Seasonale, you can dramatically cut down on the number of periods you have each year. For some women, this number can go from 12 or 13 periods per year to four periods per year.

Seasonale is just one of a few brands of continuous birth control pills that can produce four yearly periods.

Just like regular birth control pills, Seasonale contains the hormones estrogen and progestin. These hormones stop ovulation and prevent your ovaries from releasing an egg. The hormones also thicken the cervical mucus to stop sperm from swimming to the egg and change the uterine lining so that if an egg does get fertilized, it can’t implant and grow.

During a typical menstrual cycle, the rise in estrogen and progestin causes the uterine lining to build up in preparation for pregnancy. If you don’t get pregnant, your uterine lining sheds during your period. With Seasonale, your hormone levels remain steady throughout most of your cycle. This leads to a reduced uterine lining buildup, so there’s much less lining to shed.

With regular birth control pills, you take three weeks of active, hormone-containing pills. During the fourth week, you may take inactive pills called placebos or no pills at all. With Seasonale, you take the active pills without stopping for three months, or 84 days. After this three-month period, you take one week of inactive pills. You should have a period during this week of inactive pills.

While you’re on Seasonale, you’ll have one period every three months. That’s equal to four periods per year, instead of the usual 12 or 13 periods per year. The periods you do have should be lighter than normal.

Even though you’ll have fewer periods, Seasonale will protect you as well as a regular birth control pill. If you take it at the same time every day, you have a 1 percent chance of getting pregnant in any given year. If you miss a dose or you’re late taking your pill, you have a 5 percent chance of getting pregnant.

Seasonale can also be used as emergency birth control. If you take four pills within 120 hours, or five days, of unprotected sex, and another four pills 12 hours after the first set, it can prevent a pregnancy.

Here are a few other benefits to taking Seasonale:

  • It can prevent migraines that occur around the time of your period.
  • It lowers the risk of breast cancer.
  • It lowers the risk of endometrial cancer.
  • It can improve pain from endometriosis, which usually flares around the time of a woman’s period.

Although you’ll have fewer periods on Seasonale, you may notice more spotting in between periods than you would if you were on a 28-day birth control pill. About one out of every three women has 20 or more days of bleeding or spotting during their first cycle. The spotting should eventually slow or stop once your body adjusts to the new level of hormones.

Because you get so few periods while taking Seasonale, it can be hard to tell if you do get pregnant. If you suspect you may be pregnant, take a home pregnancy test or schedule an appointment with your doctor to find out for sure.

Seasonale shares many of the same side effects as traditional birth control pills. These include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • weight gain
  • fluid retention
  • swollen, tender breasts

All birth control pills, including Seasonale, can also increase your risk of blood clots, heart attack, and stroke.

Smoking further increases these risks. If side effects persist, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor.

Your body needs time to adjust to the continuous dose of hormones, so you may experience breakthrough bleeding. This may also be because your uterine lining is gradually thinning. You’re more likely to have breakthrough bleeding if you miss a pill or if you take a medicine that makes the pill less effective.

Birth control pills also increase the amount of clotting substances in your blood. This makes you more likely to get blood clots. A blood clot can break free and travel to the heart or brain, leading to a heart attack or stroke.

The risk of an average healthy woman having a clot while on Seasonale or any other type of birth control pill is about one out of every 1,000 women per year, which is very low. That risk is higher if you have a history of blood clots or a disease that causes you to clot easier, which is known as a thrombophilia.

Certain women shouldn’t take Seasonale, including those who:

  • smoke and are over age 35
  • have uncontrolled high blood pressure
  • have heart disease, blood clotting problems, diabetic eye or kidney disease, or liver disease
  • have had breast, uterine, or liver cancer
  • have had a heart attack, stroke, or blood clot
  • have abnormal vaginal bleeding
  • get migraine headaches
  • have had jaundice, or yellowing of the skin and eyes, from taking birth control pills

Because Seasonale can increase the risk for birth defects, you shouldn’t use this type of birth control if you become pregnant. If you’re pregnant, wait at least four weeks after you deliver before beginning this method of birth control.

Certain medicines can make Seasonale less effective at preventing pregnancy.

Check with your doctor before starting Seasonale if you take any of the following:

  • certain antibiotics
  • hepatitis C virus medications
  • HIV or AIDS medications
  • seizure medications
  • sedatives
  • St. John’s wort

If you’re not sure, use a backup method of birth control until you can speak with your doctor.

Seasonale will make your periods lighter and less frequent. Although it’s effective at preventing pregnancy, Seasonale won’t protect you from sexually transmitted infections.

If you miss a dose of Seasonale, take two pills each day for the next two days. You may need to use a condom, diaphragm, or other birth control method temporarily as a backup.

When choosing between birth control pills, consider factors like convenience, cost, and side effects. Find a method you know will suit your lifestyle. If you aren’t sure whether you’ll remember to take a daily pill, this may not be the right fit for you. It’s important to remember that missing doses can increase your risk of pregnancy.

Seasonale may be an option for you if you want to cut down on the number of periods you get each year. Check with your doctor to make sure you’re a good candidate.