Many women choose to skip their period with birth control. There are various reasons for doing this. Some women want to avoid painful menstrual cramps. Others do it for the convenience. Here’s what doctors have to say about the safety of skipping your monthly menstruation.
Birth Control Basics
When you swallow a birth control pill, you’re ingesting one or more synthetic hormones. This could be estrogen and progestin or just progestin, depending on the type of birth control that you’re taking. These hormones work to prevent pregnancy in three different ways.
First, they prevent your ovaries from ovulating, or releasing an egg each month. They also thicken the cervical mucus, which makes it harder for sperm to reach an egg if one is released. The hormones can thin the uterine lining, too. This means that if an egg does get fertilized, it will be difficult for it to attach to the uterine lining and develop.
Birth control pills are up to 99 percent effective when used correctly. This means taking the pill at the same time every day. If you miss a day or you’re late taking your pill, the efficacy can decrease.
Today, there are several different types of birth control pills available. Some are similar to the pill packs first introduced in 1960, which include 21 days of pills with active hormones and seven placebo or inactive pills. When you take an inactive pill, it allows for bleeding that mimics normal menstruation.
There are also packs that allow for 24 days of active pills and a shorter menstrual-like bleeding period. Extended-cycle or continuous regimens consist of all active pills. They can either shorten the number of periods you have or eliminate your period entirely.
Is It Safe to Skip Your Period?
There are a number of reasons why you may want to skip your period. Is it safe to do so? Is it safe to skip your period if you’re on birth control pills? The short answer to both of those questions is yes. However, it’s best to check with your doctor first. You’ll want to make sure that there’s no medical reason for you to continue with your current menstruation schedule.
Taking birth control pills to reduce or eliminate your period is just as safe as taking them in the conventional way, says Gerardo Bustillo, M.D., OB-GYN at Orange Coast Memorial in Fountain Valley, California.
Menstruation isn’t physiologically necessary. In general, women today experience many more menstrual cycles over their lifetime compared to women of previous generations, says Bustillo. There are a few reasons for that, including the following:
- Many women today start menstruating at a younger age.
- Women today have fewer pregnancies on average.
- Women today don’t breast-feed for as long.
- Women today generally reach menopause later in life.
Actually, according to Lisa Dabney, M.D., assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive science at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, the monthly period that traditional birth control pills allow for may have had more to do with marketing than anything.
“When the birth control pills first came out, they were designed for women to get their periods every four weeks like a ‘natural’ period,” she says. “This interval is really set up by the cycle of the pills and was set up that way so women would more readily accept them.”
Why You May Want to Skip Your Period
You may want to consider a birth control option that allows you to shorten or eliminate your monthly period if you have any of the following:
- painful cramping
- heavy menstrual bleeding
- fibroid tumors
- mood swings
- menstrual migraine headaches
- bleeding disorders, such as von Willebrand disease or hemophilia
Pros and Cons of Skipping Your Period
According to Bustillo, regular ovulation and menstruation could increase your risk for diseases such as endometriosis and ovarian cancer.
Skipping your period may also cut down on the amount spent on feminine hygiene products.
That’s a lot of potential positives for skipping your period, but there’s also a downside. Breakthrough bleeding can be random, but it generally only happens within the first few months of starting a no-period birth control regimen.
Although breakthrough bleeding generally lessens over time, you’ll want to talk to your doctor if it seems to be getting worse or more frequent after you start a no-period birth control option. If this does happen, make sure you do the following:
- Follow all directions from your doctor or pharmacist. Missing a pill makes breakthrough bleeding more likely.
- Track any bleeding you experience. This can help you determine if it’s happening more or less often as previous months.
- Look into options that will help you quit smoking if you smoke. Breakthrough bleeding is more common for women who smoke than in women who don’t smoke.
- Learn the signs of early pregnancy so that you know when you may need a pregnancy test. Reduced periods can also make it more difficult to tell if you’re pregnant.
How to Skip Your Period with Birth Control
There are two main ways to skip your period with birth control pills.
Taking Only the Active Combination Pills
If you’re using a combination pill pack, you just need to take only the active pills with no breaks in between. You should talk to your doctor or pharmacist so they can show you which pills are active and which are the placebo pills. You’ll want to throw out the placebos. If you take the active pills continuously, you won’t get a period until you stop them.
If you stop taking active pills, you may experience a “withdrawal” bleed, or what’s similar to your period. Dabney recommends that you allow this to happen once every three to four months.
Dabney says some birth control pills have a higher risk of abnormal bleeding than others. You should check with your doctor if you want to start skipping your period. They may recommend that you change the type of pill you take.
You’ll also want to check with your insurance provider to make sure they’ll cover more pills in less time, since you’ll be going through pill packs faster.
Taking Extended-Cycle or Continuous Regimen Pills
Extended-cycle or continuous regimen pills are designed to skip or eliminate your period. These options include the following:
- Seasonale, Jolessa, and Quasense have 12 weeks of active pills that are followed by one week of inactive pills. These are designed to allow for one period every three months.
- Seasonique and Camrese have 12 weeks of active pills that are followed by one week of pills with a very low dose of estrogen. These are designed to allow for one period every three months.
- Quartette has 12 weeks of active pills that are followed by one week of pills with a low dose of estrogen. These are designed to allow for one period every three months.
- Amethyst has all active pills that are designed to eliminate your period for the entire year.
Other Ways to Skip Your Period
Taking birth control pills aren’t the only way to skip your period. Other options include the progestin-releasing intrauterine device (IUD), progestin injection (Depo-Provera), and NuvaRing.
“The Mirena IUD works even better than pills to reduce overall bleeding,” Dabney says. “Many women on the Mirena IUD either get very light periods or no periods at all.”
If you aren’t sure about the pill, speak with your doctor about your other options. Make sure you speak with your doctor before using a birth control patch to skip your period. The patch may increase your risk for blood clotting.
No birth control option is right for every woman. Meet with your doctor to discuss which options might be best for your body and lifestyle. You should also meet with your doctor if you’re already taking birth control pills but want to start skipping your period. Talking to your doctor will help ensure nothing gets missed and help to avoid lapses in your pregnancy protection. Hearing about all of your options can help you make an educated decision about which birth control is best for you.