I get it, periods can be a pain — quite literally. Although there are ways of making this time of the month a bit more bearable, we've probably all thought about using the contraceptive pill to skip the bleeding, the bloating, and the stomach cramps.
Although the benefits of period skipping aren't negligible (who wouldn't want to wave goodbye to PMS and headaches?), I can't help but wonder: is it really OK to do so? To get my answer, I reached out to Nicole Tefler, naturopathic doctor and scientific researcher at women's health app Clue, and here's what she had to say about it.
First Things First: How Do You Skip a Period?
The first thing to understand is that there are many different types of birth control pills and that they all contain different types of synthetic hormones and doses. As explained by Nicole Telfer, "Some pills are monophasic, meaning they have the same dose of hormones in each pill, while other pills are multiphasic, meaning that the amount of hormones in the pills changes throughout your pack. Your birth control package will indicate which kind of pill you have. You can choose to skip your period on either type of pill, but it's best to consult with your GP before you start."
What to do if you are taking a monophasic birth control pill: "Take your hormonally active pills as normal," says Telfer. "Once you reach your placebo pills (the hormone-free pills that are at the end of your pack and which are normally indicated on the package), simply skip over those and start your new pack the next day as Day 1." The good thing about monophasic-dose birth control pills is that they allow you to be flexible, and you could technically schedule your period for whenever you wish. "Just stop taking your pill for a few days (depending on the brand, this could be four to seven days), and you will have a withdrawal period," she explains.
What to do if you are taking a multiphasic pill: According to Nicole Telfer, you should take your hormonally active pills as normal and simply skip over the placebo pills, starting your new pack the next day as Day 1. "With multiphasic pills, it's ideal to have your period at the end of a pack (as opposed to the midpack possibility of monophasic pills). Simply finish your current pack and take the placebo pills to bring on your period. Skipping your period using multiphasic pills is not as well studied as monophasic preparations, which should be taken into consideration when thinking about skipping a period. In one study, although there were no adverse effects related to continued period-skipping with a multiphasic pill, four out of 10 participants reported side effects of breast tenderness and breakthrough bleeding."
It's also worth noting that continuous birth control pills do exist: "Some pills have 84 days of active hormones followed by seven days of placebo, giving you your period only four times per year," says Telfer. "Another brand goes even further, providing a full year of menstrual suppression."
Is It Safe?
Although no significant negative health effects have been reported by medical studies, Tefler notes that "there have been no long-term studies examining the safety of continually skipping your period. Sometimes, medical repercussions take a longer time and/or need a larger population sample size to emerge." And if you choose to stop taking hormonal birth control, know that your natural menstrual cycle and fertility should return to normal after a month, regardless of how long you skipped your period for.
Is It Really OK to Skip a Period on the Pill?
Overall, the consensus is that, yes, it's OK to skip your period on the pill. However, Tefler explains that "since there are so many differently dosed birth control pills, it's always best to first discuss the option of skipping your period with your GP to make sure that it is a safe and healthy option for you."
That said, she also told me that "there is some concern that by normalizing period skipping, people will view their monthly menstruation as unnecessary, a nuisance, and even abnormal." It's important to remember that periods aren't a curse, nor a disease, and that your menstrual cycles are like a vital sign that could tell you when your body isn't functioning normally.
Are There Any Side Effects to Skipping Your Period Continually?
"The main side effect of having long, period-free stretches is an increase in unpredictable breakthrough bleeding (unpredictable midcycle bleeding)," explains Tefler. "But the good news is that the frequency of breakthrough bleeding decreases over time." Other than that, taking your birth control pill consecutively (as opposed to having monthly pill periods) will not change any of the side effects caused by the pill.
However, one of the main concerns about not having a regular period is that you will "lose the monthly confirmation that you're not pregnant. Although skipping your period with the pill provides you with the same contraceptive protection as before, it also comes with the same risks if you don't take your pill on a regular daily basis."
Won't the Body Get Backed Up?
No, it won't. As explained by Tefler, you have to keep in mind that, when you're on the pill, you actually don't have a normal period. "In fact, the birth control pill doesn't allow your endometrium (the lining of your uterus) to grow as thick as it normally would, which is why pill periods are much lighter than a natural period," she says. "If you skip a cycle, the continuous exposure of synthetic hormones will maintain your endometrium at the same suppressed level."
Product Credit: Stella McCartney PJ set