Is It Safe to Skip Your Period on the Contraceptive Pill?
Getting your period can be a real pain in the butt. Even if you’re on the pill, there can still be some unpredictability as to when it will start, how heavy it might be and whether or not it will interfere with you rocking that new white bathing suit you were so excited to wear on your beach vacay. Which is why some women are choosing to skip their periods altogether. Instead of taking the placebo pills at the end of each pack, they’re simply moving on to the next set of hormone pills, bypassing their period completely.
Thinking of all the money we’d save on tampons alone makes this practice sound tempting. But is it OK? Is it safe? We asked Laurel Garber, DO, an obstetrician/gynecologist at Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia, to give us the facts, and here’s what she had to say.
So, is it safe to skip the placebo pills (and your period) while on the contraceptive pill?
“The short answer is yes. It’s not necessary to have a period. Periods are a coordinated effort between the brain, ovaries and uterus to prepare our bodies for the next possible pregnancy. But if you don’t want to become pregnant, you do not need this preparation. There are two main hormones working to coordinate this process: estrogen and progesterone. The hormone estrogen builds up the lining of the uterus to prepare for pregnancy implantation, and this lining is shed every month during a period when no pregnancy occurs. The hormone progesterone keeps the lining of the uterus stable from shedding to prepare for pregnancy. These are also the hormones present in your combined birth control pill, but in this case they work together to prevent pregnancy rather than prepare for it. Progesterone also keeps the lining of the uterus thin, which is one of the ways birth control pills protect against pregnancy, and is also why many women using these pills have lighter periods or no periods during placebo pill weeks, because they have little to no lining to shed.”
If I’m skipping my period, won’t that uterine lining build and build and just keep on building?
“There’s a rumor that not having a period is bad because women’s uteruses need to be cleaned out, but this is not true if you’re on the pill. Your uterine lining is kept thin on the pill because of the ratio of estrogen to progesterone, and if the lining does become thick enough to need to be shed, your body will shed the lining on its own, which will present as random breakthrough bleeding or spotting for a few days to a week. Breakthrough bleeding can be avoided by taking placebo pills every three to five months during continuous pill use to allow any built-up uterine lining to shed.”
Are there any long-term effects about skipping your period that women should know?
“There are no long-term effects on a woman who takes continuous contraception. The only side effect you may experience is some breakthrough spotting. This is not a sign anything is wrong, but just that the lining of your uterus has built up enough due to the estrogen in your pill to shed. And while it’s neither a “healthy” nor “unhealthy” thing to do, there have been studies that show some symptom benefits to continuous combined oral contraceptives as compared to taking the placebo pills each month. The studies found these women had fewer headaches and less genital irritation and menstrual pain.”
Great! Now, what about “scheduling” my period instead of skipping it? For example, is it OK to take the placebo pills during week three instead of week four to schedule my regular period around, say, a beach vacation?
“Unlike taking the contraceptive pill continuously, this is a bad idea. You need to take your hormonal birth control pills for at least three weeks from your last week of placebo pills before you can switch to your next placebo pill week, otherwise the hormones may not have enough time to take contraceptive effect (i.e., do as they are intended and prevent you from becoming pregnant). If you want to skip your period, the best way to do this is to skip the placebo pills and take the hormonal pills continuously.”
Anything else someone interested in skipping her period should be aware of?
“It is very important to remember that you should not make any changes to your contraception without first discussing it with your ob-gyn.”