If you’ve ever used monthly oral contraceptives, you know how each pack works: You take three weeks of active pills, followed by a week of inactive placebo pills. During that inactive week, get out your pads, tampons or cups, ladies — your period’s coming.
But what if you wanted to skip the bleeding — and your menstruation cycle altogether? Could you just throw out the placebo pills and jump immediately into a new pill pack? Is that even safe?
“Skipping your period on birth control is absolutely safe to do,” said Laurie McKechnie, a nurse practitioner at Lynn Women’s Health, a gynecology and obstetrics practice affiliated with Lahey Health. “Sometimes, getting a period is very cultural for people — they want to see a period each month. But really, women only need a period if they’re trying to have a baby.”
Otherwise, there’s no harm in skipping your period month after month by taking the active pills continuously. You could even do the same thing with the ring or the patch. After all, female astronauts go period-free during space flight, according to the online scientific journal npj Microgravity.
But know this: Even by doing that, Aunt Flow might still make a surprise appearance.
“You might find that you get some irregular breakthrough bleeding three or four times a year,” McKechnie said. “And that’s because the lining of the uterus has had a chance to build up enough to create some bleeding. Not everybody will experience this, but if you do, it’s usually a good time to just let your body have that period for one week and then restart your pills again for another four months or so.”
Outside of this surprise every now and then, there’s no harm in skipping your period, because your body doesn’t really need to bleed monthly if you’re not trying to get pregnant, McKechnie adds. That line of thinking has ushered in a new wave of birth control options that come with lighter or no periods at all — like intrauterine devices (IUDs) or “365 pills” designed for near-continuous, yearlong use.
Benefits of Skipping Your Period
There may even be some worthwhile benefits to bidding farewell to the crimson tide — aside from the obvious convenience of not having a monthly visitor.
“Some people have really terrible, heavy periods with a lot of cramping that can just be unbearable, so skipping that placebo week can help with that,” McKechnie said. “It can also help prevent the migraines that sometimes come with cycle changes.”
If you have those kinds of problems, check with your doctor first before opting to skip your period. You might want to get those symptoms checked out instead of masking them with continuous birth control.
“If someone has heavy bleeding or bad cramping, for example, I hate to be covering up a problem that needs to be addressed, like fibroids or cysts,” McKechnie said. “I might send someone for an ultrasound just to make sure everything looks normal — that their ovaries and uterus are within normal limits and there’s nothing concerning.”
Skipping Periods and Fertility
If all looks good, McKechnie usually tells her patients to skip away — but they’ll often ask one last follow-up question: Will skipping my period affect my fertility someday?
Not at all, she tells them. Unless you’ve been on Depo-Provera (the so-called birth control shot), your baby-making days (and your menstruation cycle) can return whenever you stop birth control, whether you’re on an IUD, pills, patches or rings.
“As soon as you stop, fertility returns,” McKechnie said. “The shot is the one that’s unpredictable because of the way it’s absorbed and used in the body, so sometimes it can take up to a year with that one. But I usually tell my patients that once they’ve stopped the pill, let yourself get a period, and then after that you can try and get pregnant.”
But if you don’t want to get pregnant — and you don’t want to get a period, either — ask your doctor if you can start skipping your period on birth control. There’s no medical necessity for having a period, other than a monthly reminder that you’re not pregnant.
Remember, though, that you can still get pregnant while on birth control. So while you might save a few dollars on pads or tampons, you might also want to budget for the occasional pregnancy test, too — because that extra peace of mind never hurts.
Want to talk about your birth control options with a women’s health specialist? Find a gynecology provider near you.
Note: Women using combined estrogen/progesterone birth control need to understand their risks for adverse outcomes such as blood clots and stroke. It’s important to have that conversation with your provider.