Before you send me hate mail, I'd like to say that there's nothing wrong with loving your period for all of the things it does for you. It's THE ultimate free pregnancy test (though there are lots of reasons your period could be MIA), it can indicate whether you've got some medical issues going on (like endometriosis or PCOS), and it's your body's way of saying, "Yo, if you want to put a baby in me, you totally can!" But you really, truly do NOT need to have your period every month if you do not want it, according to actual gynecologists.
And since everyone should have a choice when it comes to their bodies, I'm about to tell you how to make that happen. Don't @ me. (Or do! See, I respect your choices too!)
So if you're out here like, "I'll straight-up shut down my period forever if I can do so safely," you can. Yes, it’s safe. Yes, you can do it as long as you want. And since you’re in total control of the sitch, you can opt to postpone your flow rather than skip it altogether. Let's reschedule her, shall we?
How Birth Control Can Squash Your Periods
Let’s take it back to health class: Your ovaries naturally produce progesterone and estrogen, hormones that help keep the lining of your uterus in place, making it a cushy spot for an embryo to chill, says Mary Jane Minkin, MD, clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at Yale School of Medicine. But if no sperm hook up with your eggs, your ovaries stop making those uterine-stabilizing chemicals and the lining sheds. Cue tampon being passed under stall door.
When you’re on birth control containing synthetic progesterone (and oftentimes estrogen), your hormone level stays steady. If you’re using combined oral contraception (aka the pill), the vaginal ring, or the patch, this keeps your uterine lining in place until you hit your placebo week or remove your ring or patch during week four of your cycle. “When levels dip, the lining destabilizes and you get your period,” says Dr. Minkin. But if you continue to take your daily dose, your period never happens.
The same goes for postponing your cycle. If you continue a routine use of the pill, vaginal ring, or patch until you’re ready to begin your placebo week or week off, you can choose to delay your period for one week, one month, three months—really, for however long you’d like, says Florencia Polite, MD, chief of general obstetrics and gynecology at Penn Medicine. Score!
What to Know Before Hacking Your Hormones
As long as your contraception isn’t causing breast tenderness, headaches, or nausea—side effects that could be amplified by continuous use—the biggest issue you could face is breakthrough bleeding or spotting (see below), says ob-gyn Leah Millheiser, MD. Still, before you make any adjustments to the way you use your birth control, talk to your doc to avoid complications or an unplanned pregnancy.
But what about fertility—don’t you need to get your period to keep that situation in good shape? “Some people like to get their period to know they’re not pregnant, but there’s no other health benefit of having it,” says Dr. Minkin. Boom.
What does that mean for your handy period tracking app? There’s really no need for it, says Dr. Polite. What you’ll be tracking, really, is when you’re not taking the active pills or you’re removing your vaginal ring or patch—something you’ll already know.
Here’s how to dismiss your period if you're on...
Just skip the placebo week in your pack, or opt for a pack without one altogether (like Seasonale or Seasonique). An important exception: If you’re on the progestin-only mini pill, you can’t choose to skip your period using birth control, says Dr. Millheiser. This form of the pill doesn’t have an inactive pill week, meaning you have to take a dose every single day.
Otherwise, you can delay your period using combined oral contraception by continuing to take your active pills until you’re ready to hit your placebo week. Looking to just shorten your cycle? Try a brand with four placebo pill days instead of seven (like Lo Loestrin or Junel), says Dr. Polite.
You already know you have to slap on a new one every week for three weeks. But instead of going patchless on week four, go ahead and pop on a new sticker. Done and done.
The Vaginal Ring
Kind of like the patch, this stops working when you remove it during the last week of your cycle. To keep those period-blocking hormones flowing, don’t replace your vaginal ring until after day 28. And yes, it’s still effective during week four, says Dr. Minkin.
Although they’re not quite as speedy, this type of birth control could get rid of your period over the long term, says Dr. Minkin, because progestin-based IUDs deliver hormones directly to your uterine lining.
“You might get your period and have breakthrough bleeding for the first four to six months,” she says. But after that, up to 20 percent of women stop getting their periods within a year, depending on the brand you use. Early removal can also result in an wanted pregnancy if taken out before it stops ovulation, says Dr. Polite.
The Depo-Provera shot, a progestin injection administered by a nurse or doctor every three months, can also keep your period at bay, says Dr. Minkin. Most users didn’t get it at all after one year of use, according to Pfizer’s study of the drug.
What to do when stuff goes wrong...
Ditching your period isn’t all sunshine and white underwear. Here’s how to deal with:
A period ambush is annoyingly common when you start bailing on your usual rhythm, says Dr. Minkin. But taking your placebo pills every three or four months can help. If you’re mid-placebo week when you want to stop the flow, begin your new pack ASAP to shorten the length of your cycle, says Dr. Polite.
Make sure your doc writes “take continuously” on your prescription so you can refill it whenever and insurance should cover it.
“If you take your pill daily, it’s highly unlikely you’ll get pregnant,” says Dr. Minkin. But if you start feeling bloated or queasy out of the blue, take a test ASAP.
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