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Is skipping periods with the pill safe? A GP gives the verdict

Seeing as the bleeding you get while on the pill isn’t a normal period, is it OK to skip it? Here’s an expert’s take.

While many take the combined oral contraceptive pill to prevent pregnancy, others take it for various reasons other reasons including to lighten periods and reduce menstrual cramps, to manage acne breakouts and to treat medical conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome and endometriosis.

Another benefit of the combined pill is that it can be used to skip periods, which many do so they’re not dealing with their period each month.

“The main way the combined pill works is to stop ovulation – or the release of an egg by the ovaries – every month. There is no medical reason to have a period when taking the combined pill – the sugar or placebo pills are there to bring on a ‘withdrawal bleed’, which helps shed the lining of the uterus and reduce the risk of unpredictable bleeding,” Kin Fertility GP, Dr Kirsty Wallace-Hor tells Body+Soul.

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What is extended and continuous cycling?

Extended cycling can be defined as taking birth control pills without taking any breaks between packs, specifically for a length of time over three weeks. Typically, this is done for nine or twelve weeks, but there is no “wrong” duration as long as it is working for you. 

On the other hand, continuous cycling is when women take active hormones each day without any breaks. 

“If you are skipping periods and you get four or more days of spotting, or if you get bleeding like a moderate or heavy period, I recommend stopping any pills for four to seven days. You can restart the hormone pills after this time, even if the bleeding hasn’t completely stopped. It’s important not to do this more than once every four weeks or else the effectiveness of the pill may be reduced,” Dr Wallace-Hor explains.

The mini pill, another form of oral contraceptive, is a progestin-only pill and it does not include hormone-free pills within the pack. Because of this, you can generally take it every day and your period will not be impacted.

What are the side effects of taking the pill continuously?

Breakthrough bleeding or spotting is the most common side effect of long-term pill usage. However, the amount of spotting usually decreases over time. For many women, within a year, they will stop bleeding completely. 

If you do experience breakthrough bleeding where you need to wear a pad or tampons for more than three days, you should take a break for four to seven days before resuming usage. If you take the pill for at least seven consecutive days after the break, you will still be protected from pregnancy. 

“Some people only get very light or no periods with the combined pill even if they’re not deliberately skipping periods. Provided that pregnancy has been excluded, this is not dangerous or permanent. It can sometimes take a few months, but periods will return to what’s normal for that person when they stop taking the pill,” Dr Wallace-Hor says.

Are there any other benefits?

Continued usage of the hormonal birth control pill allows you to skip your periods safely while reducing PMS symptoms like tiredness, bloating, headaches, and general pain compared with the standard 21-day use. 

“For personal or cultural reasons, some people prefer to have “periods” with the pill and that’s fine. However, it’s worth knowing that it is a safe thing to do and has many benefits. If you have difficulties skipping periods with your current pill (for example, if you get bothersome spotting as a result), it’s worth having a chat with your GP as a different pill brand may work better for you.”

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