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Is It Safe to Skip Your Period On Purpose While Taking Birth Control?

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Photo: Altayb / Getty Images

No one likes having their period, but it's still something most reproductive-age women need to deal with every month, even if they're on birth control. (FYI, speak to your doctor if you're missing your period.)

But what if there were a way to avoid your period whenever you felt like it? You may have heard of the DIY tinkering some women do with their birth control pills to "skip" a period (or maybe you've tried it yourself). In a traditional 28-day birth control pill pack, skipping the last four to seven pills (the number will depend on your brand), which are placebo pills (meaning they contain no hormones), and going directly onto a new pack of pills without a break, will halt your period, says Alyssa Dweck, M.D., an ob-gyn in New York City. Continuing to the next pack keeps your hormone levels consistent (a balance of progesterone and estrogen, based on your pill and dosages), blocking ovulation.

"Many women try to skip their period for a vacation, sporting event, or wedding and skip the placebo pills of their pill pack and go directly onto the next pack," explains Dr. Dweck. But let's take a look at any downsides.

Is it safe?

The short answer is yes, it's safe. Your body's hormone regulation isn't affected, and it doesn't make you more likely to get pregnant. It won't hurt your health or fertility down the road either, assures Dr. Dweck. (Related: 5 Ways Birth Control Can Fail)

"There's no physiological reason why it is necessary to take the placebo pills, or to not jump right into a new pack," says Peter Rizk, M.D., an ob-gyn fertility and women's health expert for Fairhaven Health. "When the pill was first introduced, people thought women would find it more comforting if they still experienced regular bleeding while on birth control. So, the primary reason for the 21 days of hormone pills and 7 days of placebos is really about acceptability and familiarity—it helps women feel like they have a normal menstrual cycle."

Still, "if you anticipate doing this over and over, it might be better to either take a continuous pill (one where you get a cycle every 3 months or not at all) or to switch to another form of long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) such as a hormonal IUD, implant, or shot," says Dr. Dweck. "Most women on these methods have a much lighter or nonexistent flow after a few months of use," she says. With alternative methods, you're able to let your birth control and hormones do their thing without intervening. 

Note that not all birth control pills have the same hormonal pattern. "For women taking a fixed-dose pill (meaning that all the active pills in the pack contain the same type and quantity of hormones), running packs together without the placebo pills typically means they experience no bleeding at all," says Dr. Rizk. "But for women taking a prescription that has a mix of hormones and quantities among the active pills [a triphasic, or three-phase birth contol], skipping the placebo pills can cause 'breakthrough' bleeding, and they should talk to their doctor before skipping placebo pills."

Are there side effects?

"Women prone to hormone-related migraines might benefit from avoiding the sudden drop in hormones that happen on the placebo pill days, as the hormone fluctuations can trigger a migraine," adds Dr. Rizk. "Also, women with endometriosis or painful bleeding might be better off avoiding the withdrawal bleeding that accompanies the placebo pill days." You should speak to your doctor first to ask questions and discuss any concerns—changing your birth control method may ultimately be the better option. 

Ultimately, besides some annoying spotting, skipping your period on purpose while on birth control doesn't pose any dangers to your health or fertility, says Dr. Dweck. (But spotting definitely defeats the purpose if you're trying to avoid your period!) Also know that if you do change to a different method of birth control, in which you go through continuous cycles without a placebo break, such as the ring and patch, you can still experience breakthrough bleeding, says Dr. Dweck. 

How often is too often to skip your period?

Dr. Dweck reiterates that this isn't meant to be your new normal. If you really want to skip or have less frequent periods, talk to your ob-gyn about switching to a birth control that doesn’t have placebos and withdrawal bleeding, but that uses a continuous cycle of hormones.

And while the potential connection is unclear, Dr. Dweck says it's possible that frequently skipping the placebos could potentially alter your future periods—changing the flow, symptoms, and cycle itself. Bottom line: It's best not to skip a period on purpose more than once or twice, and, if you really must, at least space out the months in which you do this. Remember that as awful as it can be to deal with the pain, bleeding, and navigating social events, menstruation is natural and healthy, so sometimes all you can do it ride it out on the couch with some ice cream and Netflix.

 

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