Skipping your period with birth control, yay or nay?
side effects of the pill
People have been taking hormonal birth control for over 60 years now and it’s still one of the most foolproof methods to prevent pregnancy. The contraceptive pill contains the synthetic hormones oestrogen and progestin which enter your bloodstream and regulate your cycle. Even though the pill is very useful, it’s still a medicine and taking it can unfortunately cause some side effects. All bodies are different, so naturally not everyone experiences the same symptoms, but common side effects of the pill are a headache, nausea, more hair growth and fluid retention (which unfortunately makes you gain some water weight). It can also affect your sex drive or even your mood in general. Some people might not feel like themselves and experience gloomy or even depressive feelings while they’re taking the pill. Next to all this, there’s also a small chance of thrombosis (blood clots). This list contains some pretty unpleasant side effects that might make you wonder why you would even take the pill. But for millions of people worldwide, it's the fact that they are protected against unwanted pregnancy that makes it all worth it.
Most often you take the pill for 21 days and then have a break for 7 days. On the days you don’t take any hormone pills you’ll bleed just like you would on your ‘normal’ period. This was done so that it would look and feel like a natural menstrual cycle. Doctors almost always advise you to have this ‘pill-free week’ after three weeks of taking the pill. Most people follow this advice because they find it reassuring to know they’re bleeding, because that means they’re not pregnant. Some may also find it a scary thought to skip the pill-free week because they’re afraid the blood builds up in the uterus. But no need to worry! We can assure you that that doesn't happen.
When you stop taking the pill you won’t get any hormones in your body and that’s why you’ll get your ‘period’. Because you usually know when you’re taking a pill-free week, you’ll also know when you’ll get your period. But sometimes it’s your body that decides it needs a pill-free week and starts bleeding early. This is also called spotting and about 50% of the women who keep taking the pill experience spotting after skipping their pill-free week for the third time. But this is different for everyone, some will experience spotting after skipping their pill-free week for the second time, while others might only experience spotting after six months. If you’re curious and want to read more about this, you can do that here!
As we said before, it’s usually advised to have a pill-free week but is it actually necessary to stop taking the pill for a week? Because for some people it’s actually quite beneficial to keep taking the pill because the hormones in it make sure the lining of the uterus doesn’t thicken. And the thickening is actually what can cause the severe symptoms if you suffer from heavy menstrual bleeding, PMS, PCOS or endometriosis.
In Great Britain, they no longer advise you to have a pill-free week. Instead, you’re told you can take them every single day of the month. This is because a pill-free week wouldn’t have any real health benefits. In the Netherlands not everyone can agree on that. The Dutch College of General Practitioner, an association of general practitioners in the Netherlands, says that the long term effects of skipping the pill-free week are still not known, but that it also seems like there aren’t any harmful effects. There are also plenty of leading gynecologists who say that there are no long-term risks and that you can keep taking the pill.
Our advice? The best thing you can do is listen to your own body. As long as everything feels alright you should be able to skip the pill-free week. However, you should go to your GP when you experience symptoms while you keep taking the pill or during your pill-free week. We also recommend that when you keep taking the pill and you experience spotting at a certain moment, you should take a pill-free week and continue with the pill after that week again.