No matter what is said about the beauty of the female body, the wonder of the power to gestate life, the joys of womanhood… yes, it’s all true — but sometimes periods can be extremely uncomfortable or inconvenient.
Thanks to modern medicine, many women can now choose to skip their periods through hormonal birth control. If you’re considering taking this step, or are wondering about how skipping your period impacts your body, here are the pros and cons of intentionally having fewer periods.
How Birth Control Pills Work
First, let’s break down how hormonal birth control works and how you can use it to alter your menstrual cycle. Traditional birth control (such as the contraceptive skin patch, the vaginal ring, and estrogen-progestin birth control pills) essentially mimics a natural menstrual cycle.
For example, there are 28 days of pills in a traditional pill pack. However, only the first three weeks of pills have hormones that curb fertility, while the remaining week of pills are inactive. When you bleed on the fourth week of inactive pills, it’s known as withdrawal bleeding, which is your body’s reaction to pausing the hormones. Withdrawal bleeding is different from a normal period and isn’t necessary for healthy bodily function. If you choose to get rid of it entirely there are two ways to do so:
Extended-Use Birth Control
When you take active hormone pills for longer than the typical 21 days. You may take breaks from the hormones occasionally, which is when you have withdrawal bleeding.
Continuous-Use Birth Control
When you take active hormones for a year with no breaks, thus avoiding any withdrawal bleeding.
Other hormonal birth control methods that allow you to skip your period include vaginal ring (Nuvaring), an intrauterine device (IUD), and DMPA injection (Depo-Provera).
Why You May Want To Skip Your Period
The reason behind your choice is highly individual. Even if your periods are fairly light, you may find them inconvenient for your lifestyle. Maybe you’re an active military member on deployment or traveling in tropical countries with limited plumbing, or you’re simply sick of having them. As long as your doctor says it’s okay, it’s up to you. But for some women, there might be other reasons why they want to skip their periods, such as:
- Heavy menstrual bleeding
- Extremely painful cramping
- Fibroid tumors
- Menstrual migraine headaches or depression
- Bleeding disorders like hemophilia or von Willebrand disease
- A physical or mental disability that makes it difficult to utilize sanitary products
Is It Safe To Skip Your Period?
You should always check with your doctor before making any changes to ensure there aren’t any medical reasons for you to continue on your current schedule, but it’s generally safe to do so if you’re already on birth control.
Moreover, since women today on average experience many more menstrual cycles in their lifetime than previous generations (fewer pregnancies, menstruating at younger ages, reaching menopause later in life), there are more women seeking to opt out of the traditional birth control pill cycle.
Pros of Skipping Your Period
Prevent anemia from excessive bleeding
If you suffer from heavy bleeding during your monthly cycle, it can be difficult to keep your iron levels stable. Skipping your period can prevent anemia from losing iron.
Hormonal fluctuations may cause certain people to break out. By regulating your hormones with birth control, your skin may remain clearer through the month.
Prevent menstrual migraines
Hormonal fluctuations can cause major migraines around and during your period, which can be regulated by skipping it.
Reduce Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)
PMDD is a type of chronic premenstrual syndrome (PMS) that causes significant emotional and physical distress. Associate Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Biology at Harvard Medical School Hope Riccioti, M.D recommends birth control pills containing the hormone drospirenone (to start with) for regulating cycles with the aim of treating PMDD.
Lower risk for certain cancers
As mentioned briefly above, women in developed countries today have many more periods than previous generations due to a range of factors. Since each menstrual cycle leads to swings in progesterone and estrogen, stabilizing your body with less menstrual cycles may also reduce the risk of certain ovarian and uterine cancers.
Convenience and comfort
If you simply don’t want to deal with the hassle of having your period at the beach or while traveling, then speak to your doctor about timing your birth control to avoid menstruating so you can enjoy your activities without worrying about tampons, pads, and cramps.
Prevent ovarian cysts
Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs that form on or in the ovaries. They’re very common, and are typically benign. Ovarian cysts are most likely to form in individuals with uteruses that regularly menstruate. Thus, skipping your period can prevent such cysts from forming or even help get rid of any you currently have.
Cons of Skipping Your Period
While intentionally skipping periods is a generally safe practice as long as your doctor gives you the go-ahead, there are some potential risks to consider:
- Additional days of hormones
- Increased risk of blood clots, heart attacks, stroke, etc. associated with oral contraceptives, particularly if you’re a smoker
- Menstruation isn’t an accurate indicator of pregnancy, so you should take a pregnancy test if you think you are pregnant
- Oral contraceptives are not recommended for women with a history of heart disease, smoking, blood clots, certain liver or cancer diseases, or are potentially pregnant
- Potential bleeding and spotting between periods
- Skipping your period may make it difficult to detect menstrual complications like amenorrhea or ovarian failure
- Limited longitudinal research; scientists aren’t sure about the long-term effects yet
It’s Your Choice
At the end of the day, the decision to skip your period through modern science is up to you. Remember that skipping your period essentially carries the same risk as taking oral contraceptives, so your doctor may advise against it if you’re a heavy smoker or have certain health conditions. As with any other medical decision, always consult with your doctor first.