Women can choose from a wide variety of contraceptive choices, and they do: More than 60 percent of women of reproductive age in the United States use some form of birth control at any given time. From the patch to the pill, and IUDs to condoms, each type of birth control performs a basic function: it prevents unwanted pregnancies. However, most contraceptives also affect a woman’s period.
If you’re starting birth control for the first time or switching to a different contraceptive than the one you currently rely upon, consider how each birth control method you’re evaluating could change your period. That way, you won’t be blindsided if your cycle takes a new rhythm.
As part of your investigation into contraceptives, keep the following facts in mind.
1. Some birth control allows you to stop your period altogether.
Don’t like getting a period every month? Want to miss a period because you’ll be on vacation and would rather not deal with the fuss of feminine hygiene products? You may want to choose a birth control method that alters your body in such a way that you stop menstruating. For example, the birth control patch delivers hormones transdermally through your skin. Each week, you change to a new patch. In the fourth week, you stop using the patch and get your period—or maybe not.
Instead of allowing yourself to menstruate, you could apply a new patch on the fourth week. Best of all, this is a general safe way to avoid a period. The majority of healthcare providers agree that skipping a few periods in a row is unlikely to cause any lasting issues. Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to speak with your reproductive health physician before delaying your periods.
2. You could effectively lighten your period flow with hormone-driven contraceptives.
Numerous kinds of contraceptives on the market use synthetic versions of naturally occurring hormones such as progestin and estrogen. For certain women, the right mix of hormones can reduce the heaviness of their periods. This means if you tend to have a very strong flow, you could work with your doctor to find the right type of birth control to make your flow more manageable.
Why does the volume or intensity of your flow matter if you’re going to have a period anyway? Sometimes, a heavy flow can cause embarrassing moments, especially if you aren’t sure when your period will show up. Additionally, heavy flows can be accompanied by unpleasant side effects like painful cramping. Therefore, if you tend to go through a lot of “super” sized tampons or thicker pads, you may want to consider a contraceptive with a hormone known to make periods less of an intrusion.
3. The right birth control can take away insecurity due to irregular periods.
Perhaps you have the opposite problem of a heavy period: You get your periods at random times. In other words, you never know when a period is about to happen, or how heavy or light it’ll be. Not being able to predict your cycle can be frustrating. Plus, it can pose problems if you’re trying to figure out when you’re more or less likely to be fertile.
Just as birth control can help you skip a period or make bleeding lighter, certain contraceptives can help regulate your period. Some women’s bodies lack enough progesterone, which makes it tough for them to have a period about once a month. By taking birth control that contains the right hormones, women can give themselves the peace of mind that comes from knowing when your period is about to start.
4. Contraceptives can be salvation if you experience painful periods.
Uterine cramping happens for most women when they get their periods. Yet some women experience such intense discomfort that they can’t move or become nauseated. In those cases, their physicians may prescribe birth control pills or other contraceptives that contain hormones. Why? The hormones in a contraceptive like a pill stop the uterus from contracting by halting ovulation.
Endometriosis can be another reason for a painful cycle. Women with endometriosis have a condition that causes the lining of the uterus to extend outside the uterus. Again, hormone-based contraceptives interrupt the creation of the uterine lining, leading to fewer episodes of it expanding beyond the uterus.
5. Your period may show up erratically when first using a new contraceptive.
You’ve started your birth control, only to have your period appear much sooner than you expected. Does this mean you’ve made the wrong choice? Not necessarily.
It can take your body several weeks or months to adjust to a contraceptive. During that adjustment, you may experience periods or breakthrough bleeding. As long as the bleeding episodes begin to lessen, you probably don’t need to get too concerned. On the other hand, if the bleeding intensifies, you may need a different form of birth control.
6. If you stop hormone contraceptives, you might not get a period for a while.
In some cases, women who stop using contraceptives get a period right away. For others, the process can take longer.
Your body is unique. If you stop taking birth control, you may still not see a period for a few months. If you’re trying to get pregnant, not having a period to gauge your fertility can be frustrating. The good news is that you will likely get back into a normal rhythm soon enough.
7. You could stop having a period, even if you’re not trying to stop your period.
Occasionally, women who have used hormone-releasing birth control for a long time no longer get periods at all. If this happens, you may want first to talk with your physician to ensure you’re healthy. As long as you are, you’re probably not going to be too upset.
Unless you like having a monthly flow, this type of side effect can be a bonus. Aside from not worrying about having an “oops” moment, you could save a little money on tampons or pads.
At the end of the day, why you choose a specific kind of birth control is entirely up to you and your doctor. But in addition to thinking about what type of contraceptive fits best into your lifestyle, make sure you contemplate how it could affect your period. That way, you’ll be more likely to feel good about your final decision and never surprised by the results.