Lots of women use the pill to change the timing of their periods. Here, experts weigh in on whether that's a safe idea.
You’re going on a cruise this summer and you’re set to get your period smack dab in the middle of vacay. (Of course.) Or maybe you’re getting married, and you are not risking getting your period while you walk down the aisle. Whatever the reason, we know: bikinis and R&R and white gowns do not mix with cramps, bloating, and your flow.
So you’ve probably heard that you can take care of the problem—skip your period—by hacking your birth control pill schedule. When you get to the end of your pack, you can ditch the placebo pills and immediately start the next pack. By taking active pills the entire time, you get a dose of hormones every day, which prevents the process that triggers what’s called “withdrawal bleeding” (what you recognize as your period).
But is it safe? Yes, you’ve got MD approval. “Women do not need to menstruate monthly,” says Melissa Goist, MD, ob/gyn at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. And while many women might skip their periods for medical reasons—they get migraines around when their period starts, or experience heavy bleeding or pelvic pain—it’s also completely cool if you want to do it for social reasons like summer vacation, she says. (And it's also fine if you only want a few periods a year, if at all. Extended-cycle pills like Seasonique and Seasonale prevent pregnancy allow you to have a period just every three months, while Lybrel stops your period for a year.)
Know that tons of women are using their birth control to pause their periods, too. A 2012 study in the journal Contraception found that 17% of women who used hormonal contraception said they controlled the timing of their period with birth control—and half of them did it for convenience.
In that study, less than half got the know-how from their doctors—but you should talk to yours first. “Not all pills are created equally, and some are better to use continuously compared to others,” says Dr. Goist. You don't need an appointment; a phone call will do, she says.
Then, stay in touch. Some women do fine skipping multiple cycles in a row, and others will have the oh-so-fun side effect of spotting. That can be normal since it can take your body a few months to get used to the change. However, “bleeding early is often a sign that the body needs to menstruate,” explains Dr. Goist. She typically recommends continuous use for three months, but you can get the go ahead to do it for longer. (If you use something like the NuvaRing, you’d take out the old one and insert a new one right away.)
So there you have it: permission to really enjoy those pina coladas—string bikini and all.