featured photo via hedvig jenning
Lauren Zielinski is a Certified Nurse-Midwife, and the founder of a grassroots women’s health movement called New Moon Rising Events. New Moon Rising works in cities across the US to hold free, day-long workshops that foster discussion about reproductive health, political advocacy, natural medicine options, and community connections.
The age old question that circulates again and again amongst circles of serious girl talk. Do you have to have a period every month? Let me start by clarifying: normally while not on birth control – yes! Your period is a sign of good reproductive health – and not having one every month warrants further examination from a provider. However, if you are like many women who use hormonal birth control such as the pill or the ring, having a monthly period isn’t actually necessary or dangerous at all! Whoop Whoop!
A lot of you with-it-women have probably already caught on to this pro-tip and have used birth control to skip your period for special occasions like your honeymoon or a beach vacay…. or perhaps you’re a regular skipper, yet still have questions about the safety of doing so? Or maybe you’re an inquisitive science nerd like me and wonder, “What’s the deal with those weird placebo pills anyway?” The answer actually might seriously shock you! Read on sister, and rest assured you’re not hurting your body or chances of conceiving later on by skipping your monthly visit from Aunt Flo.
For you to really understand why you don’t need a period every month while on birth control, you should understand what causes your period every month. The menstrual cycle is a complicated monthly dance performed by your hormones and reproductive organs. As these hormones cycle, they play off of each other, rising and falling, triggering different reproductive functions to occur. It is the rise and fall of your two most well known hormones – estrogen and progesterone – that signals the lining of your uterus to thicken with blood and tissue to prepare for a potential pregnancy every month, and then the fall of these same two hormones that causes that lining to shed, also known as the oh. so. lovely. period.
photo via sfgirlbybay
So how does hormonal birth control play into all of this?
When you use hormonal birth control, you are feeding your body a steady level of estrogen and progesterone. This steady influx of synthetic hormones stops your own natural hormones from swinging up and down through the month. By essentially “blocking” that natural hormonal fluctuation your body will:
#1 Not ovulate
#2 Never thicken it’s uterine lining for egg implantation If you are never building up this lining to begin with, there is nothing to shed every month. Think about that for a second… Nada!
Okay so what’s the deal with the “period” I get on birth control then?!
When you take birth control the “period” you get while taking placebo pills or removing your ring isn’t actually a period at all. (Excuse me, what?!) It’s technically something called withdrawal bleeding.
It works like this: Birth control doesn’t allow hormones to fluctuate – hence a thick lining never forms in your uterus.
photo via @taniajoyfjane
So… why is there a withdrawal bleed on birth control?
Lemme set the tone: The creation of the pill* was groundbreaking and society-shaking in the 1950’s. Try to imagine… if you can even… life without birth control. This new medication changed family planning and empowerment for women. Big time.
*It’s also worth mentioning here that the idea of the pill and the funding for research came from two women, Margaret Sanger and Katharine Dexter McCormick *fist bump* girl power!
The scientists behind the pill knew they had to introduce the pill in a way that was socially acceptable and wasn’t going to scare women away because it was so “different” (remember, it’s the 50’s). Women had little control over their fertility, and many of them were desperate for more, however the Catholic Church also had a big influence on societal acceptance of social matters.
The designers of the pill (one of them, John Rock, being a devout Catholic) wanted to introduce the idea of birth control gently so as to not put so much motion in the ocean that everyone was thrown off the boat. He hoped that if these new pills were marketed as synthetic versions of natural hormones, the Pope wouldn’t catch on and disapprove of birth control for the entire Catholic population. John Rock also realized that if women took estrogen and progesterone for weeks at a time without a break, periods would be eliminated, and that didn’t “seem natural” at all.
Behold the creation of the “placebo pill” to create a “fake period”.
There is 100%, no scientific reason behind this birth control-induced period. It was just an attempt to gently introduce the pill and make it seem as “natural” as possible, in the hopes of gaining as much popularity as possible. Fascinating!
photo via whowhatwear
Is it safe? And how do I do it?
If you use hormonal birth control and you’re interested in skipping your period from here-on-out, know a few things first:
1. You should preferably be on a mono-phasic pill. This means every pill has the same amount of hormones in it. If you’re not sure what you’re on, ask your provider if you’re on a good pill to do this. OR if you use the ring, just replace it with another ring every 3 weeks rather than leaving it out for a week every month. (Yes this is all safe.)
2. There is a slight chance you will have some unpredictable spotting here and there while skipping your period. If you do and it bums you out: you can ask your provider for a higher dose estrogen pill to decrease your chances of spotting, or you can try having a withdrawal bleed for only 3 or 4 days every 3-or-so months to help with this breakthrough bleeding.
3. This is not safe for women who are generally in poor health, have uncontrolled high blood pressure, or are smokers over the age of 35. If this describes you – you probably should not be using an estrogen-containing birth control to start! Make an appointment with your provider if any alarms are sounding right now to be sure.
4. While the research on period skipping isn’t hugely abundant, you’ll be hard pressed to find a doctor who thinks it’s a bad idea, and the research we do have is positive and promising. It’s always the best idea to get in with a provider and talk through the best birth control option for you in order to start skipping out! Cheers!