The pill is a type of hormonal contraceptive, orally taken to prevent unwanted pregnancies. There are two main types: the combined pill and the mini pill.
How does taking the pill affect my period?
How the pill affects your period will depend on which type of pill you are taking.
The combined pill
The combined pill usually makes your periods regular, lighter, and less painful, alleviating PMS symptoms. You'll take it every day for 21 days and then have a 7-day gap before starting the next pack which is when your period-like withdrawal bleed occurs. When you first start taking the combined pill, it's normal to experience breakthrough bleeding. This is where you bleed continuously for several weeks, but it will settle down after the first month or two.
The mini pill
The mini pill can cause your periods to be irregular or heavy and doesn't give you the same sense of control over your cycle as the combined pill does. In some women their periods stop altogether or they experience light spotting in between periods. It's taken every day during the month without a break.
What's the difference between the combined pill and the mini pill?
The combined pill contains two types of hormones: oestrogen and progesterone, which are produced naturally by the body and fluctuate over your menstrual cycle duration. The mini-pill only contains progesterone and is also known as the progesterone-only pill. Some women can't take the combined pill as it increases your risk of blood clots. If you have heart problems, high blood pressure, or a smoker over 35 the mini pill is a safer alternative.
Can the pill stop me from having periods?
Taking the combined pill as instructed will not stop you from having periods. However, it is possible to skip your period by running two packs together and missing out the usual 7-day break. It's not recommended to do this regularly or for more than one month at a time. If you do, you'll likely experience light bleeding or spotting. The mini pill can stop your period altogether but, it can also cause heavy bleeding and irregular periods. You might not know how the mini-pill affects your period until you start taking it.
How can I delay my period?
If you are on the combined pill or considering taking it as your preferred contraception method, you can delay your period by skipping the pill-free week between packs. If the combined pill is not suitable for you, or if you are already using a different method of contraception, there are hormonal treatments available to delay your period:
Both of these medications contain the progesterone hormone and will delay your period for up to 20 days. You can order these directly from Dr Felix without having to see your doctor.
The pill and period pain
If you experience painful periods, then the combined pill might be an excellent option to control this. When you have your period, the muscles surrounding the womb's wall contract and shed the womb lining, leaving your body as menstrual blood. While this is happening, this constricts the oxygen supply to the womb causing the body to release chemicals that trigger period pain.
Taking the combined pill stops ovulation and thins the womb lining, making it easier for the muscular wall to dispel menstrual blood each month. In turn, this makes your periods lighter and much less painful. The mini pill will usually cause lighter and less painful periods too so you can also try this if the combined pill isn't suitable for you.
The pill and PMS
Another benefit of the combined pill is that it can help with the symptoms of PMS. However, it's important to be aware of the potential side effects of the pill, which commonly include:
- Mood swings
- Breast tenderness
- Abdominal pain
- Spotting between periods
These symptoms usually disappear after the first month or two.
Which other hormonal contraceptives can stop my periods?
There are many other types of hormonal contraceptives out there that can also help control your period or manage your symptoms. These include:
- The vaginal ring or patch: both of these contraceptives work in the same way as the combined pill and can be used in the same manner to delay your periods
- The hormonal injection: the injection can stop your periods altogether but, they can also cause them to become irregular, heavier or shorter and lighter
- The contraceptive implant: The implant often causes irregular bleeding at first but, this usually settles down after a couple of months. For some women, it stops their periods altogether
- The hormonal IUS: Also known as the hormonal coil, this works similarly to lighten your periods and may result in irregular bleeding for some women or no periods altogether in others
There is no definite way of knowing how these hormonal contraceptives will affect you as everybody is different and, other women's experiences may differ from your own. You can discuss various contraception methods with your GP or local family planning clinic to help you decide what's best for you or it may be necessary to try a few different contraceptives to find the one that works for you.
Will the pill make my period late?
Your period will typically be consistent with the combined pill, happening in the 4th week of your cycle when you reach the end of a pill pack. If you have recently started the pill and began taking it in the middle of your cycle, this may cause it to occur slightly later at first. This might also happen if you have delayed your period. The mini pill can cause irregular periods so your period might not always happen when you expect it to. There are other factors which can contribute to your period being late, or not happening at all:
- Weight loss
- Eating disorders
If you are concerned about your period being late, or abnormal in any way, then seek advice from a doctor or pharmacist. The most common reason for a missed period is pregnancy but there are other possibilities. Aside from the factors listed above, it can also indicate a more serious condition such as polycystic ovary syndrome so it's important to report any irregular symptoms to a doctor.