Birth Control Pills and Your Period: What You Need to Know
Whether you take a combined birth control pill such as Yaz, Estrostep or Ortho Tri-Cyclen or a progestin-only pill, the hormones inside your birth control pills can and likely will change certain aspects of your period.
After you start to use birth control, your period might get shorter, lighter and easier. You might also notice a reduction in the severity of cramps, discomfort and other negative symptoms that come and go with your period.
On the other hand, many women notice annoying period-related side effects from birth control, including irregular bleeding. There’s also a chance you might not get your period as frequently as normal, depending on the specific type and brand of birth control pill you use.
Often, these effects are temporary. However, some of the side effects from birth control on your period can be persistent and last for months at a time.
Below, we’ve listed all of the effects that birth control pills can have on your period, as well as the science behind each one. We’ve also explained what you can do if you get negative side effects from birth control that make your period more difficult to live with.
How Birth Control Can Affect Your Period
Birth control pills can affect your period in a variety of ways, from making it shorter and lighter to causing you to experience irregular bleeding. Below, we’ve listed the main effects of birth control on your period, from the positives to the negatives.
Regulation of Your Period
If you use a 21-day or 28-day birth control pill, you’ll get your period more or less exactly every 28 days, helping you to maintain a consistent, predictable menstrual cycle.
The 28-day cycle is most common with combined birth control pills like Yaz, Estrostep and Ortho Tri-Cyclen. These pills come in a pack of 28 that’s made up of 21 active pills and seven inactive pills designed for use during your period.
When you use this type of birth control pill, you’ll usually start to get your period as soon as you switch from the active pills to the inactive pills. This makes it easier to predict when your period will come, letting you plan ahead of time to avoid most inconveniences.
The reason for this predictable period cycle is simple: when you use the active pills, your body stops ovulating. After you switch to the inactive pills, your body starts “withdrawal bleeding” in response to the lack of hormones, causing you to have your period.
These effects also means you can skip your period by continuing to take the active pills. We’ve covered this process in more detail in our guide to skipping your period using your birth control pills.
Lighter, Less Painful Periods
If you get discomfort or pain before and during your period, you might benefit from starting to use a combined or progestin-only birth control pill.
The hormones in birth control pills don’t just regulate your period’s timing — when you use them on a consistent basis, your period might also become lighter and less painful, making it easier to deal with your menstrual cycle.
Birth control pills can also shorten your period, making them worth considering if your period is usually longer, heavier and uncomfortable. Many women notice that their period finishes faster after they start using the birth control pill for several months.
Some birth control pills have a longer usage cycle that allows you to “skip” several periods every year.
For example, Seasonique and LoSeasonique (two brands of combined birth control that contain levonorgestrel and ethinyl estradiol) both use an extended 91-day cycle. This means you’ll only get four periods per year if you use this type of birth control pill.
For the other eight months of the year, you’ll keep taking active pills continuously, stopping your body from having a noticeable period. This is completely safe and has no significant effects on your long-term reproductive health.
Spotting (Irregular Bleeding)
Many women experience spotting after they start using birth control. Spotting can range from a small amount of bleeding that you notice on your bed sheets or in your underwear to sudden bleeding with no other symptoms.
Spotting is most common during the first two to three months of using birth control. Once your body gets used to the hormones in your birth control pill, you’ll usually experience no bleeding between your regular periods.
It’s also common to experience spotting if you forget to take a pill, if you take a pill late, or in any other situation that could cause your body’s hormone levels to fluctuate. Studies of birth control tend to show that spotting is more common if you use the progestin-only mini-pill.
How to Deal With Period-Related Side Effects From Birth Control
If you experience spotting or other period-related side effects from your birth control pill, it’s best to talk to your doctor if these side effects don’t start to go away within two to three months of you starting birth control.
Most of the time, side effects such as spotting can be solved by switching from your current pill to a birth control pill with a different amount of estrogen, or by changing your birth control usage habits.
If you’re sensitive to the estrogen in birth control pills, your doctor might recommend switching to a progestin-only pill, or to a non-hormonal form or birth control. For specific symptoms, such as period pain or discomfort, you might also be prescribed medication.
Other Forms of Birth Control and Your Period
The truth is, there’s no answer to the question, “Which are the best birth control pills?” Each pill — and overall contraceptive — offer its own unique benefits and drawbacks. If you’re looking for the best birth control pills, the best thing to do is consult with your physician.
That said, other forms of hormonal birth control can also affect your period. If you use the patch, the ring or the IUD, you might have a shorter, lighter period, as well as side effects such as spotting in between your periods.
Our guide to the pill, ring and patch goes into more detail on the major benefits of these three forms of birth control, including the effects they can have on your menstrual cycle.
You can also learn more about how the hormonal IUD can affect your period in our guide to the IUD for birth control.