Medically reviewed by Mary Lucas, RN
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 10/21/2020
Modern birth control pills don’t just prevent you from becoming pregnant — they also give you a new level of control over your menstrual cycle.
If you frequently have a heavy, uncomfortable period, using the birth control pill to delay or skip your period can help you avoid discomfort and improve your quality of life.
Below, we’ve explained the basics of how birth control affects your menstrual cycle, as well as how you can use the birth control pill to delay your period, skip your period or reduce the total number of menstrual cycles you have every year.
Birth control pills work by supplying your body with synthetic hormones. If you use a combined birth control pill, you’ll receive a steady, daily supply of ethinyl estradiol (a synthetic version of estrogen) and a synthetic progestin hormone.
Used together, these hormones prevent pregnancy by stopping the ovaries from releasing eggs. They also thicken the cervical mucus and lighten the lining of your uterus, reducing the chances of a fertilized egg successfully attaching.
If you use a progestin-only birth control pill, the body is supplied with a synthetic form of a progestin hormone. This type of birth control pill might not stop you from ovulating, but it will prevent pregnancy by affecting the cervical mucus and uterine lining.
Most birth control pills have a 21:7 schedule, meaning you’ll take the active pills for 21 days and the inactive pills for seven days every cycle. This means you’ll have about one week of bleeding during each cycle, mimicking a regular menstrual cycle.
During this week, you won’t actually experience a typical period. Instead, you’ll experience up to a week of what’s called “withdrawal bleeding.”
Your body starts withdrawal bleeding in response to the drop in hormone levels caused by switching from the active birth control pill to the inactive pill. Think of the drop in your hormone levels as a natural “switch,” signaling to the body that it’s time to start your period.
The blood that comes out from the vagina during withdrawal bleeding is from the thin uterine lining that develops over the course of your cycle.
Unlike a regular period, withdrawal bleeding isn’t biologically necessary. Instead, it’s a quirk of the design of the birth control pills.
When the pill was first developed in the 1950s, the scientists behind the medication wanted it to provide a predictable, “natural” experience for women who used it. Because of this, they designed the pill, with its 21:7 cycle length, to mimic the natural menstrual cycle.
In short, the “period” you get while taking birth control isn’t really a period, nor is it essential for your health and wellbeing.
Our guide to the birth control pill and your period, linked at the bottom of this article, covers this in more detail, along with the other biological effects of the pill on your menstrual cycle.
Yes. Skipping or delaying your period using birth control is generally safe. In fact, some birth control pills are designed specifically to help you avoid a monthly period, including certain pills that allow you to delay your period for an entire year.
If you have a painful, uncomfortable or overly heavy period, skipping it using your birth control pills can help to make your life easier. Still, it’s always best to talk to your doctor before you opt to delay or skip your period.
There are several ways to delay or skip your period using birth control.
If you use a combined birth control pill such as Yaz, Estrostep or Ortho Tri-Cyclen, you can skip your period by only taking the active pills, without ever using the seven inactive pills in each pack.
Since this gives your body a constant supply of ethinyl estradiol and progestin hormones, you shouldn’t experience the withdrawal bleeding that’s common with a 21:7 cycle.
Since you’ll go through more pill packs than normal this way, it’s best to check with your healthcare provider ahead of time to make sure everything is okay.
The second way to skip your period using birth control is to use an extended-cycle birth control pill.
Birth control pills like Seasonique®, Seasonale®, Quasense®, Jolessa® and Camrese® are designed to give you 12 weeks between periods. Instead of getting your period every 28 days, you’ll only get your period once every three months.
There’s also a continuous cycle pill called amethyst (the generic version of the brand Lybrel®, which is no longer on the market), designed to allow you to skip your period for an entire year at a time.
This type of pill has no inactive pills, meaning you’ll never experience any withdrawal bleeding while you use it.
If you currently use a birth control pill with a 21:7 cycle length and want to switch to an extended cycle pill, it’s best to talk to your healthcare provider. They’ll be able to inform you about the potential benefits, risks and changes you’ll need to make while using this type of birth control pill.
Yes. In addition to the birth control pill, other forms of hormonal birth control can shorten or help you completely skip your period. These include:
The hormonal IUD. About 16 percent of women who use the hormonal IUD as a form of birth control stop getting a period after one year, with most women experiencing a shorter and lighter period.
The injection (Depo-Provera®). Most women who use the Depo-Provera injection stop getting their period after six to 12 months. Just like the hormonal IUD, the injection isn’t 100 percent effective at stopping you from getting your period.
The birth control ring. Like the birth control pill, the hormonal birth control ring can be used to skip your period. Instead of taking your ring out completely, simply replace it with a new ring immediately after removal to delay your period.
The birth control patch. Skipping your period with the birth control patch is a simple process. Instead of having a patch-free week, simply start your new pack of patches a week early’ to avoid your period.
Every hormonal method of birth control has a chance of affecting your period, from giving you a lighter, easier period to helping you skip it completely. Our guide to birth control and your period goes into more detail on how hormonal birth control can affect your menstrual cycle.