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The synthetic hormones in the contraceptive pill prevent you from ovulating (producing eggs from your ovaries). They also prevents sperm from reaching the egg after you have sex, and make it difficult for a fertilised egg to implant in the lining of the womb.
The combined contraceptive pill (which contains oestrogen and progestogen) is normally taken for 21 days followed by a 7 day break to have a bleed similar to a period, known as a ‘withdrawal bleed’. If you take the mini-pill (which contains only progestogen) you may not have periods at all because it is taken for 28 days without a break.
Typically, women taking the combined contraceptive pill will have lighter, less painful and more regular periods. Women who take the mini-pill may have no periods at all, or they may experience some irregular bleeding (also known as ‘spotting’) while taking this type of pill.
If you are taking the combined contraceptive pill, you will have a period-type bleed (known as a withdrawal bleed) when you take your 7 day break from taking the pill. This withdrawal bleed happens because on the break the synthetic oestrogen in the pills is withdrawn from your system, so the womb lining breaks down and bleeding occurs.
If you are prescribed the mini-pill you take it for 28 days and don’t take a break from taking it. Once you finish one packet, you immediately start taking the next packet of 28 pills. Many women don’t have periods at all while taking the mini-pill, though some spotting may occur in some women.
The hormones in contraceptive pills suppress your pituitary gland, which stops eggs developing in the ovaries and being released. This means that the normal menstrual cycle doesn’t occur when you’re taking the pill.
During a normal menstrual cycle, an egg is released and makes its way down the fallopian tubes. If it is fertilised by a sperm it will implant itself in the lining of your womb and a foetus will form (pregnancy). But if the egg is not fertilised then the body realises it is not pregnant and the womb lining begins to break down. This is a period. When you take the pill, the synthetic hormones in it make your body think that you are pregnant, so you don’t release an egg (ovulation), when you stop taking the pill on your seven day break, you will get a period.
If you don’t want to have periods, then taking the pill continuously can stop them for as long as you’re taking it. However, you might still have irregular bleeding or spotting during the first few months of taking the pill. This normally stops once you’ve been taking the pill for a longer time, but this varies from woman to woman.
The pill is not only used to prevent pregnancy, but is also prescribed to women who experience heavy and painful periods, to make their periods lighter, shorter and less painful. Taking the combined contraceptive pill can make your periods lighter and helps to reduce the symptoms of PMS (premenstrual syndrome).
If you take the mini-pill, where you take it for 28 days without a break, you will normally not have periods or maybe just some light spotting.
For many women, skipping periods is safe. There is no medical reason why women who don’t want to get pregnant need to have periods. Many women who have heavy menstrual bleeding and cramps can safely take the pill to avoid going through the debilitating experience every month. Taking the pill to stop your periods can also help to prevent the fatigue of anaemia (caused by loss of iron due to heavy menstrual bleeding).
However avoid taking more than two packs together unless you have discussed it with your nurse or doctor, as you may have breakthrough bleeding as your womb lining sheds. Also some women feel bloated if they run several packs together.
It is useful to remember that the withdrawal bleed that you have when you take a 7 day break from taking your pill is not a natural period. It is the withdrawal of the synthetic hormones in the pill that causes the bleed so it mimics a menstrual period.
Not having periods doesn’t mean that it’s building up inside you - when you take the pill continuously the uterine (womb) lining doesn’t develop so there’s no ‘build up’ and most women can safely take the pill continuously and skip their periods. If you have any concerns, speak to your doctor about what is best for you.
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