Delaying your period with birth control pills

If you take birth control pills, you may not need to have a monthly period. Find out how to use the pill to have more control over your cycle. By Mayo Clinic Staff

Are you interested in having fewer periods? It's possible with birth control pills. Find out how and get answers to common questions about using birth control pills to delay or prevent periods.

How does it work?

Traditional birth control pills are designed to mimic a natural menstrual cycle. A traditional pill pack contains 28 pills, but only 21 are active — containing hormones to suppress your fertility. The other seven pills are inactive. The bleeding that occurs during the week you take the inactive pills is withdrawal bleeding, which looks like a period. This is your body's response to stopping the hormones. If you skip the inactive pills and start a new pack of active pills right away, you won't have this withdrawal bleeding.

The bleeding that occurs while you take the inactive pills isn't the same as a regular period. Nor is the bleeding necessary for health. This is good news if you take birth control pills and want more control over your menstrual cycle, either for personal or medical reasons.

What are the benefits of delaying your period?

Delaying your period can treat or prevent various menstrual symptoms. It might be worth considering if you have:

  • A physical or mental disability that makes it difficult to use sanitary napkins or tampons
  • A condition worsened by menstruation, such as endometriosis, anemia, asthma, migraines or epilepsy
  • Breast tenderness, bloating or mood swings in the seven to 10 days before your period
  • Headaches or other menstrual symptoms during the week you take inactive birth control pills
  • Heavy, prolonged, frequent or painful periods

In addition, menstrual bleeding is sometimes simply inconvenient. You may want to postpone your period until after an important exam, athletic event, vacation or special occasion, such as your wedding or honeymoon. Delaying your period may also help you save money, since you may use fewer hygiene products or pain relievers.

Is it safe for all women to delay menstruation?

If your doctor says it's OK for you to take birth control pills, it's probably safe to use them to delay your period. Not all doctors think it's a good idea to delay menstruation, however. Even those who support the option may not mention it unless you bring up the topic. If you want to try delaying your period, you may have to take the lead. Ask your doctor which option might work for you.

What are the drawbacks to delaying your period?

Breakthrough bleeding — bleeding or spotting between periods — is common when you use birth control pills to delay or prevent periods, especially during the first few months. Breakthrough bleeding typically decreases over time, however, as your body adjusts to the new regimen.

Another drawback of routinely delaying your period is that it may be more difficult to tell if you're pregnant. If you have morning sickness, breast tenderness or unusual fatigue, take a home pregnancy test or consult your doctor.

Jan. 21, 2012 See more In-depth