We want you to know something that may come as a bit of a shock: A period while taking hormonal birth control (oral contraceptives) is not a natural menstrual period. In fact, it’s not a real period at all.
Taking birth control can cause you to believe you are experiencing normal periods. The entire menstrual cycle may seem regular and healthy; the same length from month to month, with a period that lasts the same number of days, etc. Unfortunately, a period while on birth control is very different from a natural period. From a natural perspective, birth control is not an effective long-term solution for menstrual cycle challenges/irregularities or fertility health, even though it is commonly used to regulate the cycle.
What Happens to the Body on Hormonal Birth Control?
Birth Control pills take your natural hormone systems offline. Birth control pills contain man-made estrogen and progestin hormones. These hormones inhibit natural cyclical hormone changes and responses that would otherwise occur during the follicular and luteal phases of the menstrual cycle.
To prescribe birth control for “hormone balance” is simply nonsensical. Birth control does not balance hormones; it switches them off.
Birth control switches off ovulation and so switches off estrogen and progesterone. It induces a kind of “chemical menopause” and then replaces back contraceptive drugs as a substandard type of “hormone replacement.”
Which might be okay if contraceptive drugs were as beneficial as our hormones. But they’re not. Contraceptive drugs are not even hormones. ~ Dr. Lara Briden
While the pill is not 100% effective at preventing pregnancy, it’s very close to 99%. Hormonal birth control works by suppressing normal ovulation and making the vaginal environment less hospitable to sperm.
A period while on the Pill is a withdrawal bleed…
When you stop your birth control pills on day 21 (or as directed), it results in a hormone-dependent withdrawal bleed (sometimes called a breakthrough bleed). As you are cut off from the synthetic hormones, your body’s hormone levels abruptly drop, causing the uterine lining to shed. This may seem similar to a normal period, but it occurs without natural ovulation, normal hormone response or chance of conception.
Dispelling the Myth: The Pill Does Not Regulate Your Period
As natural health educators, we find using birth control pills “the Pill” to “regulate the cycle” to be counterintuitive. There is nothing natural about your menstrual cycle on birth control. When used correctly, oral contraceptives completely suppress your natural cycle. This is how they are designed to prevent pregnancy.
Still, while the Pill does not “regulate” the period, there are a few ways the Pill may help some menstrual problems temporarily:
- Birth control pills containing synthetic estrogen and progestin can thicken the uterine lining. This may help some women regain an absent period temporarily when the Pill is discontinued.
- For women with PCOS who don’t have a regular cycle, taking the Pill may have some benefits in preventing endometrial hyperplasia (thickened uterine lining) because it can stimulate a withdrawal bleed every month.
- Birth control pills may help control excessive hormone production involved in Endometriosis or extremely heavy cycles. However, once discontinued, the benefits (if it worked) are temporary.
What’s the Catch? Drawbacks of Using Birth Control Pills
Using the birth control pill does not solve the underlying imbalance responsible for a menstrual cycle concern. If the underlying cause (like PCOS, Endometriosis or anovulation) is not addressed, the problem will most likely crop back up again once the Pill is stopped.
Further, the Pill can cause side effects. Some women have heavy withdrawal bleeding or mid-cycle spotting on the pill according to the Mayo Clinic. Others have mood swings, low libido, vaginal dryness or breast tenderness. Long-term use of oral contraceptives could increase your risk of hormone-driven cancers like breast cancer or dangerous blood clots, especially in smokers.
As a woman approaches perimenopause, taking hormonal birth control can lead to a double whammy of symptoms. In their 40’s, women naturally experience hormone shifts and anovulatory cycles. While taking the Pill may control symptoms for some women, for others, it can worsen them or lead to an even more irregular bleeding pattern. It’s also impossible to know where you are in your transition to menopause while you’re still taking the Pill.
Weigh the Pros and Cons of the Pill
Take the time to do your own research to determine if the benefits of the Pill outweigh the drawbacks for your personal situation. In our view, taking the Pill for fertility purposes or to regulate the cycle is usually counterproductive.
A better approach is to try natural therapies with dietary and lifestyle changes that address the cause of a fertility or menstrual cycle challenge. Truly, hormonal birth control is best used for pregnancy prevention. Even then, a natural family planning method (like the Fertility Awareness Method) can be considered to spare the body from hormone side effects and health risks.
- Broden, L. (June 10, 2014). How Birth Control Switches Off Hormones and Why That Matters. Retrieved from https://www.larabriden.com/how-the-pill-switches-off-hormones-and-why-that-matters/
- Birth Control. (2005-2017). WebMD. Retrieved from: https://www.webmd.com/sex/birth-control/birth-control-pills
- Galan, N. (2017, Aug.). What Type of Birth Control is Best For Treating PCOS. Very Well. Retrieved from: https://www.verywell.com/taking-the-pill-for-pcos-2616584
- Dolgen, E. (2013, Sept.). Birth Control and Perimenopause. Huffington Post. Retrieved from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ellen-sarver-dolgen/birth-control-and-perimenopause_b_3522206.html
- Estrogen And Progestin Oral Contraceptives (Oral Route)(n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/estrogen-and-progestin-oral-contraceptives-oral-route/side-effects/drg-20069422
- Oral Contraceptives and Cancer Risk. (2017). National Cancer Institute. Retrieved from: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/hormones/oral-contraceptives-fact-sheet