For some women, having a period is a sacred moment. For many, it’s felt to be an inconvenience. For others, that monthly flow brings on intense side effects like cramping, mood swings, and heavy bleeding that can make doing daily activities feel impossible. No matter which side of the coin you’re on, you may have considered whether you should stop your period and, if you were to do so, how you can go about it.
The answer is, it depends on a lot of different factors.
There are many people — both medical professionals and professional menstruators (if only we could get paid for that, right?) — that say stopping or skipping your period is perfectly safe. One of the main points that people who are for stopping periods make is that there are many times in a woman’s life when her period is naturally MIA, like when she’s pregnant or breastfeeding. Another angle to this point of view is based on the knowledge that, while estrogen causes your uterine lining to thicken, progesterone keeps it thin. When you’re using hormonal birth control to skip or stop your period, the progesterone keeps your uterine lining from building up, thus leaving nothing for your uterus to shed for a period. Those who are “Team Stop Your Period” believe that suppressing your period for either medical reasons (like if you have menorrhagia) or for recreational reasons (like not wanting to deal with possible period leaks at the beach) is safe.
On the other side of the fence, there are many people who understand why some women may want to stop their periods but can’t get behind the trend of menstrual suppression. They believe that encouraging women to stop their periods is just another way that pharmaceutical companies (and those who profit from them) are medicalizing women’s bodies. The Canadian Women’s Health Network describes this as “seeing and treating natural experiences and socially-created problems as biological diseases or illnesses that require medical surveillance or intervention.” This line of thinking speaks to how women are made to feel as though their periods are not natural when, in fact, they are and have been a part of the female biology for as long as humans have existed. It’s not just political, however. There are real health concerns about stopping your period — whether it’s for a few months or many years. Actually, there are concerns about the use of hormonal birth control, period. That’s a discussion for another day, though.
The concern with stopping your period lies in the truth that we just don’t fully know what the long-term effects are of using hormones to stop your menstrual cycle. The Society for Menstrual Cycle Research released a press release stating:
Long-term studies that address potential risks beyond the uterus, such as breast, bone, and cardiovascular health are still needed. Furthermore, there is an urgent need for studies that address impacts on adolescent development, since young women and girls are a target audience for cycle-stopping contraceptives. It is also important to address the social, psychological, and cultural implications of menstrual suppression, as well as the biomedical effects.
Granted, this statement came out in 2007 but, to date, there has not been adequate research to show that using hormonal birth control to stop your period is safe in the long run.
Potential Health Benefits and Risks of Stopping Your Period
So, now that you have an idea of why different people have different beliefs about stopping your period, let’s take a look at the potential benefits and risks.
According to the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, the following are possible benefits of using hormonal birth control to stop your period.
- Less pain with your period
- Less bleeding each month
- Fewer PMS symptoms
- Reduced menstrual migraines
- Reduced period-induced acne
- Fewer perimenopausal symptoms
- An increased sense of well-being
Those all sound ideal, right? A life free from wondering when your period will treat you to a surprise visit, stained underwear, and PMS. It sounds great — in theory.
Unfortunately, it’s not quite as easy to list out the possible risks of stopping your period. The reproductive cycle is complex, especially when you take hormones into account. There are more obvious risks and some that are not-so-obvious.
- The risk of pregnancy — no birth control is 100% effective and, if you’re taking a hormonal birth control, you may not see the signs of an accidental pregnancy early on
- Breakthrough bleeding as your body adjusts to the constant influx of hormone
- Spotting—women who suppress their period are still subject to surprise spotting
- Dr. Jerilynn Prior, of the Center for Ovulation and Menstrual Cycle Research, and Dr. Susan Rak, the author of No More Periods? The Risks of Menstrual Suppression share in a Dame article written by Holly Grigg-Spall that “experiencing your monthly cycle of ovulation and menstruation boosts bone, heart, and breast health and protects against some of the most common causes of premature death—heart disease, breast cancer, cervical cancer, and heart attacks, as well as osteoporosis and stroke.” In other words, not having your menstrual cycle could make you more prone to these.
- Though there’s no data that says that stopping your period causes infertility, it can leave you blind to it. Your periods provide a window into your health and the regularity (or irregularity) of them can help your doctor to identify whether you will have fertility issues when you try to conceive. Not having your period eliminates these signs and can cause you to be misled about how fertile you are or are not.
- Depression, blood clots, weight gain, mood swings, changes in eyesight, nausea, decreased sexual drive—these are all side effects of hormonal birth control (and the list is far from inclusive). When you take hormonal birth control as a suppressant, you are putting up to 25% more of these synthetic hormones into your body each year and are even more at risk for experiencing these side effects. If you care about what you put in your body when it comes to tampons, this is probably a big factor to consider.
Obviously, there are a lot of side effects, both positive and negative, associated with stopping your period. But it doesn’t stop there...
The Larger Cultural Impact of Menstrual Suppression
The cultural implications of suppressing menstruation play a large role in why many people feel that women shouldn’t be encouraged to stop their periods. In a society where women are shamed for having a period, the last thing we want to do is validate that not having one is better. This obsession with hormonal birth control and being period-free sends a message that having a period is not natural or acceptable. There has not been sufficient research done on the effect that stopping your period has on the way women feel about their bodies or the culture of menstruation as a whole. One study, done by Robin Ashley Repta at the University of British Columbia, explored the cultural impact of menstrual suppression on women and found that their motivations to stop their periods were largely based on how society defines menstruation as “embarrassing”, “gross”, and “taboo.” Among the motivations to menstruate? Health concerns, distrust of pharmaceuticals, and wanting to have a natural cycle. Regardless of which side of the menstrual suppression coin you find yourself on, there’s no denying that the motivations for many women to stop their period being due to shame around bleeding is cause for alarm.
How to Stop Your Period
Ultimately, deciding to stop your period is a choice that you can make with your doctor. The goal here isn’t to tell you how to live your life (your uterus, your choice, #feminism), but to give you comprehensive information that will allow you to make an informed choice. If you have decided that you want to stop your period, there are a few different ways your doctor will likely suggest you can go about it.
If you want to stop your period using the pill, you can skip the sugar pills and take the hormonal pills continuously.
Seasonal Birth Control
If you don’t want to stop your period entirely, you can opt for a birth control, like Lybrel, Seasonale, and Seasonique, that only gives you 4 periods a year.
Many women who have the Mirena IUD, which can protect you from pregnancy for up to 5 years, find that their periods become shorter and less frequent. In some cases, they disappear completely, though there’s no guarantee of this.
Birth Control Shot (Depo-Provera)
One of the most effective forms of birth control, the Depo shot causes some women’s periods to stop after a year of continuous use. You’ll need to get the shot every 12 weeks to make it effective.
Similar to the Pill, the vaginal ring (or NuvaRing) is meant to be worn inside your vagina for 3 weeks and then taken out for the 4th week, so you can have a period. To use this to skip your period, you just replace the old ring with a new one with no break in between.
If you do decide to stop your period, please make sure you have a discussion with your doctor about using birth control with that intent. Messing with your menstrual cycle using hormones can be risky. Sure, the benefits seem great now but when it comes to your reproductive health, it’s important to take long-term risks into consideration. It’s your choice, girl. Just be informed and confident about how and why you’re making that choice.
Photo: Menstrual Matters