Ladies, Here's What Really Happens When You Use Birth Control To Skip Your Period

by Alexia LaFata

After an excruciating month apart, your long-distance boyfriend is finally visiting you. You bought a sheer, sexy lingerie set and a new perfume from Victoria's Secret, and you're ready to tackle him when he gets off the airplane.

Your dream vacation in Punta Cana with all of your closest friends has, at last, arrived. Carrying a duffel bag packed with your favorite guilty pleasure books and your hottest bikinis, you step into the hotel lobby and inhale the sweet and salty ocean air. Beach time is here.

This has been the roughest week of your life. You've been carrying the heavy weight of an impossible workload and irritating coworkers, and you want nothing more than to hit the town on Saturday night with your girls. The bar, an amaretto sour and your tightest bandage dress are calling your name.

Suddenly, your birth control alarm on your cell phone rings. Like every other day, you nonchalantly reach for your pill pack, pop today's pill out, and chase it down with some water.

Then, upon a quick glance at today's date, your face falls. No, no, no -- it can't be! It can't! Didn't you just have it? Didn't you just -- finally -- throw out that old pair of stained underwear?

The gods of probability despise you. It's period week. Starting tomorrow. Tomorrow. 

Sheer panic ensues because this is literally the worst thing to happen to any woman. What will you do? You haven't seen your boyfriend in weeks and you're accumulating cobwebs down there.

There's no way your white bikini will hold up against the waves of the crimson tide. And all of that bloating will make you look like a balloon in your bandage dress.

There's only one solution: skip your period.

We all do it. Lots of doctors won't officially sign on to the idea that it's okay for you to skip your period while you're on birth control, but emerging research suggests it's actually okay to do.

Dr. David Grimes, a leading expert on birth control and clinical professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, told ABC News that monthly bleeding is not required for good health, so "menstrual suppression" -- using birth control to skip your period -- is fine.

If your doctor tells you it's safe for you to be on birth control, it's safe to skip your period, according to Mayo Clinic, the leading nonprofit organization in medical care and research.

Planned Parenthood agrees that it's safe, but emphasizes that women who are unfit for birth control in the first place should not be skipping periods.

This includes women who are unhealthy, who have uncontrollably high blood pressure, who are smokers, and who are over 35, says Mary Jane Minkin, MD, clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale University School of Medicine.

You can choose to skip your period whenever you want if you're on the ring or the pill. With the ring, simply leave your ring in for four weeks, and then when you take it out, immediately replace it with a new one. Period skipped.

With the pill, you can skip your period with "extended-cycle" pills or with regular pills. Most extended-cycle pills on the market decrease the amount of periods you have per year to four. The first one, Seasonale, came out in 2003, and the second, Seasonique, came out in 2006.

These extended-cycle pills give you 12 weeks' worth of active pills and then one week's worth of inactive pills (Seasonale) or low-estrogen pills  (Seasonique), which will be your period week.

It's also possible to skip your period on regular pills, so instead of continuing into week four's inactive pills to get your period, you'd start a new pack right at the end of your active pill cycle.

Some doctors are hesitant to bring up this idea on their own, but if you bring it up yourself, your doctor may recommend a schedule.

For example, he or she might say to take active pills for six weeks in a row (so you skip one period), and then take inactive pills during week seven, which is when you'll have your period.

If there are no significant side effects during those first two months, your doctor might tell you to take active pills for nine weeks in a row (so you skip two periods), and then take inactive pills during week ten. The active pill weeks may then increase to 12 for the next cycle, and so on.

Skipping periods alleviates lots of uncomfortable, intense symptoms. It can be beneficial for you to skip your period if you have heavy, painful or frequent periods; headaches or other intense symptoms during your placebo week; a mental or physical disability that inhibits you from using tampons or pads; mood swings, bloating and heavy breast tenderness in the seven to 10 days before your period; or conditions like endometriosis, asthma or migraines that worsen during your period. Or, you know, if your boyfriend is flying in from Los Angeles.

According to the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, women who skip their periods experience a heightened sense of well-being, fewer PMS symptoms, lighter and less painful periods, and reduced migraines, endometriosis and acne.

Studies even suggest that taking active pills for six or more weeks before taking inactive pills for your period week is just as safe and effective at preventing pregnancy as taking birth control pills normally.

Of course, there are some negative side effects to skipping your period. It may be difficult to tell if you're pregnant because you're not bleeding regularly.

Additionally, breakthrough bleeding can occur within the first few months of skipping your period, but that will adjust as time goes on. Minkin says breakthrough bleeding is not a health hazard; it's just annoying.

Susan Ernst, M.D., chief of gynecology services for the University Health Service at the University of Michigan, says this bleeding happens because your body isn't experiencing the normal monthly lining shed.

To reduce breakthrough bleeding, she recommends that you try to have your period every three- to four- months instead of trying to go without it for a year, which some people choose to do.

Still, there are groups that assert the lack of research in menstrual suppression and are therefore reluctant to recommend it to women.

A press release from the Society of Menstrual Cycle Research contends that "the complex hormonal interplay of the menstrual cycle... on women’s health [is] not completely understood," so it really could be hard to tell what skipping periods does.

The press release states:

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.

Overall, skipping your birth control seems to provide more benefits than consequences, so it's up to you to decide if having sex with your boyfriend now because after this week you won't have sex with him for another month is worth it. I say it is.

Photo Courtesy: Queen Tonks