Fudging with cycles is something nearly everyone with a period has likely done at least once during their menstruating lifetime. An upcoming vacation? It’s time to go right into that next pack of pills and prevent “big red” from ruining your relaxing getaway. Leisure is not the only reason women decide to skip their periods, though. There are plenty of other rationales for limiting menstruation days: dating, training, significant life events. Skipping periods, however, isn’t just a way to limit inconvenience. For some, it’s an essential method for controlling period-related pain.
Before I was even sexually active, my doctor prescribed the Pill to help curtail my severe chronic migraines—pain that left me missing school, work, and social activities. Migraines struck me down regardless of whether I was on my period or not, but while I was menstruating, I was guaranteed a week of unbearable pain and vomiting. The Pill was a convenient way to avoid pregnancy, and it helped regulate my heavy periods, but I still experienced terrible migraine pain.
The Perks of Continuous Birth Control
Today, I take continuous birth control pills in addition to other migraine medications. The cocktail of drugs helps reduce the severity and quantity of my migraines, especially those that occur during menstruation. Without periods, I’m also free of the severe cramping I used to experience each month.
No physician ever suggested I skip my period, despite my frequent complaints of migraines intensifying during that specific week each month. I started experimenting on my own, taking pill packs continuously. Worried friends would tell me that it was necessary to bleed every month. It was unhealthy to do otherwise. I’d read things online that suggested it was imperative to let the body perform its natural function, that a monthly period was a way for the body to cleanse itself and that without it, you’d become damaged in some way. But if my periods caused me so much anguish, why not curtail them? I wondered about the safety and long term effects of what I was doing, but I also didn’t care much. When you live your life in pain, relief from it becomes your number one priority.
When Shannon Rosenblatt was still having regular periods, she would often miss work due to the crushing pain that radiated from her ribs to her waist, the intense cramping, and headaches. At the age of 26, when she was diagnosed with endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome, she started taking continuous hormonal birth control at the suggestion of her doctor. Shannon had never heard of skipping periods, but the more she sat with the idea, the more it became increasingly appealing. Now, she’s period-free, and her pain, while not entirely gone, has become something she capably manages. But is it safe? Do you need to bleed each month to be healthy?
Is Skipping Periods Safe?
Dr. Cara Delayne MD, MPH, OB-GYN at the Boston Medical Center, emphasizes that a monthly period is not medically necessary. The periods people experience while on hormonal birth control aren’t even actual periods. They’re what’s called a withdrawal bleed. When asked about the side effects associated with skipping periods, she explained that spotting is the most notable. She adds that studies show that there’s no higher risk of blood clots when using continuous birth control as opposed to allowing for a withdrawal bleed.
Aside from the benefit of no longer having a period, Dr. Delayne shares that some studies show that pregnancy rates are lower on continuous birth control—there’s no week where you’re skipping pills, so the habit of taking a pill every day is never broken (who bothers to take those placebo pills anyway?). When I asked her why continuous birth control helps with chronic pain related to periods, she explained that by skipping a period, you eliminate bleeding, which can cause anemia and, in turn, severe headaches and migraines. No more bleeding also means fewer instances of cramps.
An Empowering Feeling
I asked Shannon if she would continue to skip her period if she was free of painful chronic conditions. Her response was emphatic, “[o]h yeah, my gosh, yes!” She adds that she also sees her periods as disruptive and inconvenient. “It’s been a real game-changer for me,” says Rosenblatt, who describes her period-free existence as empowering.
It’s freeing to be able to control and manage your pain. I gained a sense of freedom, knowing I could safely avoid one week out of each month that left me in agony. Taking control of your own body is a powerful choice. While skipping your period may not completely rid you of pain and isn’t a treatment solution for everyone, it can help, and it’s both safe and medically sound. If you’re struggling to find solutions to your pain and think continuous hormonal birth control might help, but you’re nervous about what your healthcare provider might think, Dr. Delayne suggests arriving armed with questions and even information from the internet to plead your case. If you run into a wall, don’t be afraid to ask for a referral to another provider.