Can You Make Your Period Stop After It Begins?
What woman hasn't looked at her calendar mid-period, bemoaned the fact that she has four more days of blood and cramps, and wished she could just stop her period mid-way? Unfortunately, if it's already started, you don't have many options except to ride it out to the end. Let's be clear about this: no, you cannot stop your period once it has already begun. However, depending on what kind of birth control you use, you may be able to stop periods before they arrive — a practice known as "menstrual suppression."
Are periods necessary? That very question is actually the subject of quite a lot of scientific debate. Do we really need them to keep us balanced or healthy? Do they have any function beyond shedding unused uterine lining and letting us know that we're not knocked up? Many scientists believe that they don't, though there may be some health effects to skipping your period long-term. And the science of menstrual suppression and periods is actually pretty fascinating — as long as you're not squeamish about bleeding, birth control, uterine tissue, and other glorious aspects that come with having a period, of course.
So here's what you can do to stop your period before it starts. Sorry; if it's hit on the day before a gigantic project or huge date, it's there to stay until it's played out.
Why You Can't Stop A Period That's Already In Progress
Frankly, you wouldn't really want a period to stop once it has already begun. Periods, let's remember, are actually a shedding process, in which the lining of the uterus or womb is "refreshed" because it's not currently incubating an egg. The period mechanism involves the expulsion of uterine tissue, and stopping that process halfway would likely end with partially-expelled stuff hanging around causing problems.
It's not just about shedding, though. Per the NHS, your period begins because your hormonal levels change; at the start of the cycle, when you ovulate, estrogen and progesterone levels peak to prompt ovaries into action and thicken the womb lining for any potential eggs. But if no pregnancy happens, the hormone levels decline, setting off a thinning and shedding of the womb lining. Physically stopping the process might have to involve somehow disrupting that hormonal signaling halfway or confusing it. It doesn't, at this point in medical history, look possible.
What You Can Do To Head Periods Off At The Pass
The concept of menstrual suppression, as it's known, isn't widely advertised, but it's a well-known option among gynecological professionals. Many birth control methods allow for "skipping" a period. The one most familiar is likely the combined birth control pill (as opposed to the mini-pill); a combined pill pack normally has seven days of placebo or "sugar" pills so that hormone levels lower and bleeding occurs (this bleeding is called "withdrawal bleeding", per the Mayo Clinic, as it is not a true period, and instead caused by the drop in hormone levels caused by taking placebo pills). If you don't want a period, you can skip that month's placebo pills and go straight onto the next month's active pills. No bleeding, no fuss.
There are actually brands of entire-cycle active pills, known as "continuous birth control" pills, designed for women who want to go an extended amount of time without periods — you take three months worth of active pills in a row, and then have seven days of placebo pills to bring on withdrawal bleeding. With this method, you only have your period four times a year.
And that's not all; some other non-pill birth control methods offer the same option. The vaginal contraceptive ring, for instance, normally functions similar to pills — users keep the ring in place for three weeks, then take it out for the fourth for the withdrawal bleed to occur, and then replace it with a new ring. However, if you wish to skip your period that month, you are allowed to simply change to a new ring without a break. And other methods can cause your period to nearly vanish — the hormonal IUD, the birth control implant, and the birth control shot often leave users with no period for their duration of use.
The biggest risk with menstrual suppression of this type is breakthrough bleeding at the time when you would have had your period. (In fact, the National Women's Health Network reports, women on continuous birth control pills report the same number of bleeding days as women on combined contraception in the first year; it's not a guarantee that all bleeding will stop.) However, it's crucial to note that you can't just apply the "take-it-continuously" method to every kind of birth control pill; according to the Mayo Clinic, the pill you take should be monophasic, or contain the same dose in every pill. The best way to make sure that it's OK to take your pill continuously is to ask your doctor.
Is Menstrual Suppression Risky?
If you're worried that skipping a period or several is unnatural, harmful, or going to cause some kind of "blockage" or back-up of uterine tissue, fear not. Current science indicates that it's pretty risk-free, though more work remains to be done on its long-term consequences on the female body, hormones, heart health and bone density. It's not "unnatural" — in fact, we're not actually clear that having a monthly period is in any way necessary to having a healthy body.
The health risks associated with using pills for continuous birth control — which include blood clots, stroke and headache — are believed to be the same as those for people using the 21-active seven-placebo cycle. And it's not as if menstrual suppression is a new thing; for decades, gynecologists have been prescribing it for serious menstrual or reproductive disorders, like endometriosis, where periods are excruciatingly painful. (It's been going on under the label "therapeutic amenorrhea" since at least the 1960s.) Extended cycling may actually make it trickier for you to get pregnant while you're on the pill, because it inhibits follicular growth in the ovaries and lowers your ovulation risk. The Association Of Reproductive Health Professionals notes that science currently suggests menstrual suppression does not affect fertility in the long term.
One thing that menstrual suppression may impact, however, is your iron levels; the period is a built-in way of ridding the female body of excess iron, and it may be that long-term period avoidance means too much iron. More studies need to be done to get any answers on this one. One problem that likely won't present itself, though, is too much uterine tissue running around in the body. In fact, The Atlantic pointed out in an examination of the issue in 2015 that build-up of uterine tissues is more likely when you're not on any hormonal contraception.
Either way, if you're thinking of stopping your period, once or for a while, you need to talk to your healthcare professional or an expert on gynecological health. Don't just randomly throw away your seven placebo pills and think that'll protect you against pregnancy while taking periods away into the bargain; that's just setting yourself up for trouble.
This post was first published on April 12, 2016. It was updated on August 14, 2019.
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