Is It Safe To Skip Placebo Birth Control Pills? Many People Think It’s No Big Deal

Ad failed to load

If you're on the Pill for birth control, whether you take a combined version (which contains synthetic estrogen and progestogen) or the progestogen-only pill, you will likely have a set of 'placebo pills' at the end of the month's packet. After 21 or so days of active pills, the remaining seven or so have inactive ingredients, or are just sugar pills, and when you take them they usually induce withdrawal bleeding, which is not the same as a period. To prevent that bleeding, many women contemplate skipping the placebo pills altogether and simply going onto the next phase of the cycle — but they often worry about the health effects and whether it's safe.

First things first: the placebo pills aren't integral to the contraceptive process of the pill. That is, they're not necessary to make sure you're protected from pregnancy. Placebo pills were invented to give women the "feel" of a 28-day natural cycle, under the logic that they'd be more likely to remember to take a pill every day, and that withdrawal bleeds were comforting, since it's confirmation that you're not pregnant. (It was also an attempt to make the Catholic Church more amenable to the idea, but it didn't work.) While withdrawal bleeds aren't exactly the same as periods, they do tend to signal that you're not pregnant, as pregnancy tends to shift the body's hormones so that withdrawal bleeds n't take place, even if the pill's hormonal levels are still in your body.

Ad failed to load

However, the withdrawal bleed isn't technically necessary. Uterine tissue doesn't "build up" or anything like that when you're on the Pill; you don't really need the bleed, aside from getting the assurance that you're likely not pregnant. It's also been argued by medical experts that in the past, when birth control was non-existent or not used, women with large families were pregnant or giving birth very often in their lives, meaning they often had less than 50 periods in their entire lifetime without apparent ill-effects.

Skipping the placebo pill interval entirely can also have benefits, if your experience of the withdrawal bleeds is unpleasant and involves migraines, pain, or heavy bleeding. There are also more explicit gains. A study in 2014 found that, compared with people who took 28-day cycle pills, those who didn't take placebo pills "fared better in terms of headaches, genital irritation, tiredness, bloating, and menstrual pain." Sounds cool, right? The study also found that the uterine lining of the participants were normal after "cyclic or extended oral contraceptive use."

Ad failed to load

Some women arrange tricycling, which means having three sets of active pills in a row and then one withdrawal bleed. This reduces the amount of bleeds from 12 per year to four, and is particularly advised for women who suffer from endometriosis, the illness where uterine tissue grows and sheds outside of the uterus. The longer length of time between bleeds gives the body a chance to heal, as endometriosis withdrawal bleeds can be intense and painful. There are continuous-use pills on the market for this kind of usage, like Seasonale, with 12 weeks of active pills and then one week of placebo pills.

Data scientists for the period-tracking app Clue note that studies have shown that there appears to be no apparent negative health consequence to skipping periods regularly using contraceptive pills, but that long-term studies haven't been carried out. There's evidence to suggest that long-term users of hormonal birth control may have a higher risk of breast, liver, and cervical cancer, but it's unclear whether skipping placebo weeks has any effect on these outcomes. Some doctors advise tricyclic regimes over skipping periods altogether because we're not entirely sure about how things play out long-term, so it's a conversation you should have with your gynecologist or GP. One risk we do know about is that continual pill use can often lead to breakthrough bleeding, which is usually less intense than withdrawal bleeding or periods, but is also unpredictable.

Overall, the primary thing you should know is: it's safe, it's normal, and it's not that big of a deal. But you should always talk about it with the person prescribing your birth control, so that you can figure out the right regime for you (and potentially switch to another method, like an IUD, which can induce lighter or absent periods in women). Happy bleeding (or not bleeding), everybody.

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

These Are The Beauty Products That Came Out In May That You DEFINITELY Need On Your Radar

For beauty lovers, months aren't just months: They're 28 to 31 day periods, wherein any and all product and brand launches can happen — and when they do, it feels like your birthday, no matter what time of the year you were actually born. The May 201…
By Amanda Richards

Everything Leaving & Coming To Netflix In June To Help Get Your Summer Started

Summer is right around the corner, and so is another batch of streaming options to get excited about. On Wednesday, everything leaving and coming to Netflix in June 2018 was announced by the streaming platform. And don't worry, there's something for …
By Jamie Primeau

The 5 Rom-Coms You Need To Read This Summer, According To Someone Who Writes Them

'Tis the season for rom-coms. The weather is warm, the sun is shining, and everyone is rocking the flirtiest items in their wardrobe. I don't know about you, but summer always takes me back to my teenage years — and that automatically makes me want t…
By Cristina Arreola

11 Tiny Sunglasses That Will Make You Look Even Cooler Than Kylie Jenner

You know what they say — the tinier the sunglasses, the more stylish the outfit. OK, that's not really a saying, but it seems to be the case these days. Basically every celebrity, model, and It person has been spotted sporting tiny sunglasses as part…
By Sara Tan

9 Ways This Royal Wedding Was Way More Modern Than Past Ones

The newly named Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, made history with their storybook courtship and wedding. What's more, there are myriad ways the royal wedding 2018 was more modern than previous royal weddings. From deciding…
By Brandi Neal

10 Little-Known British Traditions Meghan Markle Will Learn When She Marries Prince Harry

As an American woman dating a Brit, I am no stranger to the mishaps that can result from the cultural differences between the U.S. and England. And while I'm sure Meghan Markle has a slew of royal traditions to learn, titles to remember, and fancy ha…
By Kristin Magaldi

I've Paid $18,000 To A $24,000 Student Loan, & I Still Owe $24,000

It all became real the summer before my senior year of college. It was 2010, and my home phone still had a cord, which I wrapped around my fingers as I waited not-so-patiently for the apathetic representative on the other end to tell me the bad news …
By Kaitlyn Cawley

12 Personality Quizzes That Will Help You Determine Your Exact Strengths

Learning more about yourself can be tough. It's so easy to observe others to learn what makes them tick, what areas they really excel in, and the things they could be better at. Doing that to yourself, however, is a whole different story. That's exac…
By Jessica Booth

5 Brand New Short Story Collections You Can Finish In One Sitting This Weekend

Since 2013, May has been known by book-lovers by another name: Short Story Month. If you're ready to kick off this year's celebration the right way, make sure to pick up a short story collection to read over the weekend. Modern life moves more than …
By Sadie Trombetta

I Got Styled By 'Queer Eye's Tan France & Realized I Still Have A Lot Of Fashion "Rules" To Unlearn

When I walked into a New York City Express store on May 2 to get styled by Queer Eye's Tan France, I was ready for anything. And I mean truly anything. I am such a massive fan of the show and Tan that if he had instructed me to wrap myself in tin foi…
By Olivia Muenter

It Isn’t Bad To Have A “Princess Fantasy” — Mine Made Me The Woman I Am Today

What do you want to be when you grow up? If you were anything like me as a kid, at some point, the answer to that question was "a princess." Thanks to good old-fashioned gender stereotypes, most little girls born in the '90s (and even now) grew up in…
By Nicole Pomarico

Here’s How To Get A FREE 30-Minute Facial At Sephora That Sucks Your Pores Clean

Sephora has long been a mecca for both serious and amateur beauty lovers alike, where they not only have makeup artists that help answer questions about products, but free samples to let you play with new collections. But now they have upped the ante…
By Marlen Komar

Kris Jenner Is FINALLY Launching A Makeup Line With Kylie

Maybe you don't have a favorite sister of the Kar-Jenner clan, and that's perfectly fine. The one thing you can't deny, though, is that when it comes power, no one in that family has more than the world famous momager. Now, Kris Jenner x Kylie Cosmet…
By Shea Simmons

This Kendall Jenner “Diva” Moment Is Really Being Taken Out Of Context

The fashion always takes center stage at the Met Gala, but there's usually a little drama, too. And this time, a member of the Kardashian-Jenner family is involved. People are buzzing about how Kendall Jenner shoved someone at the Met Gala, but after…
By Nicole Pomarico

Feel Like You've Seen Everything On Netflix? Add These Movies To Your Watch List

The weekend may feel too far away, but if you're lacking formal plans, a Netflix marathon session is always a good idea. If you're an avid viewer, however, you probably feel like you've seen everything the streaming platform has to offer already. In …
By Ashley Rey

Hillary Clinton Says She's Ready To Fight Like A Republican — EXCLUSIVE

Hillary Clinton Is Not Going Away Quietly. Can Hillary Clinton Please Go Quietly Into The Night? Unlike Losers Before Her, Clinton Is Not Going Gently Into the Night. These headlines, which appeared in various news outlets over the course of the last…
By Catherine Thompson and Jenny Hollander

Here's The Very Best Time To Book Your Summer Vacation If You're Trying To Save Money

Summer is a great time to travel, for obvious reasons. The weather is better. Many offices are more lax about time off. If you have kids, they’re out of school. But there’s one very important element that makes summer not a great time to travel: Cost…
By Emma McGowan