Should You Take A Break From Contraception? This Is What Experts Have To Say
How much do you really know about the contraception you use, or how you should be using it? Despite the prevalance of contraception use — and the range of choices available on the NHS — too many people remain underinformed, unduly influenced by popular misconceptions, or left with unanswered questions. And here's a major one: are you supposed to take a break from contraception? I put the question to experts from leading reproductive health charities to get the definitive answer.
The most commonly used form of contraception by women, according to NHS statistics, is the oral contraceptive pill: between 2016 and 2017, it was used by 44% of women in contact with NHS sexual and reproductive health services. But despite its widespread use, incorrect information continues to circulate — for instance, the idea that users should take a break from the pill every so often. Bekki Burbidge, deputy chief executive of sexual health charity FPA (formerly known as the Family Planning Association) tells Bustle, "It’s a myth that you need a break from the pill every so often or that it can make you infertile."
In fact, it's safe to take the combined pill — which contains synthetic versions of oestrogen and progesterone, the NHS explains — consistently up to the age of 50, Burbidge says, providing you don't have any medical issues that the pill could exacerbate. The progestogen-only pill, meanwhile, can be taken until the age of 55 — again, Burbidge says, "unless there are medical reasons not to."
The exception? Tracey Forsyth, lead contraceptive nurse at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, tells Bustle that "restrictions come in" if the user has high blood pressure, or is a smoker over the age of 35. According to NHS guidance, smokers over 35 shouldn't take the combined pill, but are able to take the progestogen-only pill. Speak to your GP about the method most suitable for you.
It's also completely fine to skip the pill-free or placebo week when you'd usually have your period, Bekki Burbidge says, explaining, "There’s no medical need to have the break or to have a withdrawal bleed." She adds, "Some women choose to have a break once every three months, while others might want to take the pill continuously." Some people who take the pill continuously might still experience bleeding, Burbidge says, but it's probably not a reason to worry. "Talk to your doctor or nurse about this if you have any questions or concerns," she recommends.
So that's the pill covered; how about long-acting methods, like the coil or the implant? These typically don't mandate a break either, Burbidge says. "It’s fine to have a new method of long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) fitted straight after having the old one removed," she tells Bustle. "Getting a new method fitted straight away means you don’t have a break which could put you at risk of pregnancy."
Tracey Forsyth agrees, saying, "If it’s working for you, you can just have another one put in no problems at all." The only LARC method that might require a break is the injection, Forsyth says. This lasts for eight or thirteen weeks depending on the brand chosen, but the NHS notes that Depo-Provera, the most commonly used brand in the UK, can impact the user's oestrogen levels, potentially resulting in thinning of the bones. Your doctor, therefore, might recommend you stop using the injection after two years, or could require a medical assessment before approving future use. "They just like you to be assessed and make sure everything’s OK," Forsyth explains.
That should clear up the matter, then: unless you're receiving the contraceptive injection or have certain medical issues, you probably don't need to take a break from your method of contraception, whether that's the pill or a LARC. Consider that another contraception myth busted.