If you weren’t sure whether this was birth control myth or fact, scientists in the U.K. now say it's safe to skip your birth control placebo pills, The Telegraph reports. The Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH), who set key national guidelines for the safe prescription of contraceptives in the U.K., now say there’s no health benefit to taking a seven-day break from the combined contraceptive pill, according to The Telegraph. Scientists say the new guidelines will help prevent more unplanned pregnancies, says The Telegraph.
“The gynaecologist [sic] John Rock devised [the break] because he hoped that the Pope would accept the pill and make it acceptable for Catholics to use,” Professor John Guillebaud told The Telegraph. “Rock thought if it did imitate the natural cycle, then the Pope would accept it.”
Combination birth control pills are one of the most common methods of contraception, and they come in 21-day, 28-day, and 91-day pill packs, according to Medical News Today. They come with reminder or placebo that are typically sugar pills that don’t contain any hormones, says Medical News Today. People usually get a withdrawal bleed resembling a period while taking them because their bodies react to the drop in hormone levels. But Medical News Today says taking those placebo pills isn’t medically necessary; it’s completely optional whether you want to get a period while taking combination birth control pills.
Guillebaud has researched contraceptive methods his entire career and published a paper in 2017 in the BMJ Sexual & Reproductive Health on how the seven-day birth control pill should be replaced by continuous methods of contraception. His research aligns with recommendations many doctors are already giving their patients, says The Independent, which is to simply skip that seven-day break in hormones. That’s because fewer and shorter breaks in hormone levels reduces the risk of pregnancy, according to The Independent.
“The guideline suggests that by taking fewer hormone-free intervals — or shortening them to four days — it is possible that women could reduce the risk of getting pregnant on combined hormonal contraception,” Dr. Diana Mansour, vice president for clinical quality at FSRH, told The Independent.
Medical experts in the U.K. expect to see birth control prescriptions start to look different in the aftermath of these new guidelines, The Independent reports. Instead of packages in rows of 21 pills, which isn’t enough for a person to take daily with no breaks, The Independent says experts expect to see 365-day pill prescriptions in the future.
These guidelines are only in the UK, and not the U.S., for the time being. But if you want to skip your “reminder pills,” Planned Parenthood has instructions on how to do that on their website. You can either use a brand of pills that has three months of hormones pills in a row, which usually lets you have a period four times a year depending on how your body responds to the pill, according to Planned Parenthood. Or you can simply skip the hormone-free reminder pills and go straight to your next pack of birth control pills, says Planned Parenthood.
"There’s nothing dangerous or harmful about using the pill to skip your period," the organization wrote. "And it comes in really handy if you want a special occasion (like a vacation or a hot date) to be period-free."
Planned Parenthood does say that you could have some bleeding or spotting the first six months you skip your reminder pills, but that’s totally normal.
If you ever had any doubts about whether it’s safe to skip those placebo pills, scientists now unequivocally say you’re good to go. But, of course, it never hurts to talk to your doctor if you have any hankering concerns or questions.