Birth control pills typically cause lighter, shorter periods. Modern options allow women to skip periods altogether, according to the Mayo Clinic. Continuous birth control pills are similar in composition to typical combination birth control pills containing estrogen and progesterone; however, the usual seven days of spacer or placebo pills are skipped, allowing for a constant dose of hormones and no bleeding.
Birth control pills are typically sold in pill packages with 21 active pills and seven inactive pills. The inactive pills do not contain hormones, allowing a period to occur. According to Planned Parenthood, the pill suspends the normal process of ovulation and thins the uterine lining, so there is actually no medical need for menstruation. Bleeding occurs because hormone levels drop, not because of a normal physical process.
The continuous birth control pills on the market today use the same hormones as standard low dose oral contraceptives. New formulations, including Seasonale, Seasonique and Lybrel, skip the inactive pills altogether, allowing you to avoid periods. Low-dose monophasic birth control pills that use a single hormone dose throughout the 21 days of active pills may also be taken back to back without inactive pills to achieve the same effect, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Seasonale and Seasonique are taken for 12 weeks, then seven days of spacer pills are taken. The spacer pills in Seasonale are inactive, while Seasonique uses a low dose of estrogen to produce a very light period. The Mayo Clinic reports that Seasonique produces somewhat better ovarian suppression than pill formulations relying upon inactive pills. Lybrel is designed to be taken 365 days a year, with no periods at all.
Continuous birth control can eliminate heavy bleeding, premenstrual syndrome and the inconvenience and mess of having a period. Continuous birth control comes with the side effects common to all oral contraceptives, including nausea, mood swings and breast tenderness, as well as an increased risk of blood clots and strokes. Breakthrough bleeding or spotting is quite common, especially in the first few months.
If you’re taking continuous birth control, it’s quite normal not to have any bleeding at all. On the other hand, if you are taking birth control pills with inactive pills and you do not experience a period during the inactive week or have only light pink or brown spotting, you should take a pregnancy test. Home pregnancy tests will be effective while you are on the pill.