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This fact sheet is a guide to taking the Pill continuously. Your doctor may have recommended that you take the Pill continuously to reduce the number of menstrual periods you have each year, or to try to stop your periods completely.
Reducing the number of periods may be recommended if you have heavy or painful periods, or symptoms such as seizures, dizziness, asthma, headaches or mood disturbances that worsen with your menstrual cycle.
Skipping periods may also be an option for people with an intellectual or physical disability who find it difficult to manage their periods.
Using the Pill to skip periods is safe and won’t cause long-term problems.
The Pill, also known as the oral contraceptive pill (OCP), combined oral contraceptive pill (COC) or birth-control pill, is a daily medication that contains hormones to change the menstrual pattern and to prevent pregnancy.
Most pill packets have 21 hormone pills (active pills), and seven sugar pills (hormone-free pills). Some newer types of the Pill have 24 hormone pills and four sugar pills. A menstrual period (sometimes called a withdrawal bleed if you are on the Pill) usually starts a couple of days after
taking the sugar pills. This is a result of the fall in hormone levels. Sugar pills have no active ingredients; they are simply included to help you stay in the habit of taking one pill every day.
The Pill is usually taken so that a menstrual period happens every month, copying the pattern of a normal menstrual cycle. This is called cyclical pill use.
Continuous use of the Pill is when the sugar pills in the packet are skipped. This means that your period will also be skipped.
If you are not already taking the Pill, it is usually best to start the first month by taking all the pills in the first packet, including the sugar pills. You can expect to get a period this time around. Following this period, only take the hormone pills and skip the sugar pills. Move straight
onto the next packet after you have taken the last hormone pill in a packet.
When you take the Pill, it is important to try and take it at the same time every day.
If you are already taking the Pill in the normal cyclical way, you can change to continuous usage by simply skipping the sugar pills when you get to them and moving straight to the hormone pills in the next packet.
Sometimes breakthrough bleeding can occur, even though you are taking the Pill continuously. If the bleeding is light or just ‘spotting’ that lasts for two or three days, keep taking the hormone pills daily as you have been.
If the light bleeding continues for more than three or four days, or is more like a moderate or heavy period that lasts for more than a day, a four-day break from the Pill is recommended. This involves taking no pill (or taking sugar pills for four days). During this time, you should
experience a proper period. Start taking the active pills again after four days. Do not use this technique more than once in any four-week cycle. If you miss two or more active tablets, the pill is much less effective as a contraceptive.
You can use pain relief (e.g. Ponstan, Naprogesic, ibuprofen etc.) if you have any period pain during the breakthrough bleeding.
Usually the episodes of breakthrough bleeding become less and less frequent, until eventually you may only have one or two periods per year, or none at all.
If you forget to take a pill, take it as soon as you remember. If this is within 12 hours of the usual dose time, it is considered a late pill. Late pills are still effective as contraceptives.
If it is more than 12 hours after the usual dose time, take the forgotten pill as soon as you remember, even if this means taking two pills on the same day. The Pill is less likely to protect you from pregnancy if it’s more than 12 hours late.
Continue to take the Pill daily at the usual time after a late or forgotten pill.
If you are taking the Pill continuously to skip periods, go back to your GP or gynaecologist if:
Is taking the Pill continuously effective for contraception?
Yes. If you can successfully skip a period, then you know
that your ovaries are ‘switched off’, and that you have good contraception in
Is the Pill only for contraception?
No. Many people find that there are added benefits to taking
the Pill. It can make your periods less painful and lighter, which can lower
your risk of anaemia (low levels of iron). The Pill can reduce the severity of
acne, the risk of ovarian cysts, problems with fibroids, and it can help with
endometriosis. The Pill can also give some protection against developing
ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer, bowel cancer, and osteoporosis.
Are there any risks associated with taking the Pill?
The Pill may cause some weight gain, headaches and mood
changes in some women. Health risks are rare, but the Pill is not suitable for
people who have some types of migraine, a history of blood clotting, liver
problems, high blood pressure or severe heart problems. It is extremely
important not to smoke cigarettes if you are taking the Pill.
Will the hormones in the Pill affect my fertility in the
No. Your fertility will not be affected by taking the Pill
continuously or cyclically. After you stop taking the Pill, you are no longer
protected from becoming pregnant.
Is it safe or ‘natural’ to skip my periods?
Yes. Skipping periods is quite safe. Pregnant women do not have a period
for nine months and breastfeeding women may not have a period for up to two
years, depending on how often they breastfeed their baby. It is quite
natural to skip periods. It is common for those who have many babies and who
breastfeed their babies for extended lengths of time to have less than 50
periods in their lifetime. Some specialists recommend having a period at least
once every three months, in order to shed the lining of the uterus, but you
should discuss this with your doctor.
Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital Gynaecology department. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.
Reviewed March 2018.
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