Forget diamonds, birth control is a woman’s new best friend. Because honestly, nobody wants to deal with an unwanted pregnancy and neither abstinence nor leaving it to luck sound like good options. So there’s no running away from it. But while it’s widely used, women often worry about birth control side effects.
Weight gain, changes in complexion, future pregnancies and of course, changes in periods, are among the many things women worry about when it comes to birth control side effects.
When it concerns periods, yes, almost every form of hormonal based contraceptives affect periods. They don’t affect women during their periods, instead, they affect the periods themselves.
And that’s precisely why, apart from preventing pregnancies, women also use birth control to regulate their periods. Birth control gives women the luxury of scheduling or even skipping periods for whatever reason.
How do hormonal methods of birth control work?
Before we get to birth control side effects, let’s get a quick understanding of how they work. Apart from ligation altogether, most birth control methods work by regulating hormones. These include oral contraceptive pills (OCP), NuvaRing, Depo-Provera, patches and implants such as Nexplanon.
These hormonal birth control methods prevent the ovaries from releasing eggs, thicken cervical mucus to prevent sperms from entering the uterus and thin the lining of the uterus to prevent implantation.
And that’s why they typically reduce the menstrual cramps, flow duration and flow of the period, or stop the period itself from happening. Because a period is the shedding of the lining of the uterus when fertilisation doesn’t take place.
Birth control side effects on periods vary and range from regulating periods, to causing lighter periods, to no periods altogether.
Birth control side effects: Regulating periods
A woman’s menstrual cycle typically lasts for 28 days, with your period usually lasting between three to seven days. But it’s not always clockwork and your cycle can range between 21 to 35 days if you do not use any form of birth control.
When taking birth control pills, you usually take hormone pills for three weeks and then a week of placebo pills. It’s when taking the placebo pills that you get your period.
The benefit? If you have irregular menstrual cycles, the problem is pretty much solved. And of course, it can also change when periods occur. So let’s say there’s a vacation or a steamy night coming up, you can just take a week of hormone pills instead of the placebo pills and then take the placebo pills the following week. Looks like birth control side effects can come in handy after all.
Christine Tang, a Singapore mum of three, said that birth control pills helped to regulate her period and made life so much easier for her. And it cleared her pimple problem as well!
Birth control side effect: Lighter periods
When using combined contraceptives like OCP, NuvaRing and the patches (oestrogen / progesterone), your periods will alter within one or two cycles and remain that way for as long as you use it.
The pills also affect your flow. For example, Yaz, only has four placebo pills so you get shorter and lighter periods. Again, a happy problem!
Birth control side effects can also include some spotty bleeding either during or between periods so don’t get alarmed if that happens.
Birth control side effect: No periods
This is possibly the best birth control side effect – say no to periods! There are some types of pills that are continuous birth control pills. That means there are no placebo pills and thus no periods. Some brands have placebo pills every now and then so you get only four periods a year.
Pills aside, progesterone-only methods such as hormone bearing IUDs, (eg: Mirena, Depo-Provera, implants) will cause cessation or near cessation of periods (amenorrhea). It’s usually preceded by a period (of up to six months) of irregular spotting.
IUDs though, don’t work for everyone. While one mum described it as the best thing that ever happened to her, for apart from some very light spotting, periods became a thing of the past, another mum described it as a nightmare.
I had such awful cramps upon inserting the IUD, and had a bit of heavy bleeding. Sex was uncomfortable and painful and my husband said he could feel the IUD in me. Life only went back to normal after I had it removed.
The copper-TIUD does not cause a decrease in your menstrual cycle. It is an effective contraceptive but it does not change your period bleeding profile. In rare cases, it may even cause an increase in bleeding (yikes!).
Concerns about birth control side effects
While it is reason to celebrate, many women are still worried and anxious about not bleeding every month. They fear that the buildup of their uterine lining isn’t cleaning out.
This is a misconception that we must clear. When using birth control, the uterine lining (endometrium) is actually prevented from growing during your cycle. The periods that you do get when on birth control are actually withdrawal bleeding from the lack of hormonal support during the week that you don’t take the pills. As mentioned, the bleeding is also much lighter than a regular period.
There you go mums, all that you need to know about birth control side effects on your periods. But do remember, that just like making any other medical decision, it’s imperative that you discuss with your doctor and address any concerns that you have.