No, You Don’t Actually Get A Period On The Pill

If you have ever sat in your primary care physician or OB/GYN’s office for a consultation to solve irregular periods or control hormone levels, you may have been told that beginning hormonal birth control would help. Irregular bleeding can be really bothersome and stress you out, so that might have seemed like an attractive choice to make.

By Andrea Mew4 min read

Here’s the truth, however. The “period” you have while you’re popping the placebo pills in your hormonal birth control prescription really isn’t a period. So why in the world do so many people believe that it is?

Here’s What You’re Promised on the Pill

21 days on, seven or so days off. Your hormonal birth control package sets you on a schedule where you cycle the amount of hormone ingested. Take into consideration what a natural cycle looks like. In a time span of 21 to 35 days, your body readies itself for pregnancy (whether you’re hoping for that or not) by growing and releasing an egg and by your uterine lining thickening and preparing for a fertilized egg to implant. If no egg is fertilized, day one of your cycle begins when your body releases that uterine lining (menstruation). 

Within the four phases of your cycle, the ovulatory phase is when an egg gets released from your ovaries. You’re at your most fertile, your cervix shifts within your body, your cervical mucus changes to better allow for sperm to travel into the uterus, and interestingly enough, you’re at your hottest. On the pill, instead of the natural hormones estrogen and progesterone working to regulate your cycles, you’ve got the synthetic, pseudo-hormones estradiol and progestin acting like the real thing but giving you an entirely different outcome.

That seven-day break with inactive pills was initially designed as a brief detox for your body to withdraw from the hormones, which is why you’ve probably heard it called the withdrawal bleed. It might feel like magic; all of a sudden, those monthly bleeds you’ve been having since puberty started are lighter and less painful. Your OB/GYN’s solution appeared to deliver on that promise to “regulate” your period or solve your hormonal issues…except it didn’t.

That seven-day break was designed as a detox for your body to withdraw from the hormones, hence “the withdrawal bleed.”

Yes, synthetic hormones adjust your changing hormonal balance and prevent ovulation by tricking your brain into thinking you’re pregnant. Hormonal contraceptives are effective in preventing pregnancy first because they thin the endometrium, or the lining of your womb. Since that lining takes a reduction in growth, bleeding every month isn’t really in the cards. It’s a mere visage of a period, not a real menstrual cycle, because instead of the hormonal contraceptives regulating your hormones, they shut them down. 

Think back to ovulation and remember how it’s the climax of your menstrual cycle. Natural levels of estrogen and progesterone foster ovulation, while synthetic estrogen and progestin suppress ovulation. A great metaphor I once read described this hormonal swap as like subbing out diesel fuel for your standard gasoline. Diesel fuel can go into the gas tank, but if your car doesn’t run on diesel, then your car just won’t run right. Basically, your body is still lining the uterus and has to release that blood, but no real ovulation is occurring. 

Synthetic Hormones Are a Band-Aid Solution to Your Problems

Again, you may have been prescribed the pill to regulate your cycle, and if that’s the case, you’re understandably confused or taken aback by this information. Experts admit that birth control doesn’t actually regulate periods, it just makes it seem like your period is regular. Up until the 1960s, women’s bodies were never exposed to synthetic versions of estrogen and progesterone and instead operated on natural – but not necessarily regular – hormonal cycles.

The American Journal of Nursing explains that progestins inhibit your natural surge in luteinizing hormone (LH) – which triggers ovulation – to prevent pregnancy. So not only do progestins also suppress ovulation, but they also thicken your cervical mucus, your fallopian tubes don’t contract quite right, and your uterine lining thins. Then, synthetic estrogens suppress follicle stimulation which means your egg doesn’t fully develop. Again, another method of preventing pregnancy and slimming down your chances of being fertile.

Progestins inhibit your natural surge in luteinizing hormone – which triggers ovulation – to prevent pregnancy. 

Alas, these preventative methods cause their own host of problems both in the short term and the long term. First of all, the “hormones” in birth control are endocrine disruptors. Don’t believe me? Check the toxicology site for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where they list birth control’s estrogen swap and progesterone swap as endocrine disruptors.

Progestin-only and the combined estrogen-progestin contraceptives found to potentially increase your risk of blood clots, heart attacks, strokes, and certain cancers, and can weaken your immune system, thyroid, and gut microbiome, on top of neurological effects like increasing your chances of depression, anxiety, and even affecting your sexual preferences. All the while, they “alleviate” your symptoms of irregular periods, hormonal imbalances, PCOS, or endometriosis without solving the root issues going on in your body.

For Optimal Health, You Actually Want a Real Bleed

The most obvious reason why you might want real bleeding from a regular menstrual cycle with ovulation and all the fixings is to be fertile. Conceiving, carrying, and raising a child might not be in the cards right now, but if you’ve been suppressing your normal ovulatory processes with fake hormones, then it could take longer to conceive when you are ready. 

According to the CDC, infertility rates are on the rise, so if you’d even like the option, it could be wise to set yourself up for future success. Of course, there are women who take hormonal birth control for many years, and then the same week they stop taking their daily pills, they get pregnant, but there’s no way of knowing that that would be you.

Natural estrogen protects your heart, brain, muscles, and bones, and improves insulin sensitivity and mood.

Furthermore, swapping out your natural estrogen and progesterone for a dollar-store version of them can affect much more than just fertility. Your body needs natural estrogen for proper metabolic health, which is why estrogen imbalances can often lead women to gain weight. It also protects your heart, brain, muscles, and bones, improves bone health, muscle mass, and insulin sensitivity, and boosts your mood. Pseudo-estrogens like the ethinylestradiol in hormonal birth control can’t do all of that as well.

You also really need natural progesterone rather than the progestins found in hormonal birth control. Real, natural progesterone shelters your body from male hormones and androgens. When you’re naturally cycling, your hair and skin health are much better than when you’re on hormonal birth control. Progestin has been found to cause women to have more facial hair growth, head hair loss, and cause breakouts because it acts like testosterone. Getting bad sleep on the pill? Progesterone helps with your sleep and mood. Lastly, progesterone can potentially decrease your risk of breast cancer, while your hormonal birth control swap progestin could increase that risk.

Closing Thoughts

In the past, people believed that the fake withdrawal bleed from hormonal birth control was necessary to detox your body. While some think the pill’s inventors structured it this way so that the Catholic Church wouldn’t object to birth control, others think it was done to make women on birth control not accidentally believe they could be pregnant. Either way, the typical seven-day break from birth control isn’t really touted as having health benefits anymore.

Medical professionals and birth control manufacturers need to make this more obvious for women before they go on the pill. Menstruation is a very significant biological process that not only has deep personal health implications but societal implications as well. Women once fought hard to stand on equal grounds with men, and birth control pills were certainly a major player in the battle. As a result, the pill became a symbol of independence and freedom from unwanted outcomes in life.

Yet, our long-term hormonal health may not have been taken as strongly into consideration. We’re not at our most vibrant when we’re on the pill or other forms of hormonal birth control, and we’re not experiencing our bodies as they evolved to function. From one woman who removed her natural hormone cycle and replaced it with toxins (through the birth control implant Nexplanon) to another, please know that despite your pills making you think that everything is fine and dandy, bad things may very well be happening behind the scenes.

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