If you have ever stopped taking the contraceptive pill and wondered when your period would come back – or noticed some changes in your bleeding pattern after stopping the pill – you are not alone. Many people experience some changes in their menstrual cycle after stopping the contraceptive pill.
“The way contraceptive pills affect your period can depend on the type of pill you are taking,” says Deborah Evans*, a pharmacist with over 30 years of experience. “They contain synthetic versions of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone (combined pill), or progestogen only (mini pill), which help to regulate the menstrual cycle.”
*Deborah Evans does not endorse any products or brands.
The combined contraceptive pill
The combined contraceptive pill contains synthetic versions of the naturally-occurring hormones oestrogen and progesterone. These hormones help prevent ovulation (the release of an egg from your ovaries) so that no egg is released and there is nothing for the sperm to fuse with.
Some combined contraceptive pill packs come with seven placebo pills, which do not contain hormones. This is known as a ‘rest week’ and during this time you are likely to have a bleed. This bleed is not actually a period, but a withdrawal bleed. You do not need to have a withdrawal bleed once a month, but some people prefer to.
The progestogen only contraceptive pill
The progestogen only contraceptive pill (also known as the mini-pill) contains only one hormone: progestogen. Progestogen helps prevent ovulation so that no egg is released and there is nothing for the sperm to fertilise, and it also thickens your cervical mucus to make it harder for sperm to reach an egg.
“Generally, combination pills can make bleeding lighter, shorter, and more regular,” says Deborah Evans. “This is because the hormones in the pill prevent the thickening of the uterine lining, which is shed during the pill-free period. Progestogen-only pills, on the other hand, can sometimes cause irregular bleeding or spotting, or no period at all as they are taken continuously.”
Progestogen only pills like Hana® are taken every day at the same time without a break between packs. Progestogen-only pills can have different effects on your period. Around 20% of people taking Hana experience lighter bleeding or amenorrhea (no periods), between 20-30% may experience more frequent bleeds, and others may not see any difference. If, while on Hana®, you experience more frequent bleeding, less bleeding or no periods – and these changes do not subside after a few months – you should speak to a doctor or pharmacist for advice.
We have seen how contraceptive pills can affect your period while you are taking them, but what happens if you stop taking the pill? Can that delay your period?
“Stopping the contraceptive pill can sometimes delay your period,” says Deborah. “This is because the contraceptive pill contains synthetic hormones that affect your menstrual cycle, and when you stop taking the pill your body needs time to adjust to the change in hormone levels.”
Irregular periods after coming off the pill
According to the NHS, your periods may be irregular when you come off the contraceptive pill and you should allow up to three months for your natural cycle to resume. This makes sense because your contraceptive pill was preventing ovulation, so it may take some time for your body to start ovulating again.
“When you take a break from your contraceptive pills, your body may experience withdrawal bleeding which can be mistaken for a period,” says Deborah Evans. “This bleeding can occur anytime within the first few days to a week after stopping the pill.
“In some cases, after stopping the pill, it can take several weeks or months for your body to regulate its own hormone production and for your menstrual cycle to return to its natural rhythm and so this can cause your period to be delayed. It is worth noting though that your fertility could return to normal quickly and so you should use an alternative form of contraception if you do not want to get pregnant.”
Please remember that a delay in your period restarting is not the same as a missed period, but one can easily be mistaken for the other. No contraceptive is 100% effective and your fertility could return very soon after stopping the pill. If you have any concerns about pregnancy, it is best to take a pregnancy test so you know what is going on and can make informed decisions.
“If you are concerned about changes to your menstrual cycle after stopping the contraceptive pill, it is important to talk to your pharmacist or doctor. They can help you understand what is happening in your body and provide advice on how to manage,” Deborah Evans adds.
Hana® 75µg film-coated tablets contains desogestrel and is an oral contraception for women of child bearing age to prevent pregnancy. Always read the instructions on the package leaflet carefully.