For decades women have been taking the combined pill for 21 days at a time, with a seven-day pill break and withdrawal bleed in between. But is it safe to skip your period by taking two – or more – packs back to back? As the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH) at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) publishes new guidelines on continuous pill use, we look at the evidence behind all the different options.
The combined oral contraceptive pill is the most popular form of contraception in the UK, used by millions of women every year. It was first introduced on the NHS in 1961 and, while the formulations have changed over the years, the way the pill is prescribed and taken has stayed more or less unchanged for nearly six decades.
“When the pill was first being introduced, they decided that if it looked more like an actual menstrual cycle, then it might be more acceptable to women. As well as being a contraceptive, they could sell it as a form of cycle regulation,” explains Dr Sarah Hardman, director of the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare’s Clinical Effectiveness Unit (CEU) at The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.
Indeed, one of the pill’s biggest advantages – particularly for women with irregular and unpredictable periods – is being able to pinpoint when Aunt Flo’s going to put in an appearance.
Likewise, many women use the pill to skip the occasional inconvenient monthly bleed that’s threatening to impinge on a holiday or first date. But there’s long been a great deal of confusion around the safety of doing this.