Skip to Main Content

Why a Pill Bleed is Not a Period

by Dr. Amber Hincks LAc

Why a Pill Bleed is Not a Period, Amber Hincks Acupuncture in Beaverton, OR

File this under things they should have taught us in Sex Ed. It took me a long time to really understand that while on birth control pills, women do not get periods. They do not ovulate, they do not make progesterone, they do not have a cycle. Most birth control pills use synthetic hormones to prevent ovulation and generally cause a decrease in the amount of lining that is created. A withdrawal bleed happens only when the birth control is stopped during the placebo week. This bleed does not necessarily serve any function other than remind us of what having a period might feel like. When birth control pills were first developed, they almost left the placebo week out entirely, and indeed some women are now advised to take their active pills continuously.

Birth control pills can serve many functions for women from contraception to decreasing heavy flow and potentially pain. But these synthetic hormones do not have some of the many benefits of our natural hormones, so it should not be a decision to take lightly. For instance, our natural progesterone is better for supporting mood, preventing migraine headaches and generally for cardiovascular health. The more natural ovulatory cycles that we have over the course of our lifetime, the benefits of these hormones can extend into our menopausal years.

There are currently some great ways to learn more. Dr. Lara Briden, ND, author of the Hormone Repair Manual and Period Repair Manual, just released a podcast. The first episode: “Pill bleeds are not periods.” And filmmakers Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein, creators of the Business of Being Born movie, just came out with a new film, the Business of Birth Control.

A few things to note, with some low dose hormonal IUDs, you can still ovulate and produce some of your natural hormones. There are other options for contraception too, like the non-hormonal IUD or Cycle Tracking apps and devices. Or perhaps your partner is open to a vasectomy (thank you Lover!). Either way, we hope that you enjoy getting to know the rhythms of your body and all it has to teach you. Our hormones are responsible for way more than just reproduction and they say that the menstrual cycle can be considered a vital sign just like your blood pressure or heart rate. That’s why we tend to ask so many questions about it! But the best cycle is still the one that works for you and your body.