Can you take The Pill continuously? Is it safe to do so? Do I need to take those sugar pills, anyway? Short answer: Yes you can. Yes it is. And yes, it’s completely safe to do that.
It all starts at the beginning.
As a result, the "safe" length of time to take The Pill has long been misunderstood as three weeks. In reality though, you can take The Pill (and suppress your period) for as long as you like.
In fact, the ‘pill-free week’ was included as a marketing ploy to appeal to the Catholic Church, and to boost female acceptance of The Pill by making it seem “more natural”.
But times have changed, and they now couldn’t be more wrong. A 2004 study of 1195 German women found more than half of them (57%) were interested in using The Pill for extended periods to reduce the frequency of menstrual bleeding. Of those who weren’t interested, more than two thirds (69%) gave reasons including fear of pregnancy, infertility, and side effects.
What is continuous or extended use of The Pill?
Extended cycling is the practice of taking The Pill without any breaks between packs, for a length of time greater than 3 weeks. Often this is done for 9 or 12 weeks, but there’s no wrong duration, as long as it works for you.
In continuous cycling, women simply take The Pill every day, without any breaks. If serious breakthrough bleeding occurs, pills aren’t taken for 4-7 days to allow for a withdrawal bleed before restarting The Pill.
You’re still protected from falling pregnant as long as you take The Pill for at least 7 days following the break.
Note: The minipill, a form of oral contraceptive, is progestin only and does not have a sugar pill component. You can take it every day and it will not impact your period. For that reason, this article is mainly discussing the use of combined contraceptive.
Does it still work? Can I fall pregnant?
This is the most common question asked by women when it comes to extended or continuous pill-taking. While no contraceptive is completely foolproof, studies of continuous and extended cycling have shown it is as effective, if not more effective, than traditional cycling. One US study in 2003 reported 0.9% of women fell pregnant over one year of extended cycling vs 1.3% in those who followed 28 day cycles.
So yes, you’re still covered for pregnancy with extended use of The Pill.
Can taking The Pill continuously make me infertile?
There are no long-term side effects of continuous pill-taking, compared with traditional 21 day use. However it can take a while for some women to menstruate again after stopping The Pill. In a 2008 study of 187 women who stopped taking The Pill after continuous use for 6 months or more, 99% returned to normal cycles within 90 days, and 75% did so within 36 days or less.
Are there any side effects of taking The Pill for an extended time?
The most common side effect of continuous or extended pill-taking is breakthrough bleeding, or spotting. However, the frequency of spotting decreases over time, and most women stop bleeding entirely within one year.
However, if you do experience any serious breakthrough bleeding where pads or tampons are needed for three days or more, you should take a break for 4-7 days before resuming The Pill. You’ll still be protected from falling pregnant, as long you take The Pill for at least 7 days following the break.
What are the other benefits of extended cycling of The Pill?
Other benefits? That’s right. Taking The Pill continuously not only allows you to safely skip your period, it’s also been shown to reduce PMS symptoms including headaches, tiredness, bloating and pain, compared with traditional 21 day use.
A lot of women also find it easier to remember The Pill when they take it every day. This might explain why some studies find it even more effective for preventing pregnancy than 21 + 7 day cycles.
Can continuous use of The Pill help my endometriosis?
It definitely looks that way. A study in 2003 trialled two years of continuous use with 50 women who had surgery for endometriosis, but still had painful periods while on the regular Pill. The results were astounding, with patients reporting the severity of their symptoms had halved, and 80% were satisfied with the results.