It’s that time of the month again: you got your period. While some women might find a visit from Aunt Flo to be one of sacred femininity, others might think “not so much” as their menses brings on intense side effects, like cramping, abdominal and breast pain, and mood swings. And then, of course, there are the times when you find your period has come at a most inconvenient time, like on your wedding day or during a much-anticipated beach vacation. No doubt you’ve probably considered stopping your period altogether. But is it really safe? And if so, what should you do to stop the flow?
There are two sides to the coin: there are those professionals who view a period as a natural way of life, as well as those who believe that if you don’t want it, you don’t have to have it.
“The great news is that if pregnancy is not your immediate goal, there is no reason you have to have a period,” says Andrea Martin, DNP, CRNP, WHNP, of Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. “Thankfully, in this day and age, that is something we can control.”
However, Dr. Felice Gersh, M.D., author of PCOS SOS: A Gynecologist’s Lifeline To Naturally Restore Your Rhythms, Hormones and Happiness, sits on the other side of the fence and believes that a period should be experienced.
“It’s important to see the period and the menstrual cycle not as a ‘thing’ in itself, but rather as a reflection of the beautiful and essential hormonal rhythms of the female,” she says. “The menstrual cycle is a vital sign of health of a woman. A woman’s body functions optimally when the balance of the hormones is as nature intended it to be.”
Who might benefit from stopping their period
While Martin admits that patients who discuss stopping their periods with her “often hesitate and worry that surely it must be unhealthy,” she says there are many benefits to women who wish to stop their period, especially if they are experiencing pain, fatigue, bloating and mood changes during their periods. Those who have such heavy periods that they can become anemic, requiring iron supplementation or even blood transfusions, would also benefit from stopping their period.
“Even for those who don’t experience extreme symptoms, there is still the hassle and expense of dealing with pads, tampons and menstrual cups as well as time spent scrubbing over the bathroom sink trying to save your favorite pair of underwear,” says Martin.
How to stop your period
Other than having a total hysterectomy, the most common method to influence, and ultimately, stop your period is by taking contraception.
But if your uterine lining doesn’t shed, then what happens to it? “Oral contraceptives usually will cause a regular cycle, but sometimes the hormones in the pill thin out the lining of the uterus so much that you do not bleed normally,” says Amy Magneson, MD, FACOG. This can be adjusted by your gynecologist. “It’s not harmful because you are still getting balanced hormones with the pill.”
Magneson says there are oral contraceptive methods specifically designed to stop your period for three months at a time. “This is normal because it balances out your hormones and you are not getting too much effect from one or the other hormones. Other birth control methods like the hormonal implant or the hormonal IUD may also cause little or no period. This is also from the thinning of the lining and is normal as well.” She assures that this will not lead to any precancerous lesions, but you may want to carry a panty liner or tampon with you just in case. She also cautions that birth control methods that give you a prolonged, no bleeding cycle, can also cause breakthrough bleeding.
Breakthrough bleeding is different than the period you might receive while on the pill. “When it comes to hormonal birth control (pills, patches, rings, implants, hormonal IUDs), the uterine lining is prevented from growing in the first place,” explains Martin. “When you have a ‘period’ on the last week of your pack of pills, you are actually having what is called a ‘withdrawal bleed.’ This is not a true menstruation.” In fact, says Martin, it is completely medically unnecessary.
“When the pill was first being developed, it was thought that adding a placebo week and thereby causing a withdrawal bleed would seem more ‘natural’ in an attempt to receive approval by the Catholic church. That approval was never received and we are still having monthly bleeds for no reason to this day.”
So if you’re already taking birth control and taking those sugar pills for your “bleed,” then you’re permitted to skip that week and continue onto the next week of real birth control pills.
Why you might want to keep your period
“If for any reason the innate rhythms of the female hormones are not present, the female body will suffer,” says Gersh. “It is a blend of having hormones is the correct quantities and having them in the right rhythms.”
Birth control pills contain no hormones, says Gersh. Rather, they contain chemicals known as endocrine disruptors. “Their purpose is to disrupt the hormones of women to create infertility. But fertility in reproductive aged women is a sign of health,” she says. According to Gersh, every organ needs female hormones and rhythms for optimal health — the bones, muscles, ligaments, brain, heart, arteries, intestinal tract, and more. “Optimal wellbeing in a woman means having optimal hormones and natural rhythms. It is how we evolved and we must embrace and understand this if we are to have the ultimate state of health and happiness.”
Gersh admits to certain advantages to removing the period, including using a contraceptive to prevent unplanned pregnancies as well as the reduction in blood loss and lessened cramping. But, she says, “Both these issues should not be problems, but in our world of poor nutrition and high stress, poor fitness, chemical toxicants, and excessive electromagnetic radiation, many young women suffer from bad periods.” She believes that looking at what’s contributing to the stress and illness in your life could help alleviate your menstrual flow.
While Martin doesn’t believe there’s anything medically wrong with stopping one’s period, she does point out some potential downsides to doing it. “Some women are just reassured by having a monthly bleed. Seeing red once per month is physical proof that they didn’t get pregnant this month and it provides a sense of relief,” she says. For some who stay on continuous hormonal birth control, this can lead to irregular spotting, “which can obviously be annoying since you can’t always predict when it is going to happen. Finally, some women tell me they just feel more womanly when they have their period, and I am more than happy to make sure it continues to show up every month.”
In short, if you want to stop your period — it’s your body. If it feels right to do so, consult with your physician. And if not? Then you might want to schedule your next beach vacay around Aunt Flo.