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On top of preventing pregnancies, contraception may be used for other medical reasons. For example, some contraceptives actually help you control your cycle and even reduce the number of periods you have each year.

Having fewer periods

By taking the traditional pill, or more modern alternatives such as the vaginal ring or contraceptive patch, you will bleed on a monthly basis, unless you use the method back-to-back. However, if you’re taking hormonal contraception you don’t need a period every month – it’s possible to reduce, or even completely stop, your periods.

4 periods a year

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For a more controlled, but still reduced cycle, you could choose to take a regular long-cycle pill, which would give you four periods a year.

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2 periods a year

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By using a flexible long-cycle contraceptive pill you could have two or more periods each year. This will depend on when you choose to have a pill break.

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No more periods

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Everybody is different, so it might be that you still experience some bleeding, but by using either the contraceptive injection, implant, IUS or progestogen only pill you could potentially stop your periods.

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If you would like to change your contraception, it is important to discuss the reasons why with your doctor. It’s also good to be aware of any side effects that may occur with your chosen option.

How hormonal contraceptives affect your period

All hormonal contraceptive methods affect your period as well as your fertility, but how they do this varies depending on which category they belong to:

With combined hormonal contraceptives, your uterus lining does not grow in preparation for a fertilised egg. Since the uterus lining remains thin, it does not need to be shed and therefore there is no need for menstruation. However, withdrawal bleeding will still occur during your pill break.

  • Contraceptive injection
  • Contraceptive implant
  • Mini pill
  • IUS

Progestogen-only contraceptives can cause irregular bleeding, particularly in the first few months to a year of starting them. This means periods may be heavier and/or more frequent. However, after this initial phase, periods are likely to become irregular or less frequent and lighter, whilst some may stop altogether. Some women may continue to have regular periods.

It is important to note that withdrawal bleeding is not a medical necessity. Having fewer periods when taking hormonal contraception is perfectly safe; it does not affect your future fertility or mean that your periods are “stored-up”. For more information on withdrawal bleeding, click here.

Methods of Contraception

There are three main groups of contraception: barrier methods, intrauterine methods and hormonal methods. When selecting the most appropriate contraceptive for you there are several considerations, including; how effective it is, possible side effects, lifestyle, personal preference, plans for future pregnancies, and any medical conditions that you may have/other medications that you may be taking.

Click on the names below to read about how each of the different contraceptive methods work.

ContainsOestrogen
Progestogen
Works byPreventing ovulation
Thickening cervical mucus
Thinning lining of the uterus
Number of periods each year4 or 2+*
ContainsOestrogen
Progestogen
Works byPreventing ovulation
Thickening cervical mucus
Thinning lining of the uterus
Number of periods each year13 or fewer†
ContainsOestrogen
Progestogen
Works byPreventing ovulation
Thickening cervical mucus
Thinning lining of the uterus
Number of periods each year13 or fewer†
ContainsOestrogen
Progestogen
Works byPreventing ovulation
Thickening cervical mucus
Thinning lining of the uterus
Number of periods each year13 or fewer†
ContainsProgestogen
Works byPreventing ovulation
Thickening cervical mucus
Thinning lining of the uterus
Number of periods each year0‡
ContainsProgestogen
Works byPreventing ovulation
Thickening cervical mucus
Thinning lining of the uterus
Number of periods each year0‡
ContainsProgestogen
Works byPreventing ovulation
Thickening cervical mucus
Number of periods each year0‡
ContainsProgestogen
Works byThickening cervical mucus
Thinning lining of the uterus
Number of periods each year0‡

Preventing ovulation, this means that no egg is released from your ovaries, so fertilisation cannot take place.
Thickening cervical mucus, this stops sperm from reaching the egg, helping prevent fertilisation.
Thinning lining of the uterus, this makes it more difficult for a fertilised egg to implant in the womb.

*For flexible long-cycle pills (2+ periods a year), active pills must be taken for 24 days continuously, after which you can opt to take a 4-day pill-free interval at any time up to 120 days. After each break, active pills must be taken again for a minimum of 24 days.

†The exact frequency depends on whether you occasionally take the contraception back to back. Speak to your doctor for more information about this, and to find out whether a specific contraceptive brand can be taken this way.

‡Some women find that their periods stop altogether after the first few months to a year of taking these contraceptives.

Combined oral contraceptive (the traditional pill and the long-cycle pill)

The pill contains oestrogen and progestogen. Different brands of the pill contain different types and strengths of these two hormones, and may be taken for a different numbers of days:

  • 21 days, followed by a break for 7 days, before the next pack is started
  • 28 days, with active (hormone containing) pills taken on 21 or 24 days and dummy (placebo) pills taken for the remaining 7 or 4 days
  • Long-cycle pills, which are taken every day for several months with no hormone-free break

Contraceptive vaginal ring

Similar to the pill, the contraceptive vaginal ring contains a combination of oestrogen and progestogen. It is a flexible, transparent ring, and measures just over 5 cm in diameter. You insert the ring into your vagina and it remains there for 3 weeks, at which point you remove it. There is then one ring-free week before a new ring is inserted. The hormones in the ring are absorbed through the skin of the vagina. Because they aren't absorbed through the gut (unlike the pill), an upset stomach won't alter the effectiveness of the ring.

Contraceptive patch

The patch also contains oestrogen and progestogen. It is skin coloured and measures about 5 cm x 5 cm. Each patch lasts a week. The patch is stuck onto the skin so that the two hormones are continuously delivered to your body. After 3 weeks, you have a week off without a patch.

Contraceptive implant

This small device contains progestogen and is inserted under the skin on the inner side of the upper arm using local anaesthetic. The hormone is released into the bloodstream at a slow, steady rate for 3 years. At the end of the 3 years, the implant is removed using local anaesthetic. It can also be removed at any time earlier than this, and fertility returns as soon as the implant is removed.

Contraceptive injection

This contains progestogen and is injected into a muscle, usually the buttock, thigh or abdomen. Different brands last for different lengths of time; some last for 12 weeks, and others for 8 weeks. As the injection is long-lasting, there is a delay in becoming fertile again after stopping the injections. This may last several months, or in rare cases, over a year.

Progestogen-only pill (the mini pill)

The mini pill contains progestogen, and is taken at the same time, every day. Different formulations contain different types and strengths of progestogen.

Caps

Caps are placed inside the vagina to cover just the cervix (the neck of the womb). They are used with a spermicide to kill sperm. Caps are smaller and firmer than diaphragms.

Diaphragms

Diaphragms are placed inside the vagina to form a barrier between sperm and the womb. They are dome shaped and usually made of soft rubber or silicone, and come in different types and sizes. Diaphragms are used with a spermicide to kill sperm.

Male and female condoms

Male condoms cover the erect penis during sex and stop sperm from entering the vagina. They can be made from thin latex (rubber) or polyurethane (plastic).

Female condoms fit inside the vagina and line its walls to provide a barrier between sperm and the womb. They are made of soft plastic.

Progestogen intrauterine system (IUS)

The IUS is a small T-shaped plastic device that contains the hormone progestogen in a slow-release formulation. It is inserted into your womb by a specially trained doctor or nurse, and has two threads attached to it, which pass through the cervix and sit in the vagina. These allow the device to be easily removed, and they also allow you to check that it is still there. The progestogen thickens cervical mucus to help prevent sperm reaching the egg. It also thins the lining of the uterus, making it difficult for a fertilised egg to implant.

Copper intrauterine device (IUD)

The IUD is a small T-shaped plastic and copper device that is inserted into your womb by a specially trained doctor or nurse. It has two threads attached to it, which pass through the cervix and sit in the vagina. These allow the device to be removed easily, and they also allow you to check that the device is still in place.

It mainly works by making it difficult for sperm to fertilise an egg, but it can also prevent a fertilised egg from implanting in the womb. It does this by making the mucus at the cervix hostile to sperm, and the womb lining hostile to an egg.

Once it has been fitted, the copper IUD can remain in the womb for up to 10 years. Some women experience heavier, longer, or more painful periods with the IUD. This tends to be during the first few months after insertion, after which they often settle down.