For many women, menstruation can be a rough time filled with pain, discomfort, and inconvenience—especially if you have a vacation planned or a particularly stressful schedule ahead. Regardless of the reasoning, the baseline concept of PMSing and bleeding for up to a week (or more) every single month is frustrating, at best.
The Office on Women’s Health (part of the The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) says that during the years between puberty and menopause, regular menstrual periods can be a sign that your body is functioning properly. And while this may be true on a basic, clinical level, women may wonder if it’s possible to safely push the pause button on their cycles from time to time without causing internal harm. To find the answer, we reached out to gynecologists Heather Bartos, MD and Holly R Miller, MD for the scoop.
Meet the Expert
- Heather Bartos, MD is a board-certified gynecologist who practices in Cross Roads, Texas. She has been practicing medicine for 12 years and is in the process of writing a book titled Mindshift Medicine.
- Holly R. Miller, MD is a board-certified gynecologist in Naples, Florida and has been practicing medicine for 13 years.
Both experts say it’s perfectly fine and safe for menstruating women to skip or temporarily stop their menstrual period. It's even recommended in various scenarios, especially among those with endometriosis or anemia as a result of heavy bleeding, as well as for anyone who experiences bad cramping, menstrual migraine headaches, and mood swings. Stopping (or skipping) your menstrual period can be accomplished in a few different ways:
Oral contraceptive pills [OCPs]: Oral contraceptives (aka birth control pills) contain hormones that suppress ovulation. This tricks the body into thinking it’s pregnant, so it doesn’t create the uterine lining that’s shed during a menstrual period, explains Bartos.
You can temporarily stop your menstrual period by skipping the placebo pills (generally the last row in your pill pack) and then starting a new pack so that you’re taking active pills every day. “Women who are already using OCPs for contraception will regularly 'skip' their menses by not taking the placebo pills,” says Miller. “In patients with endometriosis, this is a recommended treatment.”
Intrauterine device (IUD): An IUD is a tiny, T-shaped contraceptive device that is placed in your uterus by a healthcare provider. This may be a good option if you are looking to stop or significantly reduce your menstrual flow longterm. Once placed in your body, IUDs typically only need to be changed every five years or so. “This is a great choice for women that may want future children but, for the next few years, want to reduce their heavy or painful bleeding,” Miller says.
Hormonal IUDs work by excreting small amounts of a hormone called progestin, which causes your cervical mucus to thicken and your uterine lining to thin, which can prevent sperm from fertilizing the egg. IUDs can reduce bleeding up to 80% after being in place for a few months and sometimes stop bleeding completely.
“IUDs are an excellent way to stop periods, but may take a good two to three months to stop the cycles from happening,” Bartos says.
Endometrial Ablation: Endometrial ablation is a procedure that destroys the thin layer of tissue that lines the uterus (called the endometrium) to reduce menstrual bleeding. In some cases, bleeding is stopped completely.
Keep in mind that if you plan to have children in the future, this procedure isn’t recommended for you—it is reserved mostly for women who have completed childbearing. “Data with endometrial ablation shows an overall 85% reduction in menstrual bleeding,” Miller says. “For many of the patients in my clinical practice that have chosen endometrial ablation, their menstrual periods disappear completely.”
Pregnancy is still possible after an endometrial ablation, but it will be a higher risk pregnancy for both the mother and the baby with the possibility of damage to the uterus or an ectopic pregnancy (or a pregnancy that forms outside of the uterus). Often, physicians recommend sterilization or a form of long-acting contraception at the time of the endometrial ablation to prevent the possibility of pregnancy. The procedure also isn’t recommended for women with a familial history of endometrial cancer or women who have had multiple C-sections.
Is it safe to stop or pause your period?
Each of the methods mentioned in this piece are safe and recommended by physicians for healthy, menstruating women. “Women don’t need to have a period every month,” Bartos says. She has patients that skip their period for various reasons, including vacations, graduations, honeymoons, and hectic work schedules. As long as these women typically have regular menstrual periods, it’s fine to skip some, she says.
“I always tell my patients, 'As long as we’re helping you not have a period, there’s no minimum number of periods you need,'” Bartos says. “It’s for the women who we don’t know why they are skipping periods that worry us.”
That said, it's always important to check with your doctor before making any effort to stop your period. In some cases, there could be a medical reason why you actually should have one.
Are there side effects to stopping or pausing your menstrual period?
Like any medication or medical intervention, oral contraceptives, IUDs, and endometrial ablation all come with the potential for side effects. Some of the more minor side effects of oral contraceptive pills are breast tenderness, nausea, and bloating, while the more severe possible side effects include high blood pressure and deep vein thrombosis.
Because of the nature of IUDs and the way in which they're inserted, complications may arise. Says Miller, “IUDs can be expelled from the uterus, either into the vagina or internally. If internally displaced, it would require surgery to remove.” Other IUD side effects include cramping, irregular bleeding, headaches, and mood changes.
The complication rate for endometrial ablation is low, but potential problems include pain, bleeding, and perforation of the uterus, Miller tells us. Other complications and side effects include nausea, heavy bleeding, and difficulty passing urine.
Can you stop your menstrual period longterm?
It’s ok to stop your period longterm, but according to Bartos, "Many women can only skip two to three months of birth control pills before their body may breakthrough bleed,” Bartos says. [Ed. note: breakthrough bleeding is vaginal bleeding or spotting that occurs between menstrual periods or while pregnant.] Typically, the bleeding will lessen over time. If you're using an IUD to reduce or stop your period, this can’t stay inside your body forever—it will need to be replaced somewhere around every three to five years or so, depending on the specific IUD you are using.
While we're on the topic, here's how to get your period back after stopping birth control.