Taking contraceptive pills doesn't automatically mean a woman is actively avoiding to get pregnant. Often, they need pills for menstruation and to address reproductive health issues.
Before the Philippines passed the Reproductive Health Law, contraceptive pills were viewed (or are still considered by some people) as abortifacients or drugs that can cause abortion even if they are not. The Food and Drug Administration of the Philippines makes sure the contraceptive pills available in the country are safe.
When taken as directed, contraceptive pills offer 98-percent effectiveness in preventing pregnancy. But it has other beneficial uses aside from contraception. Doctors sometimes prescribe contraceptive pills to women who may not even be sexually active. Believe it or not, some women also need to take the pill to conceive.
How contraceptive pills work
The human body naturally produces different hormones for varying functions. Contraceptive pills contain synthetic or artificial hormones that help trigger changes in your body to prevent you from getting pregnant. The Pill contains either both estrogen and progestin (combination pill) or just progestin (mini-pill).
The hormones prevent a woman's ovaries from releasing an egg. It thickens the cervical mucus surrounding the cervix which makes it difficult for sperm to travel or survive inside a woman's reproductive system. It also thins the lining of a woman's uterus thin to prevent embryo implantation.
It has been proven safe, but it's not for all women as it can cause side effects and it carries some risks, too, as with any medication. Consult your doctor first to check if it's safe for you.
How contraceptive pills affect your menstruation
It may be called a birth control pill, but it is used as part of treatment for a variety of conditions that affect a woman's reproductive health. Here are some of the reasons doctors prescribe contraceptive pills:
1. A contraceptive pill can regularize your period.
Most women have regular periods, which means they get their period every month. On average, a woman gets her period every 24 to 38 days, and it usually lasts about two to eight days.
Other women, on the other hand, have irregular periods. About 14 to 18 percent of women of reproductive age have irregular periods. It can mean three things:
- The interval or days between her period changes every month.
- The number of days that she has her period varies a lot.
- The amount of blood that a woman sheds or loses during her period is significantly more or less than the usual amount.
Not knowing when you'll have your period can be a hassle and can interfere with productivity or even life plans. Long gaps between periods can also lead to abnormal cells building up inside the womb.
Controlling your body's hormones by taking contraceptive pills can make irregular or unpredictable periods occur on a monthly basis. Women who do not get their periods (called amenorrhea) can be on the pill so they can get their period.
2. The Pill can help regulate your menstrual flow.
Even with a regular menstrual cycle, about 10% of women of reproductive age experience a heavy flow. It means they lose a lot of blood when they get their period, which can last for five to eight days straight, or even more. Some women may bleed heavily for weeks, a condition called menorrhagia.
Your menstrual flow is heavy if:
- you're changing soaked pads every hour or less
- you need to wake up in the middle of the night to replace pads
- you often stain your bottom because of too much blood
- you have your period for more than eight days
Having a heavy period means buying special heavy-flow pads (and probably a lot of them). But aside from the expense, heavy bleeding, if not treated, can make a woman dizzy and even faint. It can also sometimes cause to anemia.
The Pill thins the lining of your uterus, which means you shed less blood by the time your period arrives.
3. A birth control pill can prevent menstrual cramps.
Dysmenorrhea is often described as a dull and constant ache that stretches from your lower abdomen to the back and legs. All women go through it but in varying degrees. Pain medication can relieve menstrual cramps, but some women's painful period is accompanied by vomiting, diarrhea, and severe headaches.
How does a period cause so much pain? The degree of dysmenorrhea you feel when you have your period depends on the levels of prostaglandin, a hormone-like chemical produced in the lining of the uterus that stimulates the muscles to contract — ergo, the pain.
"[The Pill] essentially tricks your body into thinking you're pregnant," says Michael Thomas, M.D., professor, and director of reproductive endocrinology and fertility at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. If your body thinks you're pregnant, your uterus produces less of the chemical that causes the cramps.
Contraceptive pills that contain the synthetic counterpart of the hormone drospirenone help ease symptoms of a severe form of menstrual cramps, or premenstrual dysphoric disorder.
4. Birth control pills can make periods more manageable.
Aside from dysmenorrhea, having your period sometimes also means experiencing migraines, mood swings, nausea, and sore breasts. These are symptoms that are mostly due to hormones and can also be alleviated by taking contraceptive pills.
5. A contraceptive pill can stop your period.
Menstruation is the female body's way to detoxify the reproductive system, but it can be inconvenient especially when it's painful.
Contraceptive pills can help women skip their period if they, say, have a big day coming up that coincides with their predicted period days. The Pill can also help some women not get their period at all. Ending the menstrual cycle, whether temporarily or for the long-term, can help manage various menstrual symptoms, from the headaches to mood swings to the pain. However, you need to consult your doctor about this option first.
How to take The Pill to skip or stop your period? Keep taking pills with active ingredients continuously and religiously every day. Skip the placebo pills if you're on a 28-day pack; the placebo pills are the last seven pills in a pack. Start a new pack after finishing 21 tablets; do the same if you're on a 21-day pack pills. You may have some spotting or bleeding, but if you do this every month, you may start not having your period at all after six months.
How contraceptive pills benefit a woman's reproductive health
The menstruation-related issues the Pill can help resolve are caused by hormones, and they are the same symptoms a woman has if she suffers from endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Many doctors prescribe contraceptive pills to treat the symptoms and help manage these two conditions.
In endometriosis, the lining of the uterus (endometrium) grows outside the womb and attaches itself in the fallopian tubes, ovaries, inside the abdomen, and in the bowel or bladder. Once your period comes, the shedding of the uterine lining (which are not where they should be) becomes excruciatingly painful. The Pill can help limit or temporarily stop the growth of the endometrium and decrease pain associated with heavy period and pelvic pain. Endometriosis can cause infertility so its treatment can involve stopping your menstruation.
PCOS is a condition that causes irregular periods, acne, excess body hair, ovarian cysts, and difficulty conceiving due to hormonal imbalance. Women with PCOS produce higher-than-normal levels of the male hormone testosterone and are not ovulating, Dr. Thomas explains. The Pill can help lower testosterone levels and ease those symptoms. It also helps women with PCOS who are trying to conceive.
According to Planned Parenthood, taking contraceptive pills can also help prevent cysts in the breasts and ovaries, endometrial and ovarian cancers, and severe infections in the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus.
Not all women take The Pill because they don't want to get pregnant — some women need it to make them healthier.
This story originally appeared on Smartparenting.com.ph.
* Minor edits have been made by the Femalenetwork.com editors.