There’s no perfect time to have your period, but they always seem to come about when it’s most inconvenient. Perhaps you’re going on holiday or to a festival where you’ll be camping out, and the last thing you want to have to worry about is dealing with your period. Period delay treatments are a great way to enjoy this time uninterrupted, but what are the best options? And how long can you delay your period for?
With bold claims and talk of too-good-to-be-true home remedies circulating online, we cut through the noise in our latest health centre article that explores the methods of effectively delaying your period, safely.
How to delay your period safely
There are only two safe and effective methods of intentionally delaying your period.
Norethisterone is a prescription period delay medication that replicates the female sex hormone progesterone. Progesterone contributes to the regulation of the monthly menstrual cycle, and thickens the uterus lining every month in preparation of receiving a fertilised egg. If you don’t get pregnant, your progesterone levels fall, causing the womb lining to shed and your period to begin. Norethisterone tricks the body into thinking you’re pregnant, maintaining that thickened womb lining and preventing your period from occurring.
The course of treatment involves taking 5mg oral doses, three times per day. This can effectively delay your period for up to 17 days. You should start taking the medication three days before your period is due, and once you finish your course of treatment your period should start two to three days later. Note that this medication is not a contraceptive and you can still become pregnant, so use another contraceptive such as condoms during sex. Whilst effective in most women, some may experience spotting or breakthrough bleeding, the chances of which are greatly increased if you start the treatment less than three days before your period is due.
The combined contraceptive pill
Typically when on the combined contraceptive pill you would allow a break in the active pills each month for menstruation. If you take the active pills back-to-back, you may prevent or delay your period. To do this, you would take the 21 days-worth of active contraceptive pills (monophasic 21-day pills or everyday (ED) pills), immediately followed by starting the next pack of active pills, skipping the 7 days without taking the pills (or 7 days taking the inactive dummy pills). Doing this will not change how the contraceptives work in terms of preventing pregnancy. Note that if you take the progesterone-only pill, also known as the mini pill, then you take the medication every day already, so there is no way of delaying your period by using this back-to-back method.
Is it safe to delay periods?
Norethisterone is perfectly safe to do on a temporary basis, assuming you don’t have a condition listed below.
You should not take Norethisterone if you:
- Have a liver problem
- Have a personal or significant family history of blood clots (thrombosis)
- Have or have had angina or a heart attack
- Have a history of genital or breast cancer (unless you have been prescribed Norethisterone for breast cancer)
- Have had jaundice, severe itching, or pemphigoid gestationis while pregnant
- Have porphyria
If 2 packs of Norethisterone are taken (the full amount required to delay your period for up to 17 days), you are able to continue your prescription of the treatment six months later. If you wish to use it more frequently, we would advise speaking with your GP.
For the combined contraceptive pill method of taking the medication back-to-back, there are no inherent risks of skipping your period. However, you may experience occasional spotting and as a result you may wish to take your period every few months. A common concern about this method is where the blood goes, and whether it’s building up every time you delay your period. This is a myth, as the lining of the uterus does not thicken and build up as usual when taking the combined contraceptive pill, meaning there is less tissue to expel. With this said, it is completely normal for breakthrough bleeding to still occur. Whilst taking the pill is known to increase the risk of developing blood clots, numerous studies have found no higher risk of this occurring in those who take the pill in the traditional 21/7 cycle versus a two or three month continuous cycle.
What are the side effects of delaying your period?
It is possible to experience some side effects of norethisterone, however, the symptoms are usually mild. These may include:
- Breast tenderness
- Changes in mood or sex drive
Taking the combined contraceptive pill back-to-back produces no more side effects than normal 21/7 cycle use of the pill, which can include the following:
- Breast tenderness
- Headaches and migraines
- Weight gain
- Changes in mood or sex drive
- Vaginal discharge
What else might cause my period to be delayed?
- The morning after pill may cause your next period to be earlier, later or more painful than usual. Since one of the first signs of a possible pregnancy is missing a period, period lateness will mean it may be longer before it is clear if the morning after pill has been effective. If you don’t get your period within three to four weeks of taking the morning after pill, it is best to take a pregnancy test.
- Other forms of contraception may stop your period. For example, approximately half of women who use the hormone-containing IUD stop having periods 6 months after it’s put in.
- Stress can change your hormone levels and affect the hypothalamus, an area of the brain responsible for period regulation, causing a late period.
- Eating disorders resulting in being underweight, such as anorexia or bulimia, can alter bodily functions and stop ovulation. Additionally, being overweight can cause hormonal changes that lead to period irregularity.
- Some women may experience an early perimenopause (the beginning stage of the transition into menopause) where the body slows release of eggs, resulting in missed periods.