In an ideal world, we’d all have an app on our phone with a period ‘start/stop’ button. Cool to begin menstruating? Click ‘start’. Heading out in a pair of white trousers? Click ‘stop’ and enjoy a blood-free day… the dream!
But of course, life doesn’t work that way. As fate would have it, the times when we want our period least tend to be the times when Mumma Nature kicks in. That’s why some people turn to period delay tablets. While there’s no guaranteed way to delay your period, some do find these effective. If you’ve never heard of them, we’re breaking down what they are, why people use them, how they work, and of course their safety and side effects.
They come under different names, but most use a synthetic hormone called Norethisterone, which is similar to the progesterone our bodies produce naturally. With a normal menstrual cycle, progesterone levels fall which triggers the lining of your uterus to shed, therefore causing blood to leave your body. By taking Norethisterone, you maintain the levels of progesterone in your system, and this can lead to a postponement of this shedding. Goodbye period.
It’s not just for holidays and weddings either; many women may want to delay their period for cultural reasons such as in the Muslim faith and Judaism. Having your period may prevent you from fulfilling certain religious customs, or having intercourse with a partner for a certain period of time. So, even more reason that having some ways to control when your period begins can be empowering for women everywhere!
There are many reasons people may wish to delay their period, with some of the most common being:
Basically anything that falls outside the norm of daily routine could arguably be made easier without the added complication of cramps, bloating, and changing tampons or pads regularly.
Different types of tablets may have different instructions, but in most cases the pills contain the hormone progesterone. You would take them around three days before your period is due to begin, or around cycle day 25, and continue to take them for around 20 days after. When you stop, you should expect to get your period around two to four days later.
Not really. If you are taking norethisterone for the purpose of delaying your period, this may not be at the same dose used in contraception. Also, the combined pill contains the hormone oestrogen. That being said, people who use the combined pill for birth control can also delay their periods depending on which type they are taking. Continuous-use options mean you are taking hormonal birth control constantly, with no breaks between packs. Without breaks, you’re unlikely to have any bleeding, and therefore can avoid having a period.
Extended-use options mean you would normally have a break between packs, which is when your period would come. By taking the next pack immediately after the first, you can delay your period for as long as a month.
Newer evidence suggests that you don’t necessarily need a pill-free interval, like you used to with traditional versions of the combined pill that advise you to mimic your menstrual cycle and have a week off every month.(1) If you are unsure of which type of pill you are taking, or want to discuss options for delaying your period, speak to your GP.
Norethisterone is generally considered safe for most people, but it’s always best to chat to your doctor about this, as in some cases it is not advised. For example, if you or your family have a history of blood clots. (2)
While it is not considered dangerous, you should not take more than the given number of tablets, and should not rely on Norethisterone as a way of delaying your period long-term. It’s intended for use on an occasional basis, not permanently.
Oh and by the way… Norethisterone prescribed for the purpose of delaying your period is not the same as using it for contraception, as it is usually designed so it doesn't interfere too much with your hormone levels and fertility. Therefore you should not rely on it as a contraceptive to prevent pregnancy. It is not a replacement for birth control.
As with many hormonal medications, Norethisterone can cause some side effects. Things to watch out for are; low mood, acne, breast tenderness, fluid retention, low sex drive, and even nausea and headaches. If you experience excessive side effects it is best to have your GP check that everything’s OK, and if you should continue taking them.
If you delay your period, whether by using Norethisterone or from taking back-to-back combined pill packets, you may experience something called ‘breakthrough bleeding’. This means unexpected bleeding due to hormonal fluctuations, and while it can be annoying, it’s usually nothing to worry about.(3)
At the end of the day, the effectiveness of period delay tablets varies with each person, so you may find they work for you, and if they don’t, speak to your GP about other options.
Have you ever taken period delay tablets? We’d love to hear more about your experience! Let us know on Instagram at @itsyoppie. You've got enough going on at that time of the month, whenever it happens, so don't forget that our personalised period subscription box can get organic cotton tampons, and much more, delivered through your letterbox. That's a few less things to worry about each cycle!
Edelman A, Micks E, Gallo MF, Jensen JT, Grimes DA. Continuous or extended cycle vs. cyclic use of combined hormonal contraceptives for contraception. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2014, Issue 7. Art. No.: CD004695. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD004695.pub3.
Mansour D Safer prescribing of therapeutic norethisterone for women at risk of venous thromboembolism Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care 2012;38:148-149.
Dean J, Kramer KJ, Akbary F, et al. Norethindrone is superior to combined oral contraceptive pills in short-term delay of menses and onset of breakthrough bleeding: a randomized trial. BMC Womens Health. 2019;19(1):70. Published 2019 May 28. doi:10.1186/s12905-019-0766-6
Fact checked by Doctor Brooke Vandermolen.
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