Everything you need to know about how to delay your period

Technically speaking, you can do whatever you like when you're on your period – from sex to swimming – and you should never feel like anything is 'off limits' because of your uterus. But between the cramps, the mood swings, the bloating and obviously the bleeding, it's also totally fair if you need (or want) to put off your period, reasons for which might include an upcoming holiday.

The good news is that, with a bit of forward planning, it is possible to delay your period until bikinis and beaches are safely off of your schedule. To find out how to delay your period, we spoke to Boots pharmacist and women's health expert, Bina Mehta, as well as Dr Deborah Lee at Dr Fox Online Pharmacy.

How to delay your period

It's a situation that many of us will relate to. You're just about to [insert summertime adventure here] when Mother Nature rears her bloody head, putting quite the literal dampener on your plans. But does a period mean your holiday hopes are done for? Not quite! There are several options you can explore if you're hoping to delay your period, these include starting or taking the contraceptive pill back-to-back or using a period delay pill. Here's what you need to know about both...

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Using the period delay pill

How do period delay pills work?

"Period delay tablets are a type of progesterone called norethisterone," says Dr Deborah Lee. "In a normal menstrual cycle (when you are not using hormonal contraception) your period starts when your own levels of progesterone start to fall, towards the end of the month. When progesterone levels fall, this triggers the onset of the monthly bleed."

But, Dr Lee adds, "When you take additional progesterone by mouth, towards the end of the cycle, this keeps your own progesterone levels elevated, and stops the period from getting started."

How do you take period delay pills?

As for how to take period delay pills, Dr Lee explains that: "To delay your period, you are advised to take norethisterone, three times a day, starting three days before you would expect your period to start. You then keep taking the tablets for the next two to three weeks, and when you stop, you should start bleeding a few days later."

Are period delay pills safe?

"The medication has a good safety profile when used correctly and as prescribed, but it is important to read the Patient Information Leaflet that comes with your medication to understand side effects and how to take the medicine," Mehta tells us when asked if period delay pills are safe.

But, that's not to say that everyone will be able to take period delay pills. "Treatment is not suitable for people on certain medicines or with certain medical conditions," Mehta adds, also pointing out that you should not use this medicine if you’re pregnant, could be pregnant, trying to get pregnant or if you’ve given birth within the last six weeks. The expert also explains that, "if you take this medicine while breastfeeding, there may be a temporary reduction in your milk."

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As for whether there are any side effects to taking period delay pills, Metha reminds us that: "As with any other medication, some people may experience side effects while others may not experience any at all."

With that in mind, side effects of taking period delay pills can include:

  • Spotting

  • Irregular bleeding

  • Sore breasts

  • A lower sex drive

  • An upset stomach

"The longer you take the tablets for, the more likely you’ll experience side effects," the expert adds. "You should always read the Patient Information Leaflet before starting any medication so that you are familiar with the treatment and the side-effects to be aware of. If you have any concerns speak to your pharmacist."

Do period delay pills work as a contraceptive?

"It’s very important to note that period delay tablets such as norethisterone are not contraceptive," Dr Lee advises, telling us that they should "not be relied upon for this purpose." Instead, she recommends using barrier methods – like condoms – if you're planning on having sex.

How often can you take period delay pills?

"Period delay tablets should not be taken more than once every three months," Dr Lee notes. "If you want to reduce or get rid of your periods, this can be achieved using other types of hormonal contraception," she adds, pointing out that this can be discussed with your GP or at your local Sexual Health Clinic.

Using the contraceptive pill

"If you take a combined contraceptive pill, you can delay your period by taking the packets back-to-back," the NHS website explains, listing some of the most common combined contraceptive pills (as well as how to take them back-to-back) here.

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As with the period delay pill, taking the combined contraceptive pill back-to-back can cause side effects, which include:

  • Feeling sick (nausea)

  • Headaches

  • Mood swings

  • Breast tenderness

If you're not taking a combined contraceptive pill, instead taking a progestogen-only contraceptive pill, you cannot delay your period by taking packets back-to-back, the NHS points out. However, you may be able to switch to the combined contraceptive pill, so it's worth speaking to your GP.

Importantly, the NHS notes that "you may need to start taking this [combined contraceptive] pill several weeks before the time when you want to delay your period, and it's not suitable for everyone." You'll also need to use additional contraception during the first few days of taking the combined contraceptive pill if you're switching to or starting to use it.

So, there you have it!

This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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