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I stopped taking the pill, now where's my period?

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Rebecca asks:

My periods have always been kind of irregular and because of this I went on the pill to try and regulate my cycle. After taking the pill for about 7 months, my periods were not regulating but I continued to take it. Once I got to college, I was getting periods every 2 weeks with bad cramps, etc. I finished out my pack and stopped taking it because it was making me feel worse and not doing what I hoped it would do. I still have not gotten my period since I stopped taking the pill and am getting worried because I am sexually active. My boyfriend and I always use protection and are very responsible, but I am still worry. Is is normal for my periods to be so delayed after stopping the pill?

Sarah replies:

My first question in this case is, did your health care provider look into your menstrual difficulties or did they just slap you on the pill and assume that would solve the problem? If nobody really looked into your problem, then I'd suggest that you consider heading back to your provider (or a provider at your school) and asking for a referral to a gynecologist. If your periods are truly irregular to the point where they are causing you problems or you are having severe side effects associated with your periods, somebody needs to look at what the cause really is. Putting you on hormonal birth control will not do anything to really solve the problem, instead it just tends to mask whatever is going on. Also, remember that some women just have "irregular" cycles. (However you define that since folks often use that term but are not talking about the same thing. Some people will say cycles longer than 28 days are "irregular" -- when really there's nothing irregular about that unless you are having extremely long cycles (like 40 days or more). Some people will say they're "irregular" when their cycles vary by a day or a few days each time -- again, that's not really irregular and is more likely an issue of slight, normal hormonal fluctuations.) Beyond that, it sounds like the pill really wasn't a good mesh with your body. Nobody on the pill should be bleeding every two weeks or having severe side effects (like the bad cramps you mention).

When your body comes off the pill, it's a lot like starting the pill. Since the pill was providing you with extra hormones every month, your body now has to become accustomed to not having those extra hormones anymore. It may take some time for your body to work itself out again, so your periods may be irregular. I believe that the average length of time before cycles return to normal (meaning how they were before you were on the pill) is something like 3 months, though it can take much longer than that for some women. For me personally, when I came off the pill after several years, I didn't have a period at all for something like 3-4 months and I didn't start to have regular cycles for probably a good year. It just depends on your own body and how it adapts.

If you're concerned about being pregnant, there are a couple of things that you can do. First off, there's no point in being stressed about whether or not you are pregnant when pregnancy tests are so (reasonably) cheap and accessible. As long as it's been more than 10 days since the last time you had sex, you can get a test and put your mind at ease. If you and your partner have been practicing safer sex and haven't had any failures (it sounds like you're using condoms, so as long as you've been using them consistently, correctly, and haven't had any breakage or slippage), then there's likely nothing to worry about. If you want to look into another method of protection to back up your condoms, there are several good non-hormonal methods available to you. You can talk to your health care provider about getting a diaphram or Lea's Shield as a backup. Or, if you have the patience and can be committed to practicing it correctly, using something like the fertility awareness method (where you chart your basal body temperature, cervical mucus, and cervical position each day to identify when you are "most fertile" and then avoid intercourse altogether on those days while using condoms on your non-fertile days) might be a good choice for you. Please note though, if you plan to use fertility awareness, it is something you have to learn to do and that you must be consistently diligent about doing each and every day (if you're interested in FAM, I'd suggest Toni Weschler's book "Taking Charge of Your Fertility"). You may want to look at the following links for more information:

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