Daily Health

What You Need to Know About 3-Month Birth Control Options

Many women take birth control for both contraception purposes and to help manage their periods. 

Periods can have a major impact on a person’s day-to-day life. 

In fact, 68% of women in Canada report that periods inhibit their ability to fully participate in activities, with more than half missing school, work, or other social activities. 

For women who wish to manage their period and benefit from the contraceptive uses of birth control, 3-month birth control pills can be a great option. This type of medication has similar effectiveness to regular birth control but allows women to reduce their number of periods to just four per year.  

This article will cover everything you need to know about 3-month birth control — from how it works and its advantages to side effects and potential risks.  

What is the 3-month birth control pill?  

The 3-month birth control pill is a hormone-containing pill taken for twelve active weeks, followed by a week of inactive pills (sometimes called placebo pills) on the thirteenth week. 

During the inactive week, the body will begin its menstruation cycle.  

In comparison, regular birth control pills/patches/rings follow a monthly cycle in which you take the hormone-containing pill for three active weeks, followed by one week of inactive pills on the fourth week. With these types of birth control pills, you have a monthly period.  

Anyone on a 3-month birth control pill prescription will only have periods every three months instead of every month. As a result, patients can reduce their total number of periods from twelve per year to four per year.  

About 3-month birth control 

Three-month birth control pills are also known as continuous oral birth control pills, as patients can continuously take them for three months back-to-back before taking a week of inactive pills.  

This can also be done with regular monthly packs by just skipping the inactive week.  Some people find the 3-month packs easier to follow, however. The effectiveness of continuous oral birth control is 92% with typical use or 99.7% with perfect use.  

Like regular birth control pills, 3-month birth control contains the hormones estrogen and progestin. With a prescription for this type of birth control, you receive a pack that contains ninety-one total pills (eighty-four active pills and seven inactive/placebo pills). However, some continuous birth control pills will replace the placebo pills with low-dose estrogen pills.  

Research on contraception methods in Canada lists several reasons why this type of birth control may be prescribed or preferred, including:

  • Negative symptoms during the inactive pill interval due to the drop in hormones that can sometimes cause pelvic pain, menstrual migraines, and headaches 
  • Dysmenorrhea (severe and frequent menstrual cramps throughout the duration of a period) 
  • Menorrhagia (heavy menstrual bleeding that exceeds seven days total)  

Types of continuous birth control  

Two name-brand versions of continuous birth control pills are available in Canada: Seasonale and Seasonique.  The generic version INdayo is also available in Canada. 

Seasonale prescriptions include eighty-four hormonal pills and seven placebo pills. Meanwhile, Seasonique medications provide eighty-four hormonal pills and seven low-dose estrogen pills.  

The main benefit of taking Seasonique is that the low-dose estrogen pills can help shorten your period and lessen the occurrence of breakthrough bleeding (minor bleeding or spotting that occurs outside of the timeframe when you would expect your period).   

Determining which of these types of birth control pills is better for you can depend on the severity of your period and menstrual symptoms. Working with a healthcare practitioner is the best way to decide which will better fit your needs.  

Continuous cycle vs. extended-cycle birth control: what is the difference?  

When we talk about continuous cycle birth control, this refers to a type of birth control pill that is taken continuously without stopping. This can result in fewer periods or, in some cases, no periods at all. 

By comparison, extended-cycle birth control refers to a type of birth control pill that is taken continuously for two or more cycles. While this is similar to continuous cycle birth control, with extended-cycle birth control, you will have a planned hormone break in which your period will occur.  

Overall, both types of birth control include hormones, can result in fewer overall periods, and are regarded as having the same level of effectiveness as regular birth control.  

How does the 3-month birth control pill work? 

This informational document on the types of birth control available in Canada outlines the three-step process of how continuous birth control works:

  1. Continuous birth control pills prevent the ovary from releasing an egg 
  1. Cervical mucus is thickened to make it more difficult for sperm to reach an egg 
  1. The lining of the uterus is thinned to inhibit the implantation of an egg 

Benefits of continuous birth control methods  

As we have covered, some of the key benefits of continuous birth control methods include:

  • Fewer total periods per year 
  • Improved menstrual cycle regulation 
  • Lighter menstrual flow and reduced severity of symptoms 

Additionally, continuous birth control methods can help to reduce the severity of PMS symptoms and to treat symptoms associated with menorrhagia, dysmenorrhea, and endometriosis. 

Potential risks of continuous birth control methods  

One of the most important risks to consider with continuous birth control is the potential for an undetected pregnancy. Since these types of birth control medications can reduce your total menstrual periods each year, missing a period or two may not alert you to a potential pregnancy.  

As such, it is highly important to follow the usage instructions provided by your healthcare practitioner and to make sure to take the pill at the same time every day.  

Continuous birth control pills provide a high rate of effectiveness (92% with typical use), so unwanted pregnancies when taking these pills are likely a result of inconsistent use.  

Additionally, other potential risks of continuous birth control can include an increased risk of blood clots, stroke, or heart attack. These risks are heightened if you have high blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol or if you are overweight.  

The risk of blood clots and strokes is considered to be highest in the first year of taking these medications. 

Side effects of hormonal birth control:

Most of the side effects associated with birth control pills can occur in the first few weeks of taking the medication, as your body adjusts to the new substance being introduced to your system.  

These side effects may include: 

  • Mild nausea 
  • Breast tenderness 
  • Changes in appetite 
  • Breakthrough bleeding or spotting

You should contact your healthcare practitioner immediately if other more serious side effects occur.  

MyHealth Alberta recommends visiting the nearest emergency department or calling 911 if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Severe pain in the abdomen, chest, or legs 
  • Numbness in the face, arms, or legs (typically occurs on one side of the body) 
  • Trouble breathing 
  • Severe headache or migraine 
  • Vision or eye problems 
  • Loss of walking mobility or balance 
  • Sudden confusion or inability to understand what others are saying 

Other types of birth control pills  

Aside from continuous birth control pills, there are other types of birth control pills you can be prescribed as well. These include pills that do not contain estrogen and are labelled as progestin-only.   

Alternative medications to continuous birth control pills include:

  • Hormonal oral birth control (often called “The Pill” and available as either 21-day birth control pills or 28-day birth control pills)  
  • Mini-pills (a type of hormonal oral birth control pill that is progestin-only) 

There are also several additional hormonal alternatives to pills that include:

  • Hormonal transdermal birth control patches (a patch that slowly releases estrogen and progestin through the skin) 
  • Hormonal vaginal birth control rings (known more commonly as NuvaRing, this type of birth control is a flexible ring that is placed inside the vagina and releases a continuous dose of hormones over three weeks) 
  • Hormonal injectable birth control shots (also called Depo Provera, these shots only contain progesterone and are administered every twelve to thirteen weeks) 
  • Hormonal intrauterine systems (abbreviated as IUS, this birth control method is a t-shaped device that is inserted into the uterus. It releases a hormone called levonorgestrel and can remain in the uterus for up to seven years as a long-lasting form of birth control)
  • Hormonal implants (flexible rods placed beneath the skin in the upper arm that provide a steady dose of progestational hormones and can last up to three years)

21-day birth control pills vs. 28-day birth control pills  

Both 21-day and 28-day birth control pills contain twenty-one active pills that contain both progestin and estrogen. 

The main difference between these types of birth control pills is that 28-day birth control packs will contain seven placebo pills, while the 21-day birth control packs do not include these placebo pills.  

Patients taking either 21-day or 28-day birth control pills can take a seven-day break to allow their period to occur and then start taking the active pills again once that period of time passes. This 7-day period can also be skipped entirely by continuing to take the active pills, allowing you to skip your period.

However, some people find this difficult to remember and prefer to take the 7-day break using the inactive pills in the 28-day pack. 

The presence of the placebo pills in 28-day birth control pill packs simply serves as a reminder to take the pill and helps patients to stay on schedule with taking the pill at the same time every day.  

Non-hormonal birth control methods  

Along with the variety of different hormone-based birth control methods discussed above, there are also many non-hormonal birth control methods you can opt for instead. 

These include: 

  • Copper IUD:  A copper intrauterine device (IUD) can be either hormonal or non-hormonal. It is a t-shaped device that is inserted into the uterus and can remain there for up to ten years. This form of birth control works by changing your endometrial chemistry in a way that inhibits the ability of sperm to fertilize an egg.  
  • Male External Condoms: Male external condoms can be made from both latex and non-latex materials. These condoms fit over an erect penis to prevent the transfer of semen and other bodily fluids into the vagina.  
  • Female Internal Condoms: Female internal condoms are made from polyurethane and are inserted into the vagina before penetration. These condoms trap sperm and other bodily fluids and must be immediately removed after sexual intercourse.  
  • Diaphragms: Diaphragms are a barrier method of contraception that are placed inside the vagina and work by preventing sperm from passing to the cervix. They typically must be used in tandem with a spermicide. 

Choosing the right birth control for you 

When choosing a method for birth control, it ultimately comes down to speaking with a healthcare practitioner about what will work best for your body.  

Not everyone is compatible with hormonal birth control methods. Certain pre-existing health conditions and some medications can be poor combinations with this form of birth control. 

Thus, you should always be open and transparent with your healthcare practitioner when seeking a new birth control prescription.  

3-Month birth control FAQs: what to ask your healthcare practitioner  

If you think 3-month birth control may be the right option for you and are ready to speak with a healthcare practitioner, it is always wise to ask questions.

Here are three questions that can be helpful to ask when seeking a continuous birth control method: 

1. How does continuous birth control work? 

As we covered earlier, continuous birth control prevents the ovary from releasing an egg, thickens the cervical mucus, and thins the uterus lining. However, if you are unfamiliar with medical terminology, this may not shed much light on the actual process your body undergoes with this medication. 

A healthcare practitioner will be able to take you through a more detailed explanation of this process and the best practices and instructions for use.  

2. What are the drawbacks to delaying your period? 

There are not many drawbacks to delaying your period through the use of continuous 3-month birth control pills. The main drawback is that, if you become pregnant, you may not immediately know due to the lack of a regular period. 

Speaking with your healthcare practitioner allows you to ask about these potential side effects so that you know what to look out for and when to reach out for medical assistance.  

3. Is it safe for all women to delay menstruation? 

While most women can safely delay menstruation through the use of continuous birth control pills, it’s always good to check in with your healthcare provider to ensure it is the right fit for you with consideration of your medical history and other medications you may be taking.

A healthcare practitioner can also ensure your birth control method aligns with your symptoms and goals for care. Always talk with your healthcare practitioner about any pre-existing conditions or medications you have before starting this type of birth control. 

Key Takeaways 

Continuous birth control pills can be an excellent way to prevent pregnancy, manage your menstrual cycle, and reduce the number of periods you experience per year.  

To discuss what birth control options may be right for you, get started with Felix today.

WRITTEN BY
Felix Team
Updated on:
September 19, 2022
Medically reviewed by
Dr. Sheila Wijayasinghe
Family Physician, MD, CCFP
Disclaimer

The views expressed here are those of the author and, as with the rest of the content on Health Guide, are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare practitioner.

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