Sometimes it can feel like a given that your period is going to arrive whenever something awesome is happening in your life. Planning a campout? Oh, so funny, your period is, too. Going on vacation? Better pack the tampons. Getting married? How sweet—your period just RSVPed!
Clearly, there are certain times in life when you could do without getting your period and all that comes with it. Sadly, you can’t simply will your menstruation away. But if you're wondering how to make your period come faster, there is technically one way to tweak the ETA on your period, and that’s with birth control.
Before you can start manipulating your period, it’s important to understand what actually happens in your body before, during, and after your red tide washes ashore.
If the last time you dove into details about your menstrual cycle was in middle school health class, buckle up, because things are about to get pretty fascinating.
The menstrual cycle is what makes it possible for people to get pregnant. During your period, your body is expelling the lining your uterus built up in case of a pregnancy. This lining is made up of blood and nutrients to nourish a fetus if you do get pregnant, but if you don’t conceive, there’s no need for it—so, out it goes.
As your body is pushing out that bloody matter, your ovaries and pituitary gland are kicking into action so you can already start to build up a fresh lining. Your pituitary gland begins churning out more follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), so fluid-filled pockets called follicles start to develop on your ovaries. Each of those follicles contains an egg. Between days five and seven of your cycle, as your period wraps up, just one follicle continues to grow, and the others are absorbed back into your ovaries. That follicle releases increasing levels of the hormone estrogen, which makes the lining of your uterus grow and get thicker.
Around the middle of your cycle, your estrogen levels peak and cause a big rise in luteinizing hormone (LH), which causes the follicle to burst and release an egg from your ovary in a process known as ovulation. The ruptured follicle makes the hormone progesterone, which helps your uterine lining get even thicker and stabilizes it so it doesn’t start shedding.
If the egg isn’t fertilized, it breaks apart, your levels of estrogen and progesterone drop, and you get rid of that lining in the form of your period again. You’re back at the start of your cycle, and your body, ever hopeful, gears up to try for pregnancy again.
There are exceptions to this chain of events, like if you have a health condition such as polycystic ovary syndrome that affects your ovulation in some way. This entire cycle is also different if you’re on hormonal birth control, which, hey, is actually a perfect segue into explaining how you can speed up your period’s arrival.
If you want your period to come sooner or later than usual, your only option is to manipulate it with certain types of hormonal birth control.
First, an important disclaimer: Birth control, like any medication, should be taken as directed by the prescribing information and your doctor. If you’re interested in messing with your birth control in order to change your period in some way, that’s something you should talk to your doctor about, because it will likely vary depending on a few specific factors. Below, we spoke with several experts about how birth control can be used to change your period, but this information should not be considered a substitute for personalized medical advice. It’s always smart to talk to your doctor about your unique situation before messing around with your birth control method, especially if it’s your primary method of pregnancy prevention. This particularly applies if you're new to taking the pill. "I probably would counsel folks who have just started the pill not to do these manipulations just because they aren't experienced and may well forget pills or get disorganized," Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology and reproductive sciences at Yale Medical School, tells SELF.
With all that said, it is possible to adjust the timing of your period using some forms of hormonal birth control methods, like the pill, Tara Shirazian, M.D., a gynecologist at NYU Langone Health, tells SELF. If you’re taking a combined hormonal birth control pill (with estrogen and progestin) you’ll generally get your period whenever you reach the week of placebo pills. So, if you want your period to come on a different week, you can typically take that placebo week earlier or later than directed, Dr. Minkin explains. Again, this is something you should speak with a health care provider about first, as the specific instructions will depend on your unique situation and your brand of pills.
Here’s how this works: The most common kind of combination birth control pills have 21 “active” pills (the ones with hormones), the Mayo Clinic says. Those leftover seven days are placebo pills to allow for your “period,” which is really a withdrawal bleed due to the reduced hormones. When you take the placebo pills, your progesterone levels go down, so your endometrial lining isn’t as stable, which leads to bleeding, says Dr. Minkin.
So, if you want your period to come sooner or later than usual, Dr. Minkin recommends taking the placebo pills during the week in which you’d want to bleed. Bleeding will likely start within a day or two, she says. After you take the placebos, continue taking the active pills starting with the week you skipped, Dr. Minkin says, explaining that as long as you do this, you should still be protected against pregnancy. (This should apply for all combination pills, Dr. Minkin says, but again, you need to check with your doctor to be sure.) If you do this correctly, you should finish your pack right on time and be able to go into the next one as scheduled.
Remember, you’re messing around with your birth control, here. It’s possible your cycle may be thrown a little out of whack if you do this. That could mean more breakthrough bleeding later in the month (this can be common when you try to skip your period at length with any method). This is especially likely if you're on a low-dose pill, Dr. Minkin says. If it really bothers you, bring up the idea of switching to a higher-dose pill with your doctor to see what they think.
And if you’re really not a fan of your period, you could also ask your doctor about birth control pills that are designed to make your period come less often, or even to eliminate it entirely. Some types of the combination pill come with 12 whole weeks of active pills instead of 21 days. The idea is take the active pills straight through for three months, get your period, then start on the next menstruation-free 12-week streak again, the Mayo Clinic says. There may be a chance of breakthrough bleeding when you first start, but it might also decrease over time as your body gets used to your birth control.
FYI: You definitely don’t want to play around with progestin-only pills.
The progestin-only birth control pill (also called the minipill) doesn’t contain estrogen (which is what prevents your ovaries from releasing eggs) so it really relies on progestin to thicken cervical mucus and thin the uterine lining to prevent pregnancy, according to the Mayo Clinic.
There are two reasons why you shouldn’t try to work this period magic with the minipill. First, the minipill comes with 28 active days and no placebos. That means there’s not even a placebo week for you to take earlier than scheduled to make your period arrive. Second, since the minipill doesn’t have estrogen and also contains a lower dose of progestin than combined pills, you have to be really on top of taking your pills at the same time every day (or at least within the same three-hour window) if you want your best odds of avoiding pregnancy, the Mayo Clinic says. That means you definitely shouldn’t skip a week just to try to get your period earlier—you’d be putting yourself at a huge risk of unintended pregnancy.
It’s also possible to manipulate your period with the birth control ring and patch.
The ring is a donut-shaped piece of flexible plastic you insert into your vagina, the Mayo Clinic says. It essentially works the same way as the combined birth control pill: It has estrogen and progestin to suppress ovulation, thicken your cervical mucus, and thin your uterine lining. The patch also contains estrogen and progestin, and you wear it on your butt, upper outer arm, stomach, or back, per the Mayo Clinic.
Like the combined birth control pill, both of these methods involve using the respective devices for 21 active days and taking seven “off” days, so you’d simply take your ring out or your patch off when you want to get your period, then start back up again with a fresh ring or patch after seven days. Again, it’s important to talk to your doctor about this before trying it so that you can make sure you’re fully protected against unwanted pregnancy and you aren’t putting yourself at risk of any side effects.
When it comes to long-acting reversible contraceptives like the IUD or the implant, you can’t really use them to reschedule your period, though they may make your period lighter or shorter over time.
Also, heads up: You technically don’t need to have a period at all while on hormonal birth control.
Think back to the menstrual cycle and how it differs for people taking hormonal contraception. While on hormonal birth control, you’re not building up a thick uterine lining each month—and in many cases you may not even be ovulating while on birth control—so that withdrawal bleed is essentially just to reassure you that you’re not pregnant, Frederick Friedman, M.D., associate professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and director in the department of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive science at the Mount Sinai Health System, tells SELF.
In some cases, you can skip over the placebo week with combination birth control pills and go straight to the next pack, or you can use a new ring or patch without giving yourself a week of “off” days, says Dr. Friedman. “As far as we know, this is safe,” he says. Still, this is not considered taking your birth control as directed, so you should always talk to a medical provider before playing around with it.
Plus, if you’re over pills and interested in something longer-term that can lighten your period load, Dr. Shirazian recommends looking into a hormonal IUD. Hormonal IUDs are coated with a synthetic progestin called levonorgestrel. Although there are different kinds of hormonal IUDs, they all limit the buildup of your uterine lining, which in turn cuts back on how much you bleed during your period, Dr. Minkin explains. “Most women bleed minimally on [hormonal IUDs], and some women don’t get a period at all,” Dr. Shirazian says. You can use hormonal IUDs for three to five years, depending on the specific type you choose.
Ultimately, if you want to get your period in line with your schedule (or if you need your period to calm down because it’s way too heavy or painful), talk to your health care provider.
“I get the most questions about how to manipulate a cycle when someone is going on vacation or getting married,” Dr. Minkin says. They’re used to this. See your doctor, explain how often you’d like to get your period (if ever), and whether that’s just for convenience or because your period makes life awful every time it comes around. No matter your specific situation, your doctor should at the very least have an idea of where to start.