The Oral Contraceptive Pill (OCP) is by far the most preferred method of contraception in Australia, the UK & US. A convenient and painless form of contraception, The Pill receives more use than Long Term Contraceptive Methods such as an IUD (Intra Uterine Device). The issues around OCP Prescription can be related to its ‘off label prescribing’ for young girls with heavy and painful periods and for women later on in their lives when they want to conceive and need to come off The Pill. Let’s discuss these issues.
Since their introduction in 1961, oral contraceptives quickly became the preferred method. In 1986, 50% of all women in their early 20s were using oral contraceptives, as well as 40% of women in their late 20s, and 25% of the women in their early 30s.
It seems a highly effective form of contraception, with women reporting lighter, more manageable periods and menstrual cycles. In my view, Contraception being prescibed for exactly that purpose is appropriate. The OCP ‘Off Label Prescribing’ for irregular, painful or heavy periods to “regulate” the cycle, seems extreme measures for something that can be managed naturally and in a simpler way without side effects.
My concern as a Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioner is:
- Why Young Girls are being recommended to go on the OCP as young as 10-12 years old with heavy, painful periods.
- When women in their 30’s are ready to have babies, their disappointment when they come off The OCP – they either don’t get their cycle back easily or at all.
The Pill does NOT regulate your period, it masks it.
Although there are conveniences to taking the Oral Contraceptive Pill (OCP), there are downsides. The Pill as it was intended (to avoid Pregnancy) is a perfectly acceptable form of contraception. But given to girls of pre-teen age to “regulate” their period cycles must be understood with caution.
The Pill is a form of Hormone replacement. So it may “normalise” a young girl’s period & cycle and make it very scant, light and very tolerable. They no longer experience period pain, PMS or heavy periods. Despite this “improvement” symptomatically, the original hormone imbalance (or cause) may not have been addressed fully and remains underlying or hidden.
It takes a full 12 months for a young girl to establish a cycle when first experiencing her period. Any irregularities within this time is considered normal and reasonable, as the hormones adjust and normalise on their own. I’m not suggesting young girls put up with the pain or discomfort during this time, but my hope is that Parents hold off on medicating for as long as possible and try other options available such as Naturopathy, Chinese Medicine & Nutrition to naturally regulate a young girl’s hormones & menstrual cycle.
Short Term Gain and Long Term Pain
Adding Hormone Replacement in the form of Oestrogen (The OCP) into this mix can be a short term gain and a long term pain. Is the girl Oestrogen deficient? Does a blood test suggest this is the case?
Unfortunately, the long term pain or cost for the women who have happily taken the OCP since their teens is their Fertility Health. These are often the women that in their 30’s really struggle with their fertility & conceiving successfully. They sometimes have been taking the pill for 25 years straight. The sad news is not everyone’s body can jump right back into a 28 day cycle the month after coming off the OCP.
What happens when there’s no Pill?
The issue here is that once you remove that chemical instruction of the OCP, the body
- Has to get back into it’s own cycle again, whatever that is (tricky if there is long term OCP use)
- The cycle relies on efficient Ovulation, which may have ceased with OCP use depending on your brand.
- When you do finally get back into your natural cycle, you may be facing those same issues you had when you first started the OCP. (The mask is pulled back to reveal your original cycle)
- Can go into Temporary Ovarian Failure where the body does not ovulate.
Coming off the OCP can lead to erratic cycles in some and others may not get their periods back for months on end. This is why I encourage women to give themselves time to come off the pill and then some more time to conceive after that. Add into that mix some Natural Therapies to assist the body to ovulate and menstruate and you have a powerful combination.
What Do I Do Instead?
Acupuncture & Chinese Herbs are great tools to use to balance hormones, which in turn regulates the cycle, which in turn helps this process happen more smoothly. Whether you have long or short cycles, erratic or consistently irregular periods, hormone balancing is one of Traditional Chinese Medicine’s (TCM) flagship benefits.
Consider Acupuncture, Chinese Herbs, Naturopathy, Nutrition or a Herbalists advice when dealing with painful, heavy or erratic periods and especially when you’re thinking of coming off The Pill. These Natural Therapies work with the body to help get it’s cycle back, without side effects and using Natural Supplements, Herbs and Food to assist the process.
If you’re thinking about coming off The Pill, email me to discuss any concerns you may have. Reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
References: Trends in Contraception & Sterilization methods in Australia in Aust & NZ Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology 1991.
Current Contraceptive Management in Australia General Practice, Medical Journal of Australia.