I felt this post was super important to write after sitting around the dinner table with some of my closest friends discussing the pill. It was amazing to see the misinformation out there. We were a bunch of educated women (mostly in our 30s) who had been on the oral contraceptive pill (OCP) for some length of time at some point in their life. Yet everyone believed something different about what the pill did and how it impacted women’s menstrual cycles.
At one point, they were so convinced of something I didn't agree with, that I had to re-read old textbooks. Could I be wrong about this!? In short. I wasn’t. Phew! But I knew this was a topic to be discussed in detail.
By the way, this is by no means a pill bashing post. So please don’t check out or scoff at the content. Take five minutes to read it and fully sit with this information.
So let’s dive in.
MYTH #1 YOU STILL OVULATE ON THE PILL.
No. Unfortunately you don’t.
But this doesn’t mean that when you come off the pill you’ll still have all your eggs! More on this below. The OCP contains a synthetic form of the hormones progesterone and estrogen. These hormones prevent ovulation by maintaining consistent hormone levels in the body that don’t allow for the release of an egg. We women are designed to have fluctuating hormones that roll with the cycles of life. On the pill, this doesn’t happen. You see, without a peak in estrogen, the ovary doesn't get the signal to release an egg (ovulation). No egg means no possibility for fertilisation and therefore no pregnancy.
But aren't I still losing eggs?
Firstly, something to remember is that women are born with all of their eggs in the ovaries (close to two million) and there’s no growing new ones - you have what you have. Every month about eleven thousand of them die prior to puberty. Then, each month if you’re not on the OCP multiple eggs will start to mature before the most viable egg for fertilisation is released. Sometimes two can be released and this is when you get fraternal twins.
Now as previously mentioned, if you are are on the OCP you will not ovulate (release an egg) because of the hormones preventing the body from doing so. Instead your eggs will die off as usual and be reabsorbed into the body. So sadly, the pill cannot prolong fertility. Your body still ages each month and eggs still lessen. They are not being shed monthly, they are being reabsorbed as dead cells.
MYTH #2 EACH MONTH YOU SHED YOUR LINING EVEN WHEN ON THE PILL
Technically if you’re on the pill there is no reason for your body to have a period each month. Due to the steadied hormone production, the body is made to believe that it is pregnant - therefore no shedding of any lining will occur. While I absolutely think women should have a regular period, the monthly bleed you get on the pill is not it.
You see, with a regular period a monthly lining grows over time to support a fertilised egg (a baby). If this fertilisation doesn’t occur then the uterine lining (technically termed the endometrium) sheds (in the form of a period) to allow for a new lining to grow and the process to start again.
So why do women still menstruate while taking the pill?
Like so many things that we are sold, it comes down to marketing. The inventors of the pill, Rock and Pincus believed that the pill would be more widely accepted by the catholic church and other influential organisations if it mimicked a woman's menstrual cycle. I gotta say, it wasn’t entirely stupid of them.
So the OCP was designed with 28 days (an average female cycle) and one week of placebos (aka sugar pills). Now the bleed you get is actually a withdrawal from hormones you’re taking, known as ‘withdrawal bleeding’. I mean a pretty incredible invention but also deeply misleading. You are not shedding a lining. You are having a ‘withdrawal bleed’ from the synthetic hormones that have suddenly stopped being taken. These are generally shorter and lighter bleeds because the lining hasn’t thickened over time.
MYTH #3 YOU DON’T NEED A NATURAL PERIOD
This is entirely for you to decide. No one can understand how you feel in your own body. What I will say is that women are incredibly cycylical. We sync are hormones, emotions and states of being with the cycles in nature and with the other women around us. We’re so deeply attuned to our bodies that when we’re stressed, overwhelmed, overweight or unhappy our bodies often shut down the reproductive cycle to allow us to heal. Genius. I personally have learned to love and appreciate my cycle, for all the chaos it brings.
For some, a period is torturous, uncomfortable or just plain unnecessary. But I would like to say that it doesn’t have to be. My passion is helping women align with their cycles and understand how to cope with the ups and downs. Through lifestyle changes, dietary tweaks and some good old fashion self love you can see dramatic shifts in your body.
On a final note, if you’re hoping to have babies I would 100% recommend you allow at least one year to come off the pill, rebalance your hormones and clear out excess artificial hormones from the liver. We don;t want that stuff lingering when bub is in the incubator.
So there we go. I hope you take this information and bank it for later so that if you ever find yourself around a dinner table with your beloved friends you can confidently share this knowledge.