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The first oral contraceptive pill was approved by the FDA in 1960. Packs of pills with equal amounts of estrogen and progesterone (combined birth control pills) have a week of sugar pills. Taking the placebo pills induces a period. Health authorities and doctors have traditionally advised women that they should take this week of sugar pills and have normal periods for their reproductive and overall health. The thought was that having a period regularly would reassure women that everything was normal as well as imitate the rhythm method (thereby making birth control more acceptable to the pope).
Women that wanted to have fewer periods started skipping these placebo pills and taking the active pills from the next pack of pills. This practice is a form of menstrual suppression which is the adjustment of the menstrual cycle using hormonal contraceptives. Skipping placebo pills or ‘stacking packs’ is one of several way that women can suppress their periods. The uterine lining is maintained when periods are skipped and breakthrough bleeding may occur as some of the lining sheds. Other potential side effects of taking the combined pill continuously or ‘stacking packs’ may include nausea or diarrhea. The chances of successfully suppressing one’s period without breakthrough bleeding or other side effects depends on both the method used and the patient.
When attempting to decide between continuous cycle pills, 28-day birth control pills, or another form of birth control for menstrual suppression, women should consult their physician or nurse practitioner in order to create a birth control plan tailored to their needs.