The birth control pill was a big hit when it went on sale in the early 1960s. Nearly 50 years later, it's still one of the most popular methods of reversible birth control, with dozens of brands and formulations available.
Yet, half-truths and misconceptions about the birth control pill persist, among them that this method of contraception leads to weight gain.
The drugs that suppress menstrual periods are birth control pills. One type known as extended-cycle makes the time between your periods longer. Another kind, continuous birth control, stops your period for a year without any breaks. Both contain pills with hormones that you take months at a time.
These differ from a packet of 28-day birth control pills, which has 21 pills with hormones in them and seven pills with no hormones. (That last week of pills brings on your period.)
With normal birth control pills, the lining of your uterus builds up and sheds every month during your period. Some women worry that extended-cycle or continuous birth control pills could cause the lining to thicken. This doesn't happen, because your hormone levels don't shift.
In 2003, the FDA approved Seasonale, the first extended-cycle birth control pill. Women take pills with hormones for 84 days, followed by 7 days of hormone-free pills. During the hormone-free week, women get their periods.
The FDA approved Seasonique, a slightly different extended-cycle pill,in 2006. It also has 84 days' worth of pills with hormones, but the final pills contain a tiny dose of hormones.
The first birth control pill that can make your period go away for a year at a time was approved in 2007. Lybrel contains 365 days' worth of pills with hormones.
Period-free events. If you don't want to have your period on your wedding day, during final exams, or on your trip to Europe, these drugs can come in handy, especially if you get painful cramps to boot.
An end to endometriosis. About 10% of women have this condition, when the lining of your uterus, or endometrium, grows outside of the uterus. It can cause pain and fertility problems. Extended-cycle birth control pills can stop endometriosis from coming back, because the uterine lining doesn't grow on a monthly cycle.
Fertility. You should be able to get pregnant without trouble after you quit this type of birth control. Studies have found that 99% of women ovulate again within 3 months after they stop taking Lybrel.