A Guide to Birth Control for Heavy Periods

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If you get periods, any bleeding can feel like too much, amirite?

But if you’re someone who loses more than 5 or 6 tablespoons of menstrual blood each month (2 to 3 tablespoons is considered typical), your periods are heavy by clinical standards. This is known as menorrhagia.

Birth control pills are basically a staple in the management of heavy periods and other menstrual problems.

Learning about the options — and there are quite a few — can help you narrow down the best birth control for your individual sitch and preferences.

Hormonal birth control can help manage heavy periods when used alone or in combination with other menorrhagia treatment.

While each type can help, they aren’t all exactly the same. They differ in cost, scheduling, and potential side effects.

Here are some key things to consider when making your choice.

Some methods might require a pelvic exam

Some birth control methods require a pelvic exam, including intrauterine devices (IUDs). These are often prescribed to people with heavy or prolonged periods.

Pelvic exams can be traumatic for survivors of sexual abuse or trigger gender dysphoria in transgender men, so this may affect your decision when reviewing different methods and any associated prerequisites.

You don’t have to stick to the same method forever

The beauty of having so many choices is having so many choices!

If the method you initially choose doesn’t give you the results you want, causes too many side effects, or just isn’t your jam, you can switch to another one.

Some methods may require a guardian’s consent

We get that you might want to keep your birth control use on the down low and not get a parent or guardian involved. No judgement here.

You can access birth control in most states without a guardian’s consent, but that isn’t the case with all healthcare professionals.

Before making an appointment, contact a local clinic or your healthcare professional to learn more about your state’s laws. What you talk about stays between you and them, thanks to confidentiality laws.

Just a heads up — if you’re covered by a guardian’s health insurance, it’s a good idea to call the insurance provider to ask if the services you access will show up on your guardian’s statement.

Your other option is to pay out of pocket or see if you can access low cost or free birth control pills in your area.

Cost can range from free to big bucks, depending on the type

Birth control options for heavy periods range in price from free to over $1,000. How much you’ll pay — if anything — depends on where you are, your annual income, and whether you have health insurance.

Many health centers and family planning clinics offer programs that help subsidize the cost. (More on those in a minute.)

Every type of birth control has its merits. Some are easier to access, some are more effective, and some are just plain popular for various reasons.

Here’s how they measure up.

Most accessible

If accessibility is at the top of your list, these options are the easiest to get your hands on. In some states they may be available over the counter or online. You may not even need a prescription, depending where you are!

These options include:

  • combination birth control pill
  • minipill
  • Depo-Provera shot

Most effective

All hormonal birth control pills have some effect on flow, but these are the cat’s pajamas when it comes to heavy periods because they make periods lighter or stop the bleeding altogether:

  • hormonal IUD
  • minipill, when used correctly
  • extended or continuous cycle birth control pill, when used correctly

Most popular

And the winner of the Birth Control for Heavy Periods Popularity Contest goes to *drumroll* the minipill!

According to research from 2017Trusted Source, people who cite heavy periods as their primary reason for going on birth control usually choose the minipill.

Extended/continuous dose birth control pills are pretty popular, too. This is because of the long period-free intervals, which can be 3 or 4 months to a full year.

If you’re not sold and looking for more options, here are some honorable mentions for reducing heavy flow.

The patch

The patch can make your periods lighter and reduce cramping to boot. You just need to remember to change it once a week, which is nice if you’d rather not have to fuss with a daily pill.

You need a prescription for it — but depending where you live, you might be able to get several patches at once and even order them online.

The ring

If you’re cool with birth control that’s inserted vaginally, the ring offers a few perks. It can make your periods shorter and lighter or let you skip periods altogether by keeping it in for 3 to 5 weeks.

An older studyTrusted Source found the ring to be as effective in treating heavy periods as progesterone pills. (More on these next.)

Progesterone pills

Progesterone pills aren’t birth control, but they can help with heavy periods by inhibiting the growth of your uterine lining.

Depending on how they’re prescribed to you, you might take them daily or only during days 7 to 21 of your cycle. If a healthcare professional recommends the latter method, you should have a lighter period during your “off days.”

Asking yourself these Qs before choosing a type of birth control for heavy periods can help you narrow down your choices for the best pick.

How well does it work for this purpose?

Birth control’s number one job is to prevent pregnancy. If you have P-in-V sex and don’t want to get pregnant, efficacy in this area matters, obviously.

If slowing your flow is just as or even more important for you, then you need to consider that, too, since not all methods will have the same effect.

Is it easy to use?

Ease of use matters when it comes to birth control. The easier it is to use, the more likely you are to take it as directed for the best results.

For instance, if you aren’t good at remembering to take meds or have a busy schedule, you’d likely benefit from a method you don’t need to use every day.

How comfortable are you with using it?

Your comfort matters. Birth control for your heavy periods shouldn’t come with a side of anxiety or trauma.

If the thought of needles makes you weak in the knees, the shot is probs not for you.

If you’re not comfortable touching yourself or have a hard time inserting anything into your vagina, then you might prefer to rule out an insertable method like the ring or IUD.

What are the potential side effects?

Like any med, hormonal birth control can cause side effects, and some types are more likely to do this than others.

Do your homework and consider the potential side effects when weighing your options.

Will it affect any preexisting health conditions?

It’s a good idea to talk with a healthcare provider about birth control for your periods if you have a preexisting medical condition. Some methods may not be right for your individual situation.

Hormonal birth control can increase the risk of blood clots, and some types may worsen (or improve!) premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).

Does it have any other benefits?

Reading up on the other benefits that the method has to offer will help you get the most bang for your buck.

Lighter periods may be your main goal, but some birth control can also help with cramps, PMS, and acne.

How much does it cost?

When budgeting for birth control, you’ll need to factor in the cost of the drug or device and any related doctor’s appointments.

You might be able to get your birth control for a lot less — or even for free — depending on:

  • where you live
  • whether you have health insurance
  • if you qualify for Medicaid or another government program

If you already have a healthcare professional you’re comfortable with, they might be a good place to start.

But you have other options, too:

  • a local health department, which you can find by using this online directoryTrusted Source from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
  • a health center funded by the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration
  • a local Planned Parenthood health center
  • telehealth options

Need more info? Pour yourself a cuppa something good and check out these articles:

  • “How Do Different Birth Control Methods Affect Your Period? A Guide” by Molly Chepenik
  • “How to Figure Out Which Birth Control Method Is Right for You” by Gabrielle Kassel
  • “How to Access Free or Low-Cost Birth Control in Each State” by Gabrielle Kassel

Adrienne Santos-Longhurst is a Canada-based freelance writer and author who has written extensively on all things health and lifestyle for more than a decade. When she’s not holed up in her writing shed researching an article or off interviewing health professionals, she can be found frolicking around her beach town with husband and dogs in tow, or splashing about the lake trying to master the stand-up paddleboard.