Are you rejoicing in the signs that your body is getting ready to say ‘goodbye’ to your period and you are looking forward to throwing out your birth control? Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security – if you are still getting your period, you can still get pregnant. When you stop menstruating you are not officially ‘menopausal’ until 12-18 months later so you still need to continue with a method of birth control during your ‘perimenopausal’ period, which can last 3-5years. Your doctor can measure your FSH or follicle-stimulating-hormone via a blood test to tell if you are in menopause- don’t rely on over the counter test kits as birth control pills can mask these tests!
Using a Low Dose Birth Control Pill
Many doctors do not advise staying on hormonal methods such as the patch, injection and ring during perimenopause but often recommend that you change over to a low dose birth control pill such as Alesse or similar that contains only 20mcg of estrogen. Using a low dose birth control pill will, in most cases, keep your periods regular while still giving you pregnancy protection. Low dose birth control pills are taken in the same way as regular oral contraceptives and you will be unlucky if they don’t act to regulate your periods during perimenopause.
Low Dose Birth Control Pills also have health benefits.
Hot flashes and vaginal dryness are common symptoms of perimenopause and menopause but these can be reduced with very low dose birth control pills such as Alesse. Osteoporosis and bone loss can occur at this time also and low dose birth control pills may prevent this in some cases. A more well known benefit for all women regardless of age is the protection from cancer of the ovary and uterus through the use of low dose birth control pills.
Do NOT take very-low-dose birth control pills during perimenopause if you smoke OR if you have a history of blood clots, breast cancer or heart disease.
Good news about side effects- due to the very low dose of estrogen fewer women will experience side effects and lost libido but if you’re unlucky, side effects may include nausea, breast tenderness, higher blood pressure or headaches.
Barrier based methods of birth control (diaphragm, cap, sponge, female condom, male condom etc) will be fine to use BUT be aware that as your periods get lighter and less frequent during perimenopause, it will be more difficult for you to track your cycle accurately if you use ‘natural’ methods (fertility awareness) of birth control.
Stay tuned to Your Body during perimenopause
You may be in your late forties or fifties and have plenty of ‘sexual miles’ left in you yet, (hey, some claim this is the best part of your sex life!). However, perimenopause and menopause are times of great change in a woman’s body, not least of all in the hormone department.. Now is the time to stay tuned to what your body is telling you and to ‘support’ this transition in the best way you can to stay healthy and of course, not get pregnant. You won’t be surprised to read that eating a well balanced diet, taking a good vitamin supplement, reducing coffee and alcohol intake (just when you may fancy it most!) and keeping up some exercise is really good for you but you also need to know how to manage this last stage of your ‘contraception career’ successfully.
Finally Stopping Birth Control
Your doctor will help you to decide when to stop using low dose birth control and how to manage your menopause. Take time to become informed and to make up your own mind about whether or not to keep on using ANY form of hormones.(HRT) Your body needs support as it is going off hormonal birth control and this can be done smoothly and with minimal symptoms if you follow medical advice.