Withdrawal bleeding: What to know

Withdrawal bleeding: What to know

Many types of hormonal birth control involve a daily break, during which the person does not receive any of the contraceptives. They can experience bleeding at this time which resembles a period of time. That is known as withdrawal bleeding.

Also, a person may experience withdrawal bleeding if they are discontinuing or switching methods of hormonal birth control.

Keep reading about withdrawal bleeding for more detail, and what to expect from it.

What is withdrawal bleeding?

If a person switches forms of hormonal birth control, they may experience withdrawal bleeding.
If a person switches forms of hormonal birth control, they may experience withdrawal bleeding.

Many monthly hormonal birth control courses include taking the drug for 3 weeks, or 21 days, and then having none for 1 week.

A individual usually experiences withdrawal bleeding during that break.

The bleeding can imitate the menstruation that would take place if the individual did not use birth control.

A individual is also likely to experience withdrawal bleeding if they quit using hormonal birth control, or turn from one form to another. After discontinuing the medication it can take several months for a person to become normal again.

How long does it last?

The duration of withdrawal bleeding varies from person to person.

If a person takes the medication as prescribed, though, the bleeding will last only for a few days.

If withdrawal bleeding does not occur within 3 weeks of planning, then taking a pregnancy test or consulting a doctor might be a good idea.

Withdrawal bleeding vs. periods 

Withdrawal bleeding, like a cycle, occurs when the hormone levels drop.

In both cases the hormone loss causes the mucus and uterine lining to shed and escape through the vagina.

Withdrawal bleeding is usually lighter and shorter than a duration. It is because the synthetic hormones in the contraceptive greatly stop the uterine lining from building up during the menstrual cycle.

Birth control types that cause it 

Withdrawal bleeding occurs when a person uses a form of hormonal birth control which includes scheduled breaks during which no medication is given.

The bleeding is the reaction of the body to falling hormone levels, due to the drug split.

The pill

Withdrawal bleeding can occur on the following schedules, depending on the course of the drug, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists:

  • 21-day pill pack: A person takes a pill at the same time every day for 21 days, then takes no pill for 7 days, during which the bleeding may occur.
  • 28-day pill pack: A person takes an “active” pill at the same time every day — these pills contain estrogen and progestin, and one pack may have 21 or 24 of them. The bleeding may occur when the person then takes the remaining “inactive” pills.
  • 90-day pill pack: A person takes an active pill at the same time each day for 84 days, and bleeding may occur when the person then takes the inactive remaining pills.

The patch

A person can put the patch on his or her arms, belly, buttocks, or upper arm. The patch also causes withdrawal bleeding. It functions as follows:

  • The person places a patch on their skin and replaces it every week for 3 weeks.
  • They remove the patch for the fourth week, when they can expect to have withdrawal bleeding.
  • After the fourth week, the person puts a new patch on, and the cycle repeats.

The vaginal ring

Another type of hormonal birth control that makes withdrawal bleeding is the vaginal ring. The use of a vaginal ring will involve:

  • folding the ring and inserting it into the vagina
  • leaving the ring in place for 3 weeks
  • removing the ring at the start of the fourth week, when withdrawal bleeding may occur
  • replacing the ring at the end of the fourth week

Is it necessary? 

Withdrawal bleeding does not carry any significant health benefits or complications, so it is not medically required.

Rather, it owes its roots to the confidence of one of the birth control pill’s key founders, Dr John Rock.

Dr. Rock devoted himself to the Roman Catholic Church and to creating a functional method of birth control, at a period when the church rejected other contraceptives, according to researchers at New York University.

Dr. Rock argued that because the pill mirrored the menstrual cycle, the church would find it a form of rhythm that is medically regulated.

This process was also repeated by other hormonal birth control methods to achieve public acceptance.

Monthly withdrawal bleeding helps convince some people that they are not pregnant. If a person is not supposed to have withdrawal bleeding, this can suggest pregnancy due to a contraceptive failure.

Since withdrawal bleeding is not strictly required on a monthly basis, certain forms of birth control pills give less regular bleeding episodes, such as once every 3 months.

Sex during withdrawal bleeding

An individual may have sex during withdrawal bleeding safely. The bleeding is medication consequence, not a sign of any health issue.

Hormonal birth control continues to prevent pregnancy, even during a scheduled break from the drug, as long as the person has taken it correctly.

If a person has missed pills or has not taken the drug as prescribed, then it is a good idea to use another type of birth control if they are sexually active during bleeding withdrawal.


Withdrawal bleeding is an inevitable result of certain types of hormonal birth control.

During the course of the drug, the hormone levels of the person fall during scheduled breaks, and they suffer bleeding. Also, it is shorter and lighter than would be their normal time.

For the bleeding, there is no medical need. Many individuals who do not want to undergo monthly bleeding are opting for other hormonal birth control types.

When considering a contraceptive it is a good idea to explore the varied selection of choices with a doctor.


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