What is Continuous Birth Control?

Extended Cycle Birth Control Pills

Continuous Birth Control
Continuous Birth Control. Photo © Dawn Stacey

There are so many types of birth control pills available. Continuous birth control pills (also known as extended cycle pills or continuous cycle pills) are the newest evolution of the birth control pill. Want to know more?

The Scoop on Continuous Birth Control:

Continuous birth control pills are a type of combination pill. This means that they contain both estrogen and progestin. Continuous cycle pills contain more pills per pack.

This means that they can:

  • Shorten your monthly periods.
  • Lower the frequency of your period.
  • Completely eliminate periods.

Continuous Birth Control Brands:

There are three categories of extended cycle pills:

  • 91 Day: These continuous birth control pills include the pill brands: Seasonale, Quasense, Seasonique, and LoSeasonique. Each pack contains 84 active/hormone pills -- this equals 12 weeks of continuous birth control. The pack also has seven inactive pills (in Seasonale and Quasense, these are placebo pills. In Seasonique and LoSeasonique, these are low-dose estrogen pills). When you use a 91-day continuous cycle pill pack, your period (or withdrawal bleed) usually occurs during Week 13. This means that you only have a period every three months (that's only four periods a year!!). Plus, the low-dose of estrogen in the last week of the pills help to make your period lighter and shorter -- most women say that their period only lasts about 3 days.
  • 365 Day: The only continuous birth control pill FDA-approved for 365 days of use is Amethyst (this is the generic versions of Lybrel -- which is no longer being made). These continuous pill packs comes with 28 active/hormone pills... over 12 months, this equals one pill for each day of the year. There are no placebo pills. While using this extended cycle pill, you should not have any periods for the whole year.
  • Mini Continuous Cycle Pills: Because these extended cycle pill packs have more hormone pills than the typical 28 day pill packs, they are also considered to be continuous birth control. You may also have fewer hormone fluctuations on these pills because they contain more hormone pills. These mini extended cycle pills include:
    1. 24 Day: These are the pill brands Yaz, Beyaz, and Safyral. Each pack has 24 days of active pills and only four placebo pills.
    2. 26 Day: This includes the pill brand Lo Loestrin Fe. This pill brand pack contains 26 days of estrogen/progestin pills, two days of estrogen-only pills, and two days of placebo pills. Studies show that these extra two days of estrogen can lead to lighter and shorter periods.

How Does Continuous Birth Control Work?

Continuous cycle birth control works the same way as other hormonal contraception that contain estrogen and progestin (such as combination oral contraceptives, NuvaRing and the Patch). If you don't have a prescription for one of the extended cycle pill types listed above, you can also use your regular 28-day combination pills or combination hormonal contraception as continuous birth control:

But Is Continuous Birth Control Safe?

Research shows that continuous cycle pills are safe to use. Did you know that there is no need to have a monthly period if you are using hormonal contraception? This is because when you use hormone birth control, you do not have a "true" period anyway.

Continuous birth control pills have the same side effects and risks as your regular 28-day birth control pill packs -- this is because they contain the same types of hormones. Continuous pills also offer the same high effectiveness.

Benefits of Continuous Birth Control:

Extended cycle pills offer you the same non-contraceptive benefits that hormonal contraception does. But, continuous birth control pills may be able to do even more! If you have period-related issues, continuous cycle pills can greatly improve your quality of life. They give you the control to lower the number of periods you have as well as how long your periods last. This could provide a lot of relief if you suffer from:

  • Menorrhagia (heavy bleeding).
  • Long and/or frequent periods.
  • Dysmenorrhea (painful periods).
  • Uncomfortable menstrual-related bloating, breast tenderness or mood swings.
  • PMS or PMDD.
  • A disability that makes it difficult to use pads and/or tampons.
  • A health condition that becomes worse during your period (like anemia, endometriosis, and migraines)

Even if you do not have problems during your period, you may still want to choose to use continuous birth control:

  • Because having shorter, less or no periods is way more convenient!
  • To avoid the risk of having your period during special events, sport competitions and/or vacations (I mean, who wants to be on their period during their honeymoon?).
  • To save money on the cost of pain relievers, pads, liners and/or tampons (hey, every dollar counts -- right?).
  • As part of a "greener," more environmentally-conscious lifestyle (you'll have less waste because you won't be using period-related products every month).

And Lastly...

As with other hormonal contraceptives, you will need a doctor’s prescription to get continuous birth control pills. If you have certain health conditions, extended cycle pills may not be the safest contraceptive method for you to use. And, even though these pills are effective at preventing pregnancy, continuous birth control pills do not provide you any protection against sexually transmitted infections.


Anderson FD, Gibbons W, & Portman D. "Long-term safety of an extended-cycle oral contraceptive (Seasonale): A 2-year multicenter open-label extension trial." American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. 2006; 195(1): 92-96. Full article accessed via private subscription.

Anderson FD, Hait H, & The Seasonale-301 Study Group. "A
 multicenter, randomized study of an extended cycle oral contraceptive." Contraception. 2003; 68(2): 89-96. Full article accessed via private subscription.

Henzl MR, & Polan ML. "Avoiding menstruation: A review of health and lifestyle issues." Journal of Reproductive Medicine. 2004; 49: 162-174. Full article accessed via private subscription.

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