More than half of the global population menstruates and one of the most struggling parts of it is dealing with its effects such as cramps. It can happen anytime and is extremely painful.
With people who menstruate already struggling to get privileges like paid leaves and facing social stigma surrounding periods, cramps get difficult to handle every day given the lifestyle and the society.
With time, there have been certain relief methods developed to get relief like heating and even using birth control. With the latter method, there are also discussions if it actually works.
So to answer- Does birth control help with cramps, keep reading, but let’s know what both terms, birth control and cramps actually mean in general and in this article.
1. What is Birth-Control?
Birth control has evolved over the years, due to scientific advancements. But, it has been around since ancient times. Also known as contraception or anti-conception, birth control became safe only recently. It was initially used to avoid pregnancy but now is also being used to prevent period pain and is an alternative to abortion in the initial period.
According to popular opinion, it is also used to get rid of cramps, but no one knows for sure. This confusion about does birth control help with cramps is addressed below.
2. What are Cramps?
In the easiest way, menstrual cramps happen because your uterus contracts so it can shed the lining, which leads to blood getting out of the body. Everybody experiences different intensities of cramps, from nothing to maximum pain, which can be difficult to deal with.
Not only in the abdomen but also in the thighs and back. It can begin before or during your menstruation and lessens within 5-6 days.
Although it is common and varies in degrees, it also depends on the degree of pain a person can tolerate. If you are experiencing severe continuous cramps that might not be normal, make sure to consult wellness professionals since it can also be a sign of other issues such as adenomyosis, endometriosis, and fibroid growths.
As normal as it is, cramps can interfere with your day-to-day life, especially because of the social taboo. In a public sphere where you are always expected to be on point with your productivity or, in general, not allowed to get pain relief naturally, it can be challenging to pretend to be fine when you might experience severe cramps, even though occasionally.
3. Does Birth Control Help With Cramps?
With advanced research and studies, the various types of birth control available can be categorized into two categories, namely- Hormonal and non-hormonal.
3.1 Hormonal Birth Control
Hormonal birth control includes pills, IUDs, Implants, and vaginal rings. In these birth control options, artificial hormones are transferred to your body through different methods. It can also lead to increased risk and should only be taken after consulting a doctor.
3.1.1 Birth Control Pill
In the USA alone, more than 60% of people prefer an oral contraceptive pill when it comes to selecting a particular type of birth control. It is because for many reasons from being easy to use to being helpful for many since certain types of contraceptives have side effects.
Pills are of two types, combined ( which contain both estrogen and progestin) and mini-pill which have progestin only. Combination birth control pills are said to be more effective to reduce cramps than mini-pills since they release more hormones but people can use either to address cramp pain since everyone has different levels of pain and blood flow.
18.104.22.168 Combination of birth control pills
Birth control which includes both progestin and estrogen is called a combination birth control pill. According to research, they are said to help to relieve cramps as it reduces prostaglandin produced by glands which also reduces blood flow.
The dosage should be on the basis of pain or blood flow and should be consumed after consulting a healthcare specialist.
22.214.171.124 Mini birth control Pills
Mini-pills are known to be helpful in reducing cramps according to research. They are also known as progestin-only pills since it does not contain estrogen. It can be availed easily through over-the-counter. It is not effective immediately and should be consumed for some days to see results.
IUD stands for an intra-uterine device which contains levonorgestrel and it is of T-shape. To not confuse it with copper IUD, hormonal contraception IUD is said to be more effective in dealing with cramps.
According to planned parenthood and other studies, it is scientifically accepted that hormonal IUDs do help with reducing cramps. Near the uterus it releases hormones, thinning the uterus line and leading to less to no blood flow and reducing cramps.
Once placed, it works for years rather than other birth-control controls that are effective for a week or month. Hormonal IUDs work for three to ten years.
It is of T-shape which is placed in the uterus and releases hormones. There are many types of IUDs available like Skyla, Mirena and Kyleena. You can choose after consulting your doctor since some release higher doses of hormones and accordingly you can choose the one most effective for your pain or blood flow.
It can be used and removed only with help of any healthcare provider and hence should be consulted before using since it can have side effects as well especially if you have any personal condition.
According to various research and study, besides preventing pregnancy, implants are helpful in reducing cramps. An implant is a method where single or more rods are placed under your skin in the upper arm by a healthcare provider.
It works by releasing progesterone which decreases mucus in the cervix and decreases the uterine lining. It works for almost 3 years and is thus helpful when you experience cramps.
3.1.4 Vaginal Ring
Highly flexible to use without going to your healthcare provider after some time, a vaginal ring is like using a pill except you don’t have to use it every day. All by yourself, it can be easily placed in the vagina as it is just a plastic ring.
The vagina mucus is very absorbent, and the ring releases hormones (both progestin and estrogen like the combination pill) that absorbs and helps in preventing ovulation and thus painful cramps.
Once inserted, the ring is supposed to stay inside for 21 days, taken out on the seventh day, leading to periods. The ring should be changed monthly to avoid infections and maintain hygiene.
3.1.5 Injection or Shot
A shot is considered to be helpful to ease cramps, according to many studies. There is also a progestin-only contraceptive and it mainly stops the release of eggs from ovaries and stops ovulation.
Depo Provera shot will thicken the mucus in the cervix to prevent pregnancy. The muscles release progesterone which leads to uterus thinning leading to less cramping and pain.
It contains higher levels of progestin compared to mini-pills and is highly effective with fewer side effects but still make sure to consult your doctor if you want to prevent the side effects. If you select this method, you will have to get a shot every three months.
Skin patches or trans-dermal patches can be used to reduce painful menstrual cramps. A patch has hormones, which through the skin, are absorbed by the body. It is used for three weeks, and on the fourth week it is removed to bleed.
Skin patches are also considered helpful in reducing period cramps, especially if you have severe pre-menstrual cramps and ovulation. Not a hearsay, but conclusive in research by many, patches can be placed on your arms or back and contains both estrogen and progestin hormones like the combination pill.
3.2 Non-Hormonal Contraceptives
NSAID stands for non-steroidal anti-inflammatories. NSAIDs like acetylsalicylic acids are found to be a helpful method of birth control. According to many gynaecologists, These provide relief when having severe cramping and are one of the best ways to reduce them. Read more about the research here.
It stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. TENS is high-frequency stimulation of the skin of the lower abdomen. Electrical currents with 50-120 Hz are used with less intensity.
Not only it gives relief from cramps but also in relaxing muscles and body pain in general. It leads to the release of endorphins, also known as natural painkillers of the human body.
4. Other Methods to Reduce Cramps Than Birth-Control
Being used for many years, applying heat directly below your stomach during period pain helps in reducing the pain due to cramps. The key is to apply heat continuously for some time. You can use the water bags which are easily available in the market for this purpose.
It is easy to use, and you can fall asleep using it, which is the best way to ensure the heat is applied for a long. If you don’t have time or don’t want to sit or lay down in one place, you can take a quick warm bath which is also effective, although less than a water bag.
If you need to be out or in a public place where you might not feel comfortable carrying a hot water bag, you can also use heat patches.
During painful periods people prefer less to no movement. In these times exercising is the last thing you might want to do and given the degree of pain and the level of suffering, moving can be exhausting, let alone exercising and stretching.
As struggling as the starting can be, moving your body and exercising is good for the body and also helps with the painful cramps. It works by releasing endorphins in your body and you feel less pain and are healthy.
Exercising not means only your regular gym exercises or yoga and stretching, any sort of movement can be exercised like swimming, jogging and aerobics.
Eating healthy is underrated. During menstruation and even PMS, it is very common to get cravings; hence, you might end up ignoring your health when you really shouldn’t. Having a healthy diet ensures you get all the nutrients helpful for your body to sustain you through that week.
Although there are lots of healthy diets and foods available and you can choose any of them suitable for you but a low-fat vegetarian diet is considered most to get through cramps. It includes whole grains, herbal teas, ginger and fenugreek.
Other than healthy food, it might be fine to consume junk food and other things once in a while but there are some things that you should definitely avoid during periods such as caffeine, alcohol and sugar.
4.4 Other Methods
Some other methods include consuming anti-inflammatory medicines like ibuprofen (eg-Advil) and naproxen sodium or Aleve; having an orgasm, getting surgery, staying hydrated, stressing less if you can, getting therapy or a massage and non-negotiable getting rest.
If you take these natural methods to avoid cramps, it can be helpful not only for cramps but for the long run so it’s worth investing your time and energy into.
5. Side-effects of Birth Control
Menstruation is natural and feeling pain as well. What is not natural is being expected to act like it is normal and you are supposed to do that every month. In this case, birth-controls are the best side options to get the pain less. Since lessening the pain is not natural, it comes at a cost. Any and every birth control has a side effect.
The question is that you need to select which side effect can be fine for you as some can lead to severe issues especially if you are already going through anything. This is why it is important to consult your doctor when starting any birth control, and after using them, you should ask before quitting as well.
Here are some side-effects that are experienced by people who rely on birth control for varied reasons, including to reduce serious cramping. Birth control might lead to headaches or migraine, you can get irregular periods since they reduce the lining of the uterus.
Some birth control can also cause weight gain or loss, nausea, high mood swings, breast enlargement, and pain. There are some uncommon side effects as well, which are severe, and this is why you should consult doctors when starting birth control or notice changes when starting one.
It includes heart attacks, strokes, and clotting. However, it is also said that birth control leads to depression and mental health issues, but there is less evidence to support it. Know more about birth control and depression here.
So, does birth control help with cramps? I guess it is conclusive to say yes, as science has proved so as well. But as mentioned many times, do make sure to consult any healthcare professional since these methods have potential side effects and can harm you if you have any underlying condition. You can also choose any other alternative way to control painful cramping if birth control doesn’t help you as much, which is rare but very much possible.