Medically reviewed by Sophia Yen, MD, MPH – Written by Pandia Health Editorial Team. Updated on January 4th, 2021

You just stopped taking birth control, and you noticed some blood, either in your underwear or when you wipe after urinating. If this blood is not accompanied by additional symptoms, it is likely just a harmless withdrawal bleed. That being said, noticing a sudden change in your body can be scary!

Thankfully, we have some tips to help ease your nerves. The following FAQ will include everything you need to know about withdrawal bleeding that occurs after stopping birth control.

What is withdrawal bleeding? 

Withdrawal bleeding occurs when there is a change in hormones. This entails a release of painless blood that is lighter and shorter than a normal period. 

How long does withdrawal bleeding last?

While the duration of a withdrawal bleed may vary by individual, withdrawal bleeding typically only lasts for a few days. If you notice blood for more than one week, consult a doctor. 

Why does withdrawal bleeding occur?

When an individual takes a break from hormonal birth control, such as taking the week of placebo pills in a pill packet, they will bleed due to the drop in hormones. This hormonal change triggers the release of blood and mucus from the lining of the uterus out through the vagina. 

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How does withdrawal bleeding differ from a period?

Both periods and withdrawal bleeding lead to shedding of the uterine lining. However, withdrawal bleeding tends to be less heavy because the synthetic hormones in birth control prevent the lining from building up as much. Additionally, an egg is only released during a regular period, not during a withdrawal bleed. 

Does withdrawal bleeding count as a period?

Withdrawal bleeding does not count as a period because an egg is not released. It may take a while for your cycle to normalize after you stop taking birth control as your hormone levels stabilize. 

What types of birth control lead to withdrawal bleeding?

The only types of birth control that may cause withdrawal bleeding are the pill, the patch, and the ring. These methods include fixed breaks, which ultimately leads to a drop in hormones and, thus, a withdrawal bleed.

When does withdrawal bleeding occur?

Withdrawal bleeding should occur about three days after you stop taking birth control, for example, after you’ve missed three pills. While it may take a few days to show up, you should consult a doctor if you do not experience a bleed within three weeks of when it is expected. If you are sexually active, a lack of withdrawal bleeding could be a sign of pregnancy. 

Can you prevent withdrawal bleeding?

The only way to prevent withdrawal bleeding is by taking your birth control continuously. This can be done safely with the pill. Simply skip the week of placebo pills or request a prescription that only contains active pills. 

Is withdrawal bleeding necessary?

Withdrawal bleeding does not provide any significant health benefits, so skipping it does not pose a significant risk. However, some women prefer to experience a monthly bleed while taking birth control, as it can serve as reassurance that they are not pregnant. 

Does withdrawal bleeding mean you are not pregnant?

A withdrawal bleed can serve as a sign that you are not pregnant. If you do not bleed when you typically do, you should take a pregnancy test. 

Can you have sex while experiencing a withdrawal bleed?

You can have sex during a withdrawal bleed if you and your partner feel comfortable doing so. If you take your birth control as prescribed (i.e. taking your combined pill at around the same time every day), you should still be protected from pregnancy when withdrawal bleeding occurs. However, no form of contraception is 100% effective in preventing pregnancy, so using an additional method will provide extra security. Barrier methods in particular (i.e. condoms) will also protect both partners from the spread of STIs

What if I want to change my bleed schedule?

You and your doctor have the freedom to choose which method of birth control is right for you and your schedule. There are loads of options available, and the right one for you will depend on many factors, including your age, ethnicity, BMI and personal medical history. At Pandia Health, we use the ‘Pandia Health algorithm’ to determine what method is best for you.

To explore your options or to skip the trip to the pharmacy with birth control delivered directly in your mailbox, get started with Pandia Health today!