Don't Want Your Period On Holiday? There's A Pill For That. But Is It Safe?
The Debrief: Not on the combined pill? Taking norethisterone means you get to choose when your period comes (wahey!) - but is it worth it?
You’ve got your Euros, bought a new bikini and now it’s time to holiday (wayoooo). There’s just one problem - that box of super-flow tampons taking up vital suitcase space. Forget the toilet-based legacy of that dodgy paella, your surefire holiday-ruiner has to be the thing that starts with a p and ends in eriod.
Whether it’s your first day on the beach, or mid-magical night with Juan in the hammock, the relentless march of your monthly curse can put a massive dampner on your holiday vibes (and don’t even get me started on the bonus bloating). If you’re on the combined pill, congrats - you can just take two packs back to back and delay it by three weeks. If not, how the hell do you stem the tide?
Meet norethisterone. A few weeks ago, with a much-saved for, long-awaited holiday of a lifetime in America looming on the horizon, I’d checked my period tracker (s/o to Hormone Horoscope, you goddess) and realised that I was due right in the middle of my two weeks away.
So I went to see my GP and asked him what to do - and that's when he told me all about norethisterone (which you can also take if you’re on the mini pill, which is progesterone-only). Ready for the science bit? Norethisterone is a synthetic form of progesterone, a hormone secreted by your ovaries during the menstrual cycle after the egg is released. It’s there to make sure the womb lining hangs about and starts prepping it for any egg that might get implanted. Once your progesterone levels drop, that’s when the womb sheds its lining and your period begins.
If you want to delay the inevitable, you start taking a tablet three days before your period is due to begin and if you want, you can take it for up to 17 days. When you stop the pills, your body gets back to getting on with your period and it arrives three days later.
For my mate Emma, 28, there ain’t no holiday like a norethisterone holiday. It’s been a wash bag staple for the last ten years: on skiing holidays - ‘I don’t want to worry about changing it up a mountain’ - and on Thai beaches because a) she knew it’d be difficult to find somewhere to wash her hands and b) so she can wear a white bikini.
So what’s the catch? ‘It’s definitely worth talking it through with your doctor first’, says Dr Alice Walker, a public health doctor. ‘You’ll need a prescription for it anyway, and your doctor will ask you a few questions to make sure it’s OK for you to take it - it might be riskier for some people who’ve had past medical problems such as blood disorders, or are on any medications that could interact with norethisterone.’
Make sure you’re aware of the potential side effects, too. ‘Norethisterone side effects are typically mild PMS-type symptoms like bloating, tiredness and mood problems’ Dr Walker explains. ‘But it’s important to seek advice from the doctor for more worrying symptoms such as headaches or problems with vision or hearing, as these can be signs of a more serious, but rare side effect’. Freddie, 27, swears she’ll never take norethisterone again after trying it on her last holiday. ‘It’s not worth it, IMHO’ she says. ‘I broke out in eczema all over and had anxiety and mood swings for the entire trip.’ Don’t get too hung up on the what-ifs, says Dr Walker, because they’re more annoying than unsafe. ‘The side effects, if you get them, are very unpredictable, and usually pretty minor.’ Plus, everyone is different’ she adds. ‘Some people might not have any problems at all.’
It’s also worth getting clued up on your cycle. Penny, 26, took it before heading to Glastonbury on what she thought was her three-days-before deadline, but her period arrived anyway. ‘I hadn’t packed any tampons so had to beg some off my mates’ she says. ‘It was incredibly annoying.’ Unless you’re super-regular, it can be tricky, says Dr Walker. ‘If you start it just slightly too late, you won’t be able to delay it and your period will come anyway.’ Cue massive sadface.
And while other mates have taken it before sexy mini-breaks to make sure it’s access-all-areas, don’t go thinking it’s like the pill. ‘It’s absolutely NOT a contraceptive’ says Dr Walker, ‘so make sure you have the necessary precautions!’
For what it’s worth, norethisterone and I seemed to get on well (I’m putting any bloat down to the burger-a-day-diet). That was, until my period showed up three days after I stopped the tablets and extracted its bloody vengeance for being stood up in the heaviest, most womb-lining-shedding way possible. ‘Again, what happens to your period varies between people’ Dr Walker explains. ‘For some people it’s heavier, but for others it’ll be totally unchanged.
So is it actually worth nabbing a packet of norethisterone in your pre-holiday shop? That’s only for you to decide, says Dr Walker. Would she take it? ‘If I was trekking in the jungle with no sanitary facilities, it would be useful. But, personally I probably wouldn't take it just to save myself hassle on a beach holiday. I think I'd rather have the period than risk being tired/nauseous/moody for my holiday.’
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