How Long Does Breakthrough Bleeding Between Periods Typically Last?

Experiencing bleeding in between menstrual periods — when you're least expecting it — can feel jarring and concerning. Not expecting to see blood mid-cycle and then suddenly spotting it typically happens when you're using a hormonal contraceptive, such as the birth control pill, an intrauterine device (IUD), or a birth control implant (via The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG)). It's pretty common for people who use hormonal birth control and usually not cause for concern. Here's what you can expect.

If you've recently started a new hormonal contraceptive or switched to a different one, you're more likely to experience breakthrough bleeding (per MedicalNewsToday). This could also happen if you forget to take a pill or start a different medication while using a hormonal birth control method. IUDs, like the hormonal Mirena IUD or the non-hormonal copper one, cause disruption to the menstrual cycle, which can lead to bleeding between periods, especially in the first three months. Breakthrough bleeding is also more common when taking a continuous-use birth control pill, where you only get your period every three months or so.

However, if you're not using any hormonal birth control and are experiencing breakthrough bleeding between periods, it's probably a good idea to check in with your doctor to figure out what's going on. Other possible causes include having a sexually transmitted infection (STI), experiencing a miscarriage, implantation bleeding due to pregnancy, or developing uterine fibroids, according to Healthline.

How long to expect breakthrough bleeding

If you're experiencing breakthrough bleeding while using a hormonal contraceptive, it will probably go away on its own within a few months, according to MedicalNewsToday. This is because your menstrual cycle needs time to adjust to the hormonal changes, especially if it's a new method of contraception. Make sure you have mini pads or light tampons on hand to manage the bleeding.

If you use hormonal birth control and also smoke, quitting smoking can help improve breakthrough bleeding (via ACOG). If you're taking long-term or continuous birth control, make sure you schedule a placebo pill week every few months to give your uterus an opportunity to shed any lining that's accumulated. You can also talk to your doctor about switching to a birth control method with a higher dose of hormones, which may reduce bleeding. If you use an IUD, you can also ask your doctor about adding in an estrogen pill to take short-term to manage the bleeding.

Bottom line? Any bleeding outside of your normal menstrual period should be discussed with your doctor to rule out any health issues. But if you're using a hormonal contraceptive, it's likely your body adjusting to changes in hormones and will return to normal in a few months.