Taking a seven-day break from the combined contraceptive pill could actually increase the risk of unplanned pregnancy.

For the past 60 years, women have been advised to take the combined contraceptive pill for 21 days and then take a break for seven days.

But the new Faculty of Sexual & Reproductive Healthcare guideline now says that taking the pill continuously could reduce withdrawal bleeding and “reduce the risk of escape ovulation and (potentially) contraceptive failure”. In other words, women could forget taking the pill after their break, which could result in an unplanned pregnancy.

There is also no mention of any additional health risks associated with taking the pill back to back.

So why have women been taking this unnecessary break?

The Telegraph reported that the break was designed to persuade Pope Paul VI to accept the contraceptive pill. This did not succeed and the Vatican forbade artificial contraception.

Pope Paul VI, wearing miter and carrying a crosier, salutes a cheering crowd gathered in the huge square in front of the Basilica of St. Mary Bonaria at Cagliari, Sardinia, where the Pontiff celebrated mass at a temporary altar April 24, 1970. (Ap Photo)
Pope Paul VI salutes a cheering crowd gathered in front of the Basilica of St. Mary Bonaria at Cagliari, Sardinia, April 24, 1970. Credit: AP

Another reason for the introduction of the break may be due to the symptoms women experienced back in the 1960s. The pill wasn’t as advanced as it is today, and women who took the pill had early pregnancy symptoms. As many women worried that they had fallen pregnant, a seven-day break was advised to assure them that they were not.

While it is tempting to blame the Catholic Church, there is no real evidence that the break was put in place to convince the Pope.

However, it is certain that the creators tried to appeal to the Vatican by reasoning that the pill uses hormones that the body naturally produces. The pill is therefore not that different from the rhythm method which was allowed by the Catholic Church.