The previously-dubbed 'Pope rule' has been debunked.
The contraceptive pill can be taken every day of the month, new research reveals, as scientists have successfully dismissed the seven-day break brought in to appease Papal law.
New guidelines from the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH) – the standard-setting organisation for family planning and sexual health physicians in the UK – reveals that there is no health benefit to the traditional seven-day break in taking the combined contraceptive pill.
The FSRH has even suggested that taking fewer and shorter breaks could reduce the risk of pregnancy.
“Pill-taking often isn’t perfect; the riskiest time to miss pills is at the beginning and the end of a pill-free interval," Dr Diana Mansour, Vice President for Clinical Quality of the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare, said.
"The guideline suggests that by taking fewer hormone-free intervals - or shortening them to four days – it is possible that women could reduce the risk of getting pregnant on combined hormonal contraception.
"If the combined pill is the woman’s preferred option and it is deemed safe for her, clinicians can prescribe a year’s supply at the first consultation, with recommended annual follow-up.”
A researcher involved in the study has suggested that the original seven-day break had been introduced by a John Rock, a Catholic gynaecologist who invented the pill in the 1960s.
According to reports, Rock had hoped that it would persuade the Pope and the Catholic Church to approve its use by imitating the natural menstrual cycle.
Despite his fervent Catholicism, Rock had witnessed the suffering women endured from unwanted pregnancies in the course of his practice, which impacted profoundly on him.
Due to this, Rock came to support contraception within the confines of marriage. He was the first scientist to fertilise a human egg in a test tube and previously urged leaders of the Catholic church (including Pope John XXIII) to accept the pill, insisting the drug was safe to use.
The combined pill is still commonly packaged in rows of 21, so there are not enough pills in a single packet for a full month. However, medical experts will now expect 365-day pill prescriptions – for a full year of contraception – to become widespread in the UK, should guidelines be followed.