What happens if you stop taking birth control pills

Eating a balanced diet and taking quality supplements can help your body come off the pill.

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The side effects of starting hormonal birth control are fairly widely discussed. But there’s a little more mystery about what happens to your body when you stop birth control.

Birth control pills, also known as oral contraceptives, are the second most common type of birth control method, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as of 2019 (latest data available). If you’re thinking about stopping birth control after years of using the pill, know that it’s safe to stop at any time, according to the Mayo Clinic. But you should expect your body to go through some changes.

Here’s the rundown of the side effects of going off the birth control pill and tips on how to take care of yourself during the transition.

When to stop taking the birth control pill

There are several reasons why someone might want to stop taking birth control pills. According to Felice Gersh, MD, gynecologist and founder/director of the Integrative Medical Group of Irvine, these reasons include:

  • planning pregnancy
  • Suffer from side effects such as depression, blood clots, chronic vaginal infections and low libido
  • have trouble remembering to take it (and deciding to use another method of birth control)

Your periods could become irregular

While some people who do menstruate return to their normal periods soon after stopping birth control pills, other people may have irregular periods for a while.

“Even if ovulation resumes during the first cycle off the pill, there’s no guarantee that the next few cycles will be regular. In fact, it can take up to a year for cycles to return to normal,” says Kerry-Anne Perkins. DO, Gynecologist and Member of the Women’s Health Interactive Medical Review Board. “This applies to both types of pills, progesterone or estrogen-free and combined hormone preparations that contain both estrogen and progesterone.”

And if you’ve been taking birth control to regulate your menstrual cycle, there’s a chance that previous uncomfortable period-related symptoms may return, she notes.

You may also notice a change in the flow and length of your period, according to the Cleveland Clinic. It can be longer and heavier – Birth control pills usually give you shorter and lighter periods.

Your fertility could be lower

It is legitimate to be concerned about how stopping birth control pills could affect your fertility, particularly if you are trying to conceive.

A July 2018 meta-analysis incontraception and reproductive medicineDiscontinuation of contraceptives has not been found to significantly delay or negatively affect fertility.

But your fertility may also be lower than when you first started taking birth control pills. “If you’ve been using birth control for many years, your fertility has naturally declined and can be significantly lower than when you started birth control,” says Dr. Perkins.

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When coming off the pill, be sure to use an alternate method of birth control if you don’t plan to conceive or plan to conceive right away, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

You could lose or gain weight

The belief that oral contraceptives often lead to weight gain has long been widespread, according to a January 2014 studyWomen’s Health Journal.

However, the study researchers found that birth control pills were not associated with short-term changes in weight or body composition after observing 150 people who were classified as both normal weight and obese at birth (AFAB) and who used oral contraceptives over used three to four months.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, the pill typically causes no more than a pound of weight gain per year.

However, there is a chance that you will lose or gain weight after you stop taking the pill. “Some women hold on to water while taking the pill. So if you are, you may lose a few pounds after weaning,” says Dr. Perkins. “Others may retain water after coming off the pill due to temporary hormonal imbalances. Again, it shouldn’t be more than a few pounds.”

It’s also possible that appetite is altered due to hormonal changes, notes Perkins, which in turn could contribute to weight changes.

When to talk to your doctor

Talk to your doctor if you have any questions or concerns about what to expect when you stop birth control pills, according to the Cleveland Clinic. This is also a good time to discuss how going off the pill affects previous illnesses.

You may have acne or hair loss

They owe hormonal changes that can have adverse skin and hair side effects after stopping birth control pills. according to dr Perkins, stopping birth control pills causes a temporary hormonal imbalance.

“For example, acne is pretty common in the first few months after the pill,” she says. Hair loss or a condition called hirsutism (excessive facial hair) are also possible.

You might experience mood swings

Most people will not experience significant emotional changes associated with going off the pill; Most of the effects are physical, according to Jefferson Health. But if you’ve experienced mood swings or emotional instability while on birth control, those things may stop post-pill.

On the other hand, if you were prone to depression, anxiety, and mood swings before taking birth control pills, these conditions can return if you don’t use oral contraception, according to Oschner Health.

Your sex drive may change

A September 2012 review inThe Journal of Sexual Medicinefound a small correlation between hormonal birth control use and decreased libido, however research shows that overall there are mixed results on how hormonal birth control affects your sex drive.

If you felt less cravings while taking the pill, you may find that you feel more sexual than usual after you stop taking it. “After you go off the pill, you may also notice changes in your libido — usually higher libido, especially around ovulation,” says Dr. Perkins.

Stop using other types of hormonal birth control

Here are some possible side effects of stopping other types of hormonal birth control, according to Dr. Perkins:

  • contraceptive patch (e.g. Xulane). and rings (Nuvaring, Annovera): These have effects similar to coming off the pill.
  • Depo-Provera injection​: A person may not ovulate months or even years after the last injection. And while this injection can cause significant weight gain, progesterone-related weight gain should stop after you stop receiving the injection. Being physically active and eating a nutritious diet can help if you want to lose weight after stopping Depo-Provera injections.
  • Long-acting hormonal birth control, such as an IUD or the implant​ (Nexplanon): These have fewer side effects when discontinued and a fairly quick return to fertility. The hormone-free IUD Paragard has no hormonal effects on your body. Therefore, if you remove it, there will be no side effects, no delayed return to your fertility, and no systemic changes.

Tips to make coming off the pill easier

Many of the side effects of stopping your birth control pills are temporary, but there are things you can do to alleviate them.

1. Take a quality multivitamin

A September 2016 study inThe Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolismfound an association between higher vitamin D levels and the use of estrogen-containing contraceptives in more than 1,600 people identified in the study as African-American women.

It can be beneficial to focus on increasing your nutrient levels naturally after you come off the pill. Some ways to increase your vitamin D levels, according to the Mayo Clinic, include:

  • 15 minutes of sun exposure per day between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m
  • Eating foods fortified with vitamin D, such as certain dairy products and grains
  • Eat fatty fish like salmon, tuna and mackerel

dr Gersh also recommends supplementation if you’re not getting enough key nutrients from your diet alone. “Taking a quality multivitamin is key. Make sure it has methyl B12, methylfolate, selenium and the usual vitamins,” she says. “Extra magnesium would be beneficial, along with omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D.”

2. Complete your current pill cycle

While you can go cold turkey off the pill, it may be best to stop your current pill before quitting altogether.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, if you stop mid-cycle on the pill, you can expect to get your period within a few days of stopping the pill.

If possible, try to finish your current round of pills to avoid interfering with your period.

Eating a balanced diet can help with the transition from birth control pills. Good nutrition is especially important if your appetite is affected by coming off the pill. For example, you may experience cravings.

“Be aware of these cravings and try to eat a healthy, balanced diet to minimize it, and you shouldn’t have any weight problems,” says Dr. Perkins.

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