what to expect if you decide to stray from it

Deciding to stop using your regular birth control is a big decision. There are a number of reasons you might consider this – be it to have a baby or because of any negative side effects you may be experiencing (e.g. mood swings). But while there’s a lot of debate about what to expect when you start birth control, there’s less information about what to expect if you decide to stop.

One of the most important things to consider when stopping your regular birth control is the possibility of becoming pregnant. If you’re trying to avoid this, using an extra method of birth control is important.

But some women may also experience changes in their periods, skin, or mood when they go off the pill and their natural cycle returns. This is because most birth control methods contain hormones — typically estrogen and progesterone — that suppress the body’s normal hormonal changes. Not only does this prevent pregnancy, but it can also have other effects – such as reducing period pain or affecting mood.

This article is part of Quarter Life, a series about issues affecting us in our twenties and thirties. From the challenges of starting a career and taking care of our sanity, to the excitement of starting a family, adopting a pet, or just making friends as an adult. The articles in this series explore the questions and provide answers as we navigate through this tumultuous period of life.

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The pill

The most common method of birth control used by women in the UK is the pill. These include both the combination pill (which contains both estrogen and progestin) and the progestogen-only pill (often called the “mini-pill”).

If you decide to stop using the pill, it’s usually best to wait until the end of a pack. This reduces the risk of becoming pregnant from intercourse that occurred just before you stopped taking the pill. If you’re using a combination pill, it’s safe to have sex during the pill-free break, but only if you start the next pack on the right day and take the pills for at least the next seven days. For this reason, stopping in the middle of a pack is risky in terms of pregnancy.

The biggest change you will experience when you quit is a return to your normal menstrual cycle. Because the combination pill usually makes periods lighter, less painful and more predictable, you may find that your periods are heavier and more painful in comparison when you stop the pill. Your periods will also return to their regular pattern (which may have been irregular for some). People who had mid-cycle pain (during ovulation) or premenstrual syndrome before starting the pill may also find that it comes back.

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If you have been using the combined pill to improve acne or to treat certain conditions (e.g. polycystic ovarian disease) you will likely find that those benefits are lost once you stop.

But if you were someone who took the minipill, you might find that your experience is a little different once you stop. The progestogen-only pill does not provide the regularity of menstrual bleeding that the combined pill usually does – many women have frequent irregular bleeding (usually light but unpredictable) while taking it. So when you stop the mini-pill, your periods will likely return to their natural pattern, which can be more regular and predictable.

Since progestogen has various side effects in some women – such as B. acne, mood swings or low libido – stopping both the combination pill and the mini-pill can relieve all of these.

It’s also important to note that your periods and fertility will return very quickly after stopping the pill, and you can become pregnant within weeks or even days of stopping. So use a backup method immediately after stopping the pill if you want to avoid this.

Long-acting contraceptives

Longer-acting hormonal birth control methods — like the implant, the hormonal intrauterine system (IUS), and injection — have similar effects on the menstrual cycle as the pill. This can include periods becoming lighter but more unpredictable, or even missed periods.

A pair of hands with blue surgical gloves hold a copper IUD.
Fertility returns to normal after your IUD or IUS is removed.
New Africa/Shutterstock

If you have your implant or IUS removed, your menstrual cycle will return to its previous pattern within weeks. Your fertility will also return to normal within days or weeks.

But with the shot, you may not have a period for several months after stopping – and there may be a few months’ delay before fertility returns. This is most likely due to the high dose of hormone in the injection and how well it suppresses the natural cycle. However, most women usually get their periods back within a year of stopping the injection, and these periods are as regular and heavy (or light) as before.

If you use the copper intrauterine device (IUD), it does not contain any hormones. Although it is long acting and extremely effective against pregnancy, some women experience heavier and longer periods when using this method. Fertility returns immediately after IUD removal, so it is important that women who do not wish to become pregnant use supplemental contraception. It is also recommended that women with an IUD not have unprotected sex for a week before removal as fertility returns so quickly.

You might be concerned that birth control might have a long-term impact on your period or fertility, but fortunately all the evidence points to this not being the case. Some women may notice a slight delay in their period returning after stopping any form of hormonal birth control (although this is most common with injection). It can take a few weeks for the body’s natural hormonal cycle to return to normal. This is not a cause for concern unless it lasts many months.

The decision to stop using birth control is a very personal decision and is influenced by your desire to have children, your relationship and many other factors. Aside from sterilization, all modern contraceptive methods are designed to be completely reversible. While you may notice some effects after stopping, these are typically due to the return of the natural rhythms of the menstrual cycle.

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