Stopping Birth Control

If you take hormonal birth control, you probably spent hours researching the possible side effects that come with starting the pill. You’ve probably heard horror stories of women having adverse side effects, and you probably asked your doctor a bunch of questions before you started taking the pill to be sure it was the right birth control for you. I’ve been taking the hormonal birth control pill for years, and despite knowing all of the possible side effects before starting, I realized I only recall hearing a few side effects for when you stop taking the pill. A lot of people start taking the pill when they’re teenagers or young adults, so it’s hard to imagine a time in the future where you’ll be stopping birth control, but the side effects of coming off the pill are important to know about as well.

Most people stop taking the pill when they want to become pregnant, but some people come off the pill sooner to try a different type of birth control if their body didn’t react well to the pill. Just like how not all people on the pill experience all of the side effects of starting hormonal birth control, not everyone going off the pill will experience all of the side effects coming off the hormonal birth control. If you’re considering coming off the pill, however, here are some of the side effects you might experience.

1. Withdrawal bleed after stopping birth control

If you take the pill with three weeks of active pills and one week of placebo pills, you’ve already experienced a withdrawal bleed. This acts as your period during your cycle, but since hormonal birth control shuts down ovulation, you’re really experiencing a withdrawal bleed from the steady flow of hormones. When you are stopping birth control, you will have a week-long withdrawal bleed just like you would if you were taking your pills how you normally do.

2. You could get pregnant right away

Doctors say it takes people anywhere from zero to six months to have ovulation return and their cycle to regulate itself without the pill. Every person’s body is different and it is possible to get pregnant right away when you quit the pill. The hormones in the pill will leave your system within a few days of stopping the pill, but it might take your body a little longer to begin regulating your cycle with your natural hormones again. Your body could also begin its natural cycle right away, leading to pregnancy if you have unprotected sex.

Because it’s impossible to know specifically when you’ll begin ovulating again, use condoms or another form of birth control right away if you are not wanting to get pregnant. For some people though, it may take between three to six months to begin ovulating again, so if you are quitting the pill to get pregnant, doctors recommend giving yourself a few months to have your body adjust so you can get pregnant when you are ready.

3. Cramps and discharge from ovulating

Once you quit the pill you’ll begin ovulating again so you might experience cramps on one side of your body during your cycle. These cramps are from your body ovulating and getting ready to release an egg. Now that you’re ovulating again, you’ll also notice a change in your vaginal discharge. Discharge during ovulation is stringy and clear. Since the pill shuts down ovulation, you likely haven’t seen this particular discharge in a while, but don’t worry, it’s normal and a sign that you are ovulating again.

4. Breakouts, cramps, mood swings, and a heavier period

If you experienced bad breakouts, cramps, and mood swings leading up to your period before you started the pill, you might have those symptoms again. If you experience these symptoms when coming off the pill and you didn’t have these pre-pill, your body should adjust after about three months and these symptoms should level out, becoming less harsh after a few months. Additionally, your period will likely be heavier after you quit the pill. The pill uses hormones to regulate your cycle, so once you come off the pill, your period might return to how heavy it was pre-pill. People’s cycles change over time though, so your period will likely level out to a “normal” flow after a few months as well.

5. Increased libido from stopping birth control

Some people report experiencing an increased libido after coming off the pill. During your cycle, you will feel the most frisky when you are ovulating. This is your body’s way of saying, “We’re the most fertile we’ll be all month, let’s make a baby!” Since ovulation is shut down when you’re on the pill, you of course can still feel frisky, but some people report having an increased sex drive once they are ovulating again. For some people, however, there is not a noticeable difference. Conversely, some people report feeling less sexy after coming off birth control because they no longer feel a sense of ease being protected from unwanted pregnancy.

6. Change in weight and breast size

Some people notice their breasts shrink a little when they stop taking the pill. This has to do with the hormones from the pill leaving your body and your natural hormones regulating your cycle again. If you didn’t notice a change in breast size when you started the pill, however, you likely won’t notice a change when you stop the pill.

Some people also report losing a bit of weight when they quit the pill. This isn’t super common either, but when it does happen it is due to a loss of water weight. The progesterone-only pill can cause people to retain water, which can cause a bit of weight gain. If you’re on a progesterone-only pill, you’ll lose this water weight when you come off the pill.

7. Hair loss

Admittedly, this is the only side effect I had never heard of, and this is the only one that scared me when I first read about it. This side effect isn’t very common, and when it is present it’s not as scary as it sounds! If you have polycystic ovary syndrome or some other condition that caused hair loss before starting the pill, you might experience hair loss again when coming off it.

If you don’t have a condition that affected hair loss prior to the pill, you likely won’t experience a noticeable amount of hair loss, if any. If you do experience hair loss, though, this should stop within six months of quitting the pill. This is due to a temporary condition called telogen effluvium, which causes your hair to shed. In most cases where hair loss is present after quitting the pill, however, it is usually due to stress, diet, or some other factor and not the pill, so don’t worry too much about this side effect if you’re considering quitting the pill.

If you’re considering coming off the pill, the biggest things to keep in mind are that you can get pregnant right away and that the levels of side effects you experience will vary depending on you and your body. You might not experience all of the side effects, and the ones you do experience will likely have varying levels compared to someone else you know. When you come off the pill, your body adjusts from being regulated with synthetic estrogen and progesterone to being regulated with those hormones naturally in your own body. This does require a bit of time to adjust, so know that for the first few months at least, your cycle and body will likely not feel back to “normal.” If after six months you are still experiencing severe side effects or your period hasn’t returned to normal, see your doctor.

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