Many young women snap up a prescription for the pill as soon as they’re able, sticking to the routine for years. But eventually, there comes a time when going off birth control may become a good idea – like when you’re looking to conceive in the near future.
But oral contraceptives aren’t always taken for birth control. Young women are often advised to take the pill for conditions like endometriosis, bad acne, or to combat heavy periods.
So, what happens when you go off the pill?
Whether you’re ready to start a family, or you’ve decided to take a break from the pill, it’s a good idea to get informed about some of the changes you might face. After all, the pill is full of hormones – and changing up hormones can be unpredictable.
Let’s take a look a look at some of the changes you may experience:
Change #1: Your Menstrual Cycle May Become Less Regular
One of the benefits of hormonal contraceptives is that they allow you to have a regular, predictable menstrual cycle. But for many women, going off birth control can result in irregular periods that are hard to predict.
Irregular periods may be short term, as your body adjusts to being off birth control, or they might be long-term. In fact, many women don’t realize that they’re personally prone to irregular periods because the pill has kept their cycle regular for so long.
And don’t be alarmed if it takes a while for you to actually get a period after stopping birth control. Though some women will get one right away, it’s perfectly normal to not get one for several months.1
However, if you have any concerns do talk to your doctor – he or she will know what’s best for your personal needs.
Change #2: Your Period May Be Heavier and “Crampier”
As it turns out, the “period” you experience on the pill is not really a menstrual period – it’s a withdrawal bleed. This simulated period occurs as a result of the drop in hormones when you take your placebo pills each month.2
Here’s how it works: When you take the pill, your hormone levels stay pretty low and steady. These steady hormones cause your uterine lining to stay relatively thin.
When you take that placebo pill in week 4, the sudden drop in these stable hormones causes that thin uterine lining to bleed a little. This is the withdrawal bleed. Because your uterus didn’t prepare itself for a fertilized egg, this withdrawal bleeding will be shorter and lighter than a regular period.
When you stop taking an oral contraceptive, that’s when your reproductive system is going to start doing the things it was created for: preparing your uterus for conception, sending an egg down your fallopian tube, and ultimately shedding that lining to prepare for conception.
Once you’re back to having real periods, it makes sense that these may be a bit heavier than you’re used to. All women are different – some may barely notice a difference in their cycle, while others will experience longer, heavier periods. If you’re concerned about having heavier periods, be sure to discuss your concerns with your doctor.3
Also, keep in mind that for many women, the pill can ease menstrual cramps. Once you start to ovulate again after going off birth control, you may experience heightened period cramping.
Change #3: You Might Break Out
No one wants to contend with hormonal acne – but unfortunately, where hormones are involved, there’s always the potential for these unwelcome side effects.
Now, some women initially go on the pill to help regulate their hormones and reduce their hormonal acne. This is because the right pill can lower your body’s testosterone level, decreasing oil production that can lead to breakouts.4
For many women, going off birth control causes hormonal acne to return.
However, some women have been on the pill so long that their own hormones have changed for the better – so they don’t experience any changes at all.
Change #4: You’ll Get to Know Your Cycle
Taking the pill not only blesses you with regular menstrual cycles – it also helps ease a lot of the signs and symptoms of PMS each month. This can be a great thing for mood swings, cramps, and other sources of discomfort. But it also means that you may not really know what a real cycle is like for you.
For example, if a woman has been on the pill since her teens, she may never have experienced the clues that her body sends her each month to indicate that she is ovulating – things like cramps and changes in mood.
Getting to know your own unique ovulation schedule can be particularly helpful if you decide that you’d like to get pregnant. For example, light cramping and changes in cervical fluid can indicate that you’re about to ovulate.5,6
Change #5: You May Not “Magically” Lose Weight
Weight gain is one of the most common side effects mentioned by women who take the combined estrogen-progesterone pill (the most popular kind). However, study after study have found no correlation between the two.
Researchers do believe that other related factors may cause women to associate weight gain with the pill. One reason is that estrogen may affect your appetite, increasing hunger and the potential to overeat. Another study found that women on the pill actually gain 40% less muscle than those who aren’t on the pill.7,8
Other experts cite the fact that some women go on the pill during major life changes – like starting college (a time when extra weight gain is common).
So, unfortunately, it’s not a great idea to expect any weight loss miracles when stopping birth control.
Change #6: Your Sex Drive May Change
This one is a mixed bag. Much research has been done on the libido side effects of the pill – but the results are still inconclusive. Some studies suggest the pill does create a lower sex drive; others have suggested the pill actually increases libido.9
So… anything goes. You could be one of those women who felt that going off birth control boosted their sex drive. If so, that’s great! Every woman has her own tricky hormonal system, and only you will be able to assess this one for yourself.
The Effects of Going off Birth Control
For some women, going off the pill (or a hormonal IUD) won’t change much. Other women might experience heavier periods, more mood swings, and possibly more cramping. But it’s important to recognize that these symptoms aren’t side effects – they’re the result of your natural hormones kicking back in.
However, that doesn’t mean that you have to grin and bear any overwhelming symptoms – such as severe PMS, or unnaturally heavy periods. Talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing anything that feels painful or out of place.
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