Health

15 Things That Can Happen if You Stop Taking Birth Control Pills

Women use birth control for a myriad of reasons. For some, it is for pregnancy prevention. However, for others, the pill is effective for clearing up… Simi - June 14, 2018

Women use birth control for a myriad of reasons. For some, it is for pregnancy prevention. However, for others, the pill is effective for clearing up the skin, eliminating pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS), and creating a regular period cycle. If you’ve been on the pill for one or more of these reasons, it’s a big decision to go off it. There will be a fear that the symptoms that prompted you to take the pill will return. So, you’ll go back to an erratic cycle, horrible mood swings prior to menstruation, and spotty skin. Not to mention the risk of falling pregnant if you don’t use other contraceptives.

This is a rational expectation. Experts say that most women do not experience any major symptoms when they go off the pill, except for those they had prior to starting. And this is not a given. It will not happen to everyone. It is possible that the symptoms you had prior to starting to take the pill won’t return.

Because we are, as humans, completely unique, our bodies respond differently to the same stimulus. Two women of the same age, with similar physical characteristics, may take the same pill for the same timeframe. Yet, when they go off it, they may experience symptoms that are diametrically opposed to one another.

How your body responds to go off birth control cannot be predicted. It is advisable to make a decision such as this in consultation with a medical healthcare professional. There are many things that may happen when you cease taking birth control. You may experience none, some, or all of them, depending on how your body responds.

1. You can get pregnant immediately

A myth many women believe is that once they stop taking the pill, its contraceptive effect will stay in the body for a while. These are the women who get a wake-up call when they fall pregnant shortly after they stop taking the pill.

A woman’s body recovers right away after she stops taking the pill. Within a few days, the hormones it supplies are out of the body. Your body begins to produce follicles again. This stimulates your body to start producing hormones. The function of the pill is to stop your body from ovulating. As soon as you stop taking it, your body will start ovulating again. Production of an egg within the first cycle after taking the pill makes pregnancy possible If you had a problem with your ovulation cycle prior to taking the pill, it might return. If this is the case, you’ll need to consult a gynecologist for advice.

In a study, 20% of participants who went off the pill fell pregnant during the first cycle afterward. For most women who go off birth control, it takes a good two to three months for their ovulation cycles to settle down. However, if you’ve gone off the pill to fall pregnant, it can take up to six months. So, don’t panic if don’t fall pregnant right away. If you don’t want to fall pregnant, take preventive measures such as using condoms to make sure you avoid an unwanted pregnancy.

This does not apply to women who have used contraceptive injections. In these cases, it can take up to a year to fall pregnant as it takes few months to be eliminated from the system.

2. Your weight may change… or it may not

Going onto birth control introduces progestin in the body. The increased progestin prevents the body from releasing an egg, thereby preventing pregnancy. It also changes the womb lining so that a pregnancy cannot develop. Progestin thickens the mucus located at the cervix to stop sperm from entering. Progestin is produced in a laboratory and used in birth control.  It has progesterone-like properties.

Raised progestin levels can result in a few pounds gained. Studies to determine how and why this happens are ongoing. It is believed that there is a link between increased progesterone levels and increased appetite, especially when the pill contains no estrogen. If you are concerned about weight gain from being on birth control, be selective about which one you use. If the pill you’re taking contains estrogen as well, weight gain may be caused by water retention. Women who have used the birth control injection Depo-Provera usually report a 10-pound weight gain within about 18 months.

Weight gain can be mitigated depending on the class of progesterone present in your birth control. There are three main classes of progesterone called progestational, estrogenic, and androgenic. When birth control pills were first invented, they contained a lot of androgenic progesterone which has been linked to weight gain. Today’s versions of the pill contain far less androgenic progesterone. Norgestimate, desogestrel, and drospirenone are the three progestins that are the least androgenic. So, if you’re concerned about weight gain, try to use a pill that contains these.

You may gain weight when you start using birth control. But its pregnancy preventive properties far outweigh a few extra pounds that can be lost with a good exercise program and diet.

3. You could lose a bit of hair

A condition known as telogen effluvium can result from going off your birth control pills. It is a temporary condition that causes shedding of the hair. It is worthwhile to note that some women experience hair shedding when they start taking the pill as well. Telogen effluvium is triggered by a shock to the metabolic or hormonal system. Going on the pill or going off it can cause a shock to the hormone levels in the body. It causes the hair to enter the telogen phase early. This is a resting phase of the hair follicle.

While telogen effluvium is a form of alopecia, you will not lose all your hair. You will see a greater than usual shedding of hair especially when you wash it. Your overall hair volume will thin out, but you won’t develop bald patches. It is meant to be temporary. If you see the condition persisting for a few months, it may be time to seek help. It could mean that your body’s hormone levels are not returning to normal.

There are several ways to minimize the effects of telogen effluvium. Taking a good hair supplement for a few months can help. Do so on the advice of a doctor. During the recovery stages, limit the use of heat or chemicals on your hair. Even shampoos and conditioners contain a lot of chemicals. So, look for products that are natural or more organic.

Avoid dyeing your hair as well. Getting enough sleep restores the levels of the hormones cortisol, leptin, and ghrelin in your body. Avoid stress as it aggravates the condition. A good exercise, diet and sleep program will help in this regard. 

4. Your skin might ‘break out’

If you had acne before and you’ve had no problems while you were on the pill, it’s normal to worry about a recurrence. There is a chance it may happen. There is even a chance that you may break out even if you’ve never had acne before.

One reason that your skin is affected when you come off the pill is that it suppresses your sebum (skin oils) to the levels of a child. That means it’s at a very low level. As an adult, you should have more sebum than a child. The elements in the pill that do this are ethinylestradiol, cyproterone, and drospirenone. Because the human body is so capable, it begins to produce more sebum in order to compensate for the effect of the birth control.

When you stop taking the pill, your body’s sebum levels increase. But your body doesn’t stop its increased production levels. Now your body has an oversupply of sebum. This causes an acne outbreak. In addition to this, as soon as you stop taking the pill, there is a surge of androgens in the body. These can also cause pimples to form.

If you’ve had skin problems in the past, or you’re worried you might have them after stopping birth control, it’s best to start proactive treatment. Eliminating dairy and concentrated sugars from the diet and supplementing your zinc intake will help. Androgen-blocking DIM (diindolylmethane) is found in broccoli. It is a phytonutrient that blocks androgens at your skin receptors. Make sure you have a good skin health routine. Daily washing with good products will also help you to handle an outbreak. Remember that you might have minor flare-ups around the time of menstruating.

5. You’ll need to supplement your Vitamin D

It is advisable to check your Vitamin D levels when you go off the pill, especially if you’ve taken one containing estrogen. In a study, it was found that women using birth control had higher levels of Vitamin D than those that don’t. The National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina study conducted the study. They realized that women taking birth control with estrogen would see a drop in Vitamin D levels when they stopped using it.

Vitamin D is very important. It helps with the absorption of calcium into the body.  Calcium is essential for strong, healthy bones and teeth. If you’re going off the pill to fall pregnant, it is wise to take a Vitamin D supplement. If you fall pregnant, you need higher levels of Vitamin D than usual. This is so that calcium can be absorbed into your baby’s skeleton. If you don’t take a supplement and you fall pregnant straight after going off the pill, your Vitamin D levels could be too low.

Low levels of Vitamin D are also associated with weight gain, as you feel hungry all the time. This leads to overeating. Vitamin D can also help to lower high blood pressure. Low Vitamin D levels are indicators of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or depression.

If you’re going off the pill but not planning to fall pregnant right away, you can add Vitamin D to your system the natural way.  Plenty of outdoor activity and exposure to sunshine will raise your depleted levels of Vitamin D. Getting exercise, keeping in shape, and doing it in some natural sunshine are perfect antidotes to weight gain and feeling a bit ‘blue.’

6. Your breasts may feel different

Some women experience tenderness in their breasts before they menstruate. The progesterone in the system increases as your period approaches. This, in turn, stimulates the milk glands to grow. Breasts may feel slightly swollen, achy, and tender. Taking the pill controls your hormone levels. This means that progesterone levels do not spike just before menstruation. Most women who had this problem prior to going on the pill report alleviated symptoms when they take it.

When you go off the pill, expect to feel some breast tenderness prior to menstruating It is an early symptom of pregnancy as well but is more likely just hormonal. As to whether this continues long-term after you go off your birth control, it is possible. Since our bodies are all different, there is no accurate way to predict.

Other women complain that they experience breast tenderness while they’re on the pill. Their breasts enlarge slightly. This is only temporary and usually stops within a few weeks. If pain persists or a lump is detected, you should see your doctor. Should your breasts enlarge during your time on the pill, they may return to their normal size when you stop. It’s very rare that a permanent breast enlargement occurs as a result of birth control. It would be caused by the estrogen levels which affect water retention in the body.

There are those who say their breasts are more sensitive at certain times during their cycle while taking the pill. This can be concerning to them at first. They might worry that it’s a precursor to pregnancy and their birth control has failed. For them, these symptoms disappear when they stop taking the pill. 

7. Your libido is affected

The changes in the hormone production and levels in the body when you go on or come off birth control will affect the libido. A woman’s libido is driven by hormones.  When you take the pill, it lowers your testosterone levels. The fact that you don’t ovulate may affect your sex drive. Most women report a decline in their sex drive when they take the pill. A lot of them also report vaginal dryness, which makes having sex uncomfortable or painful.

A lot of women who have stopped taking the pill have reported a renewed interest in sex. Their libido increases to previous levels.  If they had vaginal dryness, this tends to improve as well. However, they report that the stress of falling pregnant affects their ability to enjoy sex. It is important to have a post-birth control contraceptive plan in place. That way you don’t have to worry about falling pregnant and wishing you’d stayed on the pill.

This effect on the libido when going onto the pill is not felt by all women. It’s possible for your libido to remain the same or to have an increased sex drive when you’re on the pill. Even if this was the case, your libido might increase anyway when you go off your birth control. Our bodies react so differently, so your libido might decrease when you go off the pill (although this is unlikely).

You and your partner should discuss such matters before you go off the pill. It’s highly doubtful that he’ll mind your ramped-up sex drive at all. In fact, if you’ve had low libido while on the pill, he’ll probably welcome it. But in case the reverse happens, make sure he understands it’s nothing to do with him.

8. You’ll be aware of your ovulation

The increase progesterone levels in your body when you’re on birth control prevents your body from ovulating. As soon as you stop taking it, your body will ovulate again. Ovulation happens mid-way through your cycle.  It is the process whereby your body produces an ovum (egg). If fertilized by sperm during this window of opportunity, you will be pregnant. The time for fertilization is between the time the egg is produced and menstruation when the egg breaks down and is expelled from the body.

You may find yourself feeling some mild cramps and discomfort about halfway through your cycle.  This is perfectly normal.  It is associated with the production and expiry of the egg.  It’s nowhere near as intense as menstrual cramping.  That’s why it’s called a mid-month twinge.  Ovulation may also be accompanied by some vaginal discharge.

Feeling your ovulation will be a big plus if you’re trying to fall pregnant. Knowing when you’re ovulating is critical. But know that you can’t wait for the twinge before you act on it. It could signal the end of the lifespan of the egg, not its beginning. Then it’s too late for you and your partner to try. If you want to fall pregnant, track your cycle and work out your ovulation window. That way you can time it so that you had your partner have sex, and the egg is fertilized.

But if you don’t want to fall pregnant and aren’t using contraceptives, you’d know it’s not safe as soon as you feel yourself ovulating. Don’t bank on it as a definite pregnancy preventer, however. There are months when you’ll feel your ovulation, and months when you won’t. If you don’t want to fall pregnant, don’t take the chance. 

9. You might experience headaches

The hormonal changes your body experiences before you menstruate can manifest themselves in multiple ways. For a lot of women, a headache right before their period is commonplace. It is believed to be due to falling estrogen levels. Some women may have a mild headache, while others report a full-blown migraine. Many say that there’s no way of knowing from one month to the next. They may have nothing one month, a migraine the next, and a mild headache the next. For others, the headache is as regular as clockwork. Its onset is a reminder that their period is due.

When you take birth control, your hormone levels are regulated by the medication. So, there is no sudden drop in estrogen just before you menstruate. Consequently, there are no headaches.

You might have more than just a pre-menstrual headache when you’ve just stopped taking your birth control. It’s possible that you may have headaches over several successive days as the hormone levels in your body settle. They may vary from mild to a migraine, with severe and throbbing headaches in between. Remember, it can take two to three months for this to happen. That doesn’t mean you’ll have a headache the entire time! But do expect more headaches that you’re used to and keep painkillers on hand.

If you’re taking strong painkillers and the headaches are persisting for days at a time, you need to see a doctor. There may be another cause for your headaches which your birth control has been masking all this time. A doctor will advise you on what medications to use and what you can do to reduce the discomfort. Constant headaches affect your quality of life, and it is best to get to the root of what is causing them.

10. Return of the dreaded PMS

Pre-menstrual syndrome is real. It tends to be used as an explanation for moody behavior among girls and women. Men refer to it in a derogatory tone if a woman is short-tempered with them. But those who experience it will tell you that it goes far beyond being in a bad mood. PMS is a set of symptoms some girls and women feel somewhere in the final ten days before they menstruate.

PMS symptoms cover a broad spectrum. They include a bloated feeling around the uterus. Breasts may feel swollen, tender, and sensitive. A severe headache may be experienced. Some girls and women report sudden, irregular food cravings. Mood swings are common, and so is feeling just plain sad. You may be prone to sudden outbursts of anger, followed by longer bouts of weeping. Television advertisements can reduce you to tears. Something a peer says which would normally not bother you sets you off.

The constant fluctuation of hormone levels in the body during the different stages of the menstrual cycle is the cause of PMS. When you are on birth control, the fact that your hormones are controlled means that you’re unlikely to have PMS. So, you might find yourself awake at midnight, crying, and looking in the freezer for ice-cream soon after you go off the pill. There is a good chance that if you had PMS before the pill, you might have PMS after the pill.

If your PMS is so bad that you have suicidal thoughts or are prone to outbursts of violence, you need to see a doctor. Being a bit irritable and teary-eyed is one thing, but severe symptoms need urgent intervention.

11. You may have mood swings

In addition to the mood swings that we associate with PMS, you may have severe mood swings. This will be for the first while after you’ve stopped taking the pill.  These won’t be confined to just before you menstruate. They can happen anytime during the two to three months it takes for the hormone levels in the body to settle.

Your body is suddenly responsible for producing its own progesterone, estrogen, and many other hormones on its own after years of help. It is normal for it to take a while to regulate. In the meantime, you might find that you’re irritable and moody for no apparent reason.

While this is a hormonal reaction, it manifests as an emotional one. It can be very confusing for those around you. When you go from Little Miss Sunshine to Little Miss Thunderstorm in zero seconds, people you love will be in the firing line.  Before you go off your birth control, discuss this possibility with your nearest and dearest. That way they’ll be prepared.  But don’t use it as an excuse for bad behavior. All your actions have consequences, and mood swings are not a defense in a court of law!

Prepare yourself for the mood swings as well. You’ll probably be going to work during this time. You’re unlikely to tell all your colleagues you’re going off the pill, since its personal. But you’ll mystify them if you start acting like a completely different person, one who isn’t nice to be around. Find the balance by being mindful of your responses to those around you. Take your time to calm down before you answer a question instead of hurling your coffee mug at someone.

12. Your period is likely to be heavier

The period you have when you’re on the pill isn’t the same as menstruation. When you menstruate, your body is expelling the broken-down egg that has not been fertilized. It comes out in the form of a slow bleeding process that lasts around five days. On birth control, the bleeding you have is not menstruation. After all, how can it be? The pill prevents your body from making an egg. So, if there’s no egg to expel, it’s not the same as regular menstruation.

On the pill, the bleeding you experience monthly is called withdrawal bleeding.  When you look at your birth control pills, there is a difference between those you take prior to and during the bleeding. Prior to the bleeding, the pills you take contain hormones. When you move to the next part of the pack, you are taking placebo pills.  They contain no hormones.

Your body responds to the withdrawal of the hormones by bleeding. The bleeding is far lighter than a normal period. Women report that the blood passed during hormone withdrawal is different in color and consistency to menstrual blood. Some women bleed for less than a day when they’re on the pill. Some don’t bleed at all. It could be because of the pill but bear in mind it’s also a sign of pregnancy.

Once you stop taking the pill, your body will begin with proper menstruation again.  You can expect a heavier flow than you’ve become used to. Your period will also be longer than the withdrawal bleeding. Keep extra feminine hygiene products on hand since the first few periods may be abnormally heavy.

13. Your period won’t be as regular as it was

When you’re on the pill, your cycle works on exactly 28 days. That’s why each pack consists of 28 pills. Your cycle is controlled by the hormones in the pill. There are women on the pill who can time the start of the period down to a few hours. This type of regularity is convenient. The fact that you take a pill every day and can see when your period is approaching means you can be prepared.

When you stop taking the pill, your period will no longer be so regular. The ideal menstrual cycle is 28 days, just as the pill allocates. But your body may work on a cycle of 25-28 days. This means you’ll have a fair idea but not the specific date that you should expect your period. Sometimes, this results in a nasty surprise.

This may be a problem initially when you stop taking the pill. In the two to three months, it takes for the hormone levels in the body to regulate themselves, your period may be irregular. You’ll need to be prepared for an early period, or a skipped period during this time.

Gradually, your cycle should return to normal. But you can count yourself lucky if it ever becomes that regular again. You’ll have to prepare to start a day or so early or late related to your due date. If you get an app on your phone that tracks your period, you can keep a record. That will allow you to predict the start date of your period if it is slightly irregular. If your period continues to be erratic and very irregular, it’s best to consult your doctor.

14. You may experience post-pill amenorrhea

Post-pill amenorrhea is defined as a failure to resume menstruation after you stop taking birth control pills. There are studies indicating that coming off the pill could delay the return of menstruation. This is usually temporary, and within a few months your cycle starts and continues.

Although it’s called post-pill amenorrhea, the fact that your period didn’t resume may have nothing to do with the pill. It’s possible that the pill has been masking cycle irregularity. After all, you haven’t been experiencing a period at all. Your body hasn’t produced any eggs or expelled them in the time you were on the pill. So, you haven’t had a menstrual cycle. Now that it is expected to start doing so, a problem may be revealed.

There are reasons not related to the pill that might prevent your cycle from resuming.  You could have a polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). This is quite common. One of the symptoms of PCOS is irregular or absent menstrual periods. This is because PCOS typically results in raised testosterone levels and ovarian cysts. It prevents the ovary from functioning properly. PCOS has a genetic element. Be on the lookout for it if there is a family history. PCOS is also related to how your body processes insulin. The most common risk factor for PCOS is obesity, which is why diet and exercise are important.

Another possibility is hypothalamic amenorrhea. This is a condition associated with stress, over-exercising, and under-eating. It is common among women with eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia or women who have lost a significant amount of weight. But fit, active women who do a lot of exercises but don’t refuel their bodies are susceptible to it too.

15. You could develop an iron deficiency

Having regular menstrual periods leaves women vulnerable to iron-deficiency anemia. This is due to the blood lost during the period. On average, a woman loses 30-40ml of blood each cycle. For women with a heavy cycle, it can be as much as 80ml. Blood is rich in iron. And an iron-deficiency is the most common cause of anemia. Anemia is a lack of red blood cells in the body. The hemoglobin in your blood cells binds with oxygen to deliver it to different parts of the body. If you don’t have enough red blood cells, your body will not get enough oxygen.

For women who struggle with iron deficiency or develop it because their period is so heavy, birth control pills are the solution. Some versions of the pill contain iron which boosts the levels. Less blood is lost during withdrawal blood than during a menstrual period. When you stop taking the pill, your body is vulnerable to an iron deficiency.

The iron lost during menstruation can leave women feeling fatigue, breathlessness, headaches, pallor, and chest pain. These are some of the symptoms of iron-deficiency anemia. It develops over time and can be serious if left untreated. It’s easy to have your iron levels tested. A simple blood test will do the trick. Have a test and get help if you feel these symptoms during your period after being on the pill. When you go off the pill, eat an iron-rich diet to boost your levels.

You shouldn’t self-medicate when it comes to iron supplements as too much iron is not good for you either. The care of a doctor is essential. He/she can look at your blood test results and determine how much iron you need. Once prescribed, iron tablets raise your levels back to within the normal range. The symptoms described above will dissipate.

Advertisement