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Do You Gain Weight On Birth Control Pills?

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Do You Gain Weight On Birth Control Pills?

writtenByWritten by: Laurel Klafehn
Laurel Klafehn

Laurel Klafehn

Laurel is a linguist at heart and studying to become a Certified Spanish Interpreter and Translator. She believes in making quality healthcare accessible, and is proud of PlushCare's mission to do so.

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April 23, 2018 Read Time - 9 minutes

Birth Control Pills and Weight Gain: What You Need to Know

Birth control pills, also known as oral contraceptives or “the pill,” are a common form of hormonal birth control. Birth control pills have been studied for over 50 years, and were approved by the FDA for contraceptive use in 1960. When they were first developed, birth control pills contained much higher levels of the hormones estrogen and progestin than they do now. An abundance of these hormones in women is associated with high fluid retention and an increase in appetite, which established the reputation that birth control pills cause weight gain.

Since then, the pill has become one of the most convenient, popular, and accessible methods of birth control, and now contains much lower hormone levels than it once did, which means it can work effectively for a variety of body types. Read on to learn about birth control pills and weight gain and if there are birth control pills that make you lose weight.

How do Birth Control Pills Work?

There are dozens of varieties of birth control pills available with a prescription from a healthcare provider. All birth control pills contain varying levels of hormones, which are released into a woman’s body to prevent pregnancy. The main functions of the hormones in birth control pills are to halt ovulation, which prevents the release of an egg and to thicken the mucus surrounding the cervix, which keeps sperm cells from reaching the eggs. Birth control pills work by minimizing the chances of fertilization, which thus reduce the risk of pregnancy.

No brand of birth control pills protects against sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s), and thus you should use an appropriate barrier form of birth control (such as female or male condoms) to protect yourself against the spread of infections and diseases.

Birth control pills are taken on a daily basis to ensure the consistent release of hormones. Each birth control type and brand comes with different side effects. To know which pill is right for you, it is important to understand how the various kinds of birth control pills are designed to interact with your body.

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Types of Birth Control Pills

There are two main types of birth control pills:

  • Combination pills
  • Progestin-only or “minipills”

Common side effects that come with both varieties of birth control pills are:

  • Breast Tenderness
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Bloating
  • Spotting/Light, bleeding not during your period

These symptoms should go away within a few weeks of starting your birth control pills. Contact your doctor if these symptoms persist.

Some varieties of birth control pills are associated with weight gain or weight loss. Understanding the characteristics of each will help you decide which type is best for your body and lifestyle and how birth control pills may affect your weight.

Combination Pills

Combination pills contain both of the hormones progestin and estrogen. This variety of birth control pills is available in 28-day packs, which contain 21 “active” pills and 7 “inactive” or sugar pills, and 21-day packs, which are all “active” pills. In the 28-day packs, 21 of the pills contain hormones, and 7 of the pills do not.

Combination pills are also available in extended-cycle packs of 84 active and 7 inactive pills. Speaking with your doctor will help you determine which of these variations is right for you.

The levels of hormones contained in these pills vary throughout the month to help your body prevent pregnancy most effectively.

When using either the 28- or 21-day packs of combination birth control pills, you will still have a monthly menstrual cycle. Different brands of birth control pills offer different quantities of hormones, and can affect the flow, timing, and side effects associated with your monthly period. When using extended-cycle packs, your period will only come four times a year. Other methods will completely eliminate your period, and require taking an active dosage pill every day continuously. Your doctor can help you decide if these options are appropriate for you.

Some of the most common brands of combination birth control pills are:

  • Yaz
  • Yasmin
  • Apri
  • Velivet
  • Natazia
  • Aviane
  • Levora
  • Seasonique (Extended-Cycle)
  • Lybrel (Extended/Continuous-Cycle)

Combination Birth Control Pills and Your Weight

While many patients report minor weight gain (between 2-4 pounds) in the first few months of taking combination birth control pills, scientific studies have not found a basis for causation between taking birth control pills and weight gain. Anecdotal evidence of weight gain because of birth control pills is one of the primary concerns of patients who are considering their birth control options. We all have a friend or co-worker who reports “blowing up like a balloon!” after starting birth control. As a result, many doctors report hearing the question: Do birth control pills make you gain weight?

The question of which birth control pill will not cause weight gain is not so straightforward. While the combination of estrogen and progestin hormones may separately affect your body in ways that lead to minor weight gain, the majority of studies on the subject conclude that even this weight is not necessarily fat, but water weight!

Higher levels of estrogen are accompanied by water retention in women’s bodies. This is why women often become bloated right before their menstrual cycles, when estrogen levels are at their highest.

Estrogen abundance is also linked with sleeplessness. A disruption in normal sleep cycles can often lead to weight gain. Both of these forms of weight gain, however, are temporary and should not last for more than a couple of weeks as your body moves through its natural hormonal cycles.

Conversely, progestin (the other hormone in combination birth control pills) is linked with slight reductions in lean muscle mass and increase in appetite. Although there is little evidence for causation, some doctors believe that these effects may contribute to the weight gain that patients claim to experience after starting a combination birth control regimen.

Finally, doctors suggest that weight gain is most probably due to changes in lifestyle and habits. Initiating a birth control pill regimen sparks hormonal change in your body, which can affect your sleeping schedule, workout routine, appetite, and mood. These changes are more likely to blame for minor weight gain than the hormones themselves.

Doctors recommend establishing a consistent exercise schedule, and remembering to eat well and get enough sleep to ease you through these changes. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle should eradicate any weight gain associated with taking birth control pills.

Physicians recommend waiting at least three months before switching to a different birth control pill to allow your body time to adjust to new hormone levels. Most of the side effects should subside by then. If they don’t, consider talking to your doctor to change your prescription.

Progestin-Only or “Minipills”

Doctors may recommend Progestin-only birth control pills for women whose bodies do not react well to estrogen. The only active ingredient in minipills is noroethindrone (a type of the hormone progestin), and works similarly to the combination of hormones in the birth control pills described above. These pills, like their combination counterparts, are designed to thicken the mucus lining of the cervix, thus preventing sperm from fertilizing an egg.

However, progestin-only contraceptive pills are less effective in stopping ovulation (because they lack estrogen), which slightly increases the risk of becoming pregnant. Depending on the type of minipill your doctor prescribes, your period may be longer or shorter than normal, or may stop completely. If you experience a heavy menstrual flow for more than a week, you should contact your healthcare provider immediately.

The most popular brands of progestin-only birth control pills are:

  • Micronor
  • Nor-Q-D
  • Camila
  • Book on our free mobile app or website.

    Our doctors operate in all 50 states and same day appointments are available every 15 minutes.

  • See a doctor, get treatment and a prescription at your local pharmacy.

  • Use your health insurance just like you normally would to see your doctor.


Progestin-Only Pills and Your Weight

The main difference between combination pills and progestin-only pills is a lack of estrogen. For this reason, women who take progestin-only birth control pills don’t experience bloating or water retention as often as those taking both hormones. However, higher levels of progestin are associated with other side effects. The most notable side effect of progestin intake is nausea, which can last for up to three weeks after beginning a birth control regimen. Feelings of nausea often cause a lack of appetite, which odes to the reputation of progestin-only pills as the best birth control pill for weight loss.

Some patients report losing weight on birth control pills such as Micronor. This weight loss is often due to nausea and consequent loss of appetite, and not to actual physiological changes in their bodies. It is important to note that if symptoms of nausea do not go away within a few weeks, you should contact your doctor. Even if the weight loss effects are desirable, your body could be missing key nutrients that may become detrimental to your health.

Much like the combination varieties of birth control pills, progestin-only pills can affect your sleep schedule, mood, and exercise habits. To minimize the changes in your weight, it is necessary to continue with your healthy habits even despite these hormonal adjustments. Even if you experience minor weight gain or weight loss, your body should return to normal within a month or so of changing your birth control method.

Don’t Let Weight Gain Stories Scare You Away!

Doctors urge patients not to be deterred by weight gain horror stories associated with taking birth control pills. Oral contraceptives can be a convenient, accessible method to prevent pregnancy. Birth control pills are designed to work effectively with a variety of body types. The days of excessive weight gain as a result of taking birth control pills are over! Discussing your options with your doctor will help you decide which birth control method is right for you.

How PlushCare Works

In today’s age of unpredictable waiting rooms and swamped doctors, online services like PlushCare save you time and stress. All of our visits with patients are confidential and convenient and require as little as a phone or video consultation.

We are able to help with various concerns, including birth control, and work with local pharmacies to make sure you get your prescription quickly and efficiently. Our team of medical professionals has extensive experience consulting with patients about their birth control options, including starting and prescribing birth control pills, changing birth control methods, and understanding how birth control interacts with your body. Book an appointment with a PlushCare here.

Read more in our Birth Control series:

Most PlushCare articles are reviewed by M.D.s, Ph.Ds, N.P.s, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. Click here to learn more and meet some of the professionals behind our blog. The PlushCare blog, or any linked materials are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. For more information click here.

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