What Happens When You Stop Taking Birth Control?
Many women start taking birth control when they are teenagers and continue it for a long time before they decide to stop. Whether you are stopping birth control because you want to get pregnant, or are just looking to make a change, you should know what to expect as your body adjusts.
Before we dive into what happens when you stop taking birth control, here’s a list of some of the most common types of hormonal birth control:
All of these methods contain various types of hormones. Some are progesterone-only, some are estrogen-only, and some are a combination of both, which work on the body to prevent pregnancy.
When you stop taking these hormones, you should be aware of the things that can happen to your body, both right away and in the months following your stopping of birth control.
Please be aware that this article only focuses on hormonal birth control methods like birth control pills, implants, IUDs, and shots. Non-hormonal birth control methods such as diaphragms, cervical caps, copper IUDs, condoms and others will not have the same effects on your body when you start or stop using them and this information is not relevant to non-hormonal types of birth control.
So, what exactly happens if you stop taking birth control?
You Could Get Pregnant Right Away
Firstly, you can get pregnant. This may seem obvious, but it’s important to note that this change happens almost immediately.
Some women think that it will take a while to be able to get pregnant when stopping birth control, but this isn’t always the case – the hormones stop working almost immediately and so in theory, you can get pregnant immediately.
If you don’t want to get pregnant but are going off your routine birth control, always use extra protection, such as condoms, during sex.
You Might Not Get Pregnant Right Away
On the flip side, you may not get pregnant right away either!
This might sound counterintuitive to our previous point, but every woman’s body is different, so there is no way to tell exactly how your body will react when going off birth control.
For women trying to get pregnant, most medical professionals suggest waiting 3-4 months to give your body time to start ovulating properly before trying to get pregnant.
When coming off birth control, it may be hard to track your ovulation and menstruation cycles as it will take time for your body to get back into a normal cycle. If you don’t get pregnant right away after stopping birth control, don’t worry. This is completely normal. Your ovulation cycle might need a bit of time to adjust.
Your Period Will Take Time to Adjust
With adjusting ovulation also comes adjusting periods. When you stop taking birth control, you might not see regular periods for a few months.You might see irregular spotting, lighter periods than you’re used to or a heavier flow, a longer or shorter period, or no periods at all for the first month or so.
This is all normal because your body is adjusting to the lack of hormones in its own way. If, after a few months, you still have questions about your period or haven’t gotten a period at all, contact your doctor to see if anything else is causing the problem.
Your Period May Return to What It Was Like Before Birth Control
Remember the days of mood swings, acne, and cramps before you started birth control? Well, those might be back again after you stop taking birth control.
In addition to helping prevent pregnancy, birth control also helps with many period symptoms, including hormonal swings, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), acne, and others. When you stop taking birth control, these symptoms may return.
On a more positive note, you might also stop experiencing some unwanted side effects from birth control. Some birth control methods can make women gain weight, get headaches, suffer from bloating and get many other unpleasant symptoms. When you stop taking birth control, these symptoms will likely disappear.
Your Period May Not Return to What It Was Like Before Birth Control
Again, counterintuitively your period might not return to what it used to be! Especially for women who started taking birth control in their teens and are now in their late 20s, 30s, or even 40s, your periods have probably changed.
As you get older, your flow might lighten, you might have less cramps, or you might experience fewer of the PMS symptoms you had as a teenager.
Hormones Leave Your Body Within a Few Days (With One Exception)
Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t take a while for your body to cleanse itself of the hormones from birth control. In fact, with most birth control methods it might only take a few days for your hormone levels to return back to normal.
One exception to this is the birth control shot. Because it is meant to last 3 months with a single application, it may take 3-6 months for your body to rid itself of these hormones.
They are delivered in a more long-term way and this creates a little lag time between stopping birth control and regulating your hormone levels. Remember this if you are trying to get pregnant – it may take a while if you have been using the birth control injection.
You May Have an Increased Sex Drive
After stopping birth control, you may experience a higher sex drive than you did when you were on birth control. This is due to the decreased levels of estrogen and progesterone, which have an impact on the amount of testosterone your body produces.
Testosterone is a hormone that is often credited for sex drive, so when these levels increase, you may find yourself wanting to get busy a little more than you did while on birth control!
Different Types of Discharge
Vaginal discharge is something that is not often discussed because it is a bit squeamish, but it’s important to notice how your body is reacting to the change of stopping birth control.
Many birth control types, especially those with high levels of progesterone, cause an increase in cervical mucus to help prevent sperm from entering the cervix and fertilizing an egg.
When stopping this birth control, you may notice this mucus in the form of vaginal discharge. This discharge may be white and stringy and is completely normal. As your body adjusts, it will take a few weeks to a few months for everything to normalize.
Your Body Will Change
When you stop taking birth control, you may see your body change in a variety of ways.
One main thing you might notice is your breasts may decrease in size, especially if they got significantly larger when you were on birth control. Many birth control types that have high levels of estrogen can increase the size of your breasts and when those levels of estrogen decrease, they will return to their original size.
You may also notice a change in weight. Some birth controls cause women to gain weight because of the change in hormones.
When you stop birth control, this effect will go away and you might find you lose some weight. Of course, this will not be the case if you have put on weight because you changed your diet or exercise routine while on birth control.
If your breasts have gotten bigger or you have gained weight because of a change in lifestyle, going off birth control will have little to do with this. If you are looking to lose weight, changing your diet and exercise routine will be much more effective.
You Might Still Have Protection from Some Types of Cancer and Other Issues
One of the most beneficial side effects of birth control is that long-time use lowers your risk for some cancers, including ovarian and endometrial cancer. If you took it for a long time, this protection may continue after you stop. The same can be said for some types of non-cancerous breast issues, like fibrocystic breast disease and fibroids. Do remember that birth control can also increase the risk of some types of cancer, and this increase in risk may not go away after you stop taking birth control.
You Might Lose (or Gain!) Some Hair
Going off of birth control could trigger a temporary condition called ‘telogen effluvium’ that causes your hair to shed.
This side effect usually goes away within six months of stopping birth control, after your body has adjusted. Some women who had hormonal-related hair loss before they started taking birth control might notice that it returns when they go off of the pill.
However, hair loss is one of those complicated bodily functions that can have many causes, including stress.
Conversely, some women may grow more hair, but mostly in unwanted spots. Dark, coarse hairs can appear on the face, back, and chest if the body produces too much androgen, another hormone.
Your Vitamin D Levels Could Decrease
Some researchers have found that certain birth control can increase the amount of vitamin D in your body, and so you may experience a drop in vitamin D levels when you stop taking birth control. For women trying to get pregnant, this can cause a problem because vitamin D is really important in helping the baby’s skeleton form while still in the womb.
Vitamin D also contributes to general overall health, especially if you are trying to get pregnant. Talk to your doctor about ways to get more vitamin D, including spending time outside, eating vitamin D-rich foods, such as fish, or taking a supplement or vitamin.
Coming off birth control
Starting and going off birth control is a personal decision for every women and it’s really important to know what to expect when you stop taking birth control. Birth control contains various hormones, including estrogen and progesterone, and stopping these hormones can have many effects on your body.
The most important things to remember when coming off birth control:
As your hormone levels go back to normal, you may experience some of the same period symptoms you had before going on birth control.
Your body will adjust to these normalized levels of hormones, which may include a decrease in breast size and possibly a little weight loss.
Without the help of birth control, your natural hormone spikes may cause increased acne, PMS, bloating, moodiness, weight fluctuation, and more.
If you had any unwanted symptoms while on birth control, such as headaches, nausea, or weight gain, these symptoms will likely go away when you stop taking birth control.
There is every chance you can get pregnant right away! The hormones in birth control only take a few days to leave your system.
If you want to stop taking birth control but don’t want to get pregnant, make sure to use another form of protection.
If you want to come off your birth control and need the advice and support of a doctor, or want to discuss an alternative, make an appointment with a PlushCare doctor here.
Birth Control Quiz
Think you know all there is to know about birth control? Test your knowledge with our birth control quiz.
It's Ok to use birth control pills to delay or skip your period.
Birth control pills will make you gain weight.
Birth control may be less effective for those with a BMI over 30.
The pill can be used as more than just a contraceptive.
You can get pregnant during the week of placebo pills.
You can stop taking birth control any time you want.
Birth control only comes in pill form.
Some forms of birth control may impact cholesterol levels.
It's OK to smoke tobacco products and take birth control pills at the same time.
Certain antibiotics can reduce the effectiveness of birth control.
Learn More About Birth Control Here
- How Do Birth Control Pills Work?
- Missed Birth Control Pill: What Does This Mean?
- How To Get Free Birth Control
- Non-Hormonal Birth Control Options Explained
- Birth Control and Your Period: Your Questions Answered
Planned Parenthood. Birth Control. Accessed October 28, 2019 at https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/birth-control
Office on Women’s Health. Birth Control Methods. Accessed October 28, 2019 at https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/birth-control-methods
Sex Wise. Contraception. Accessed October 28, 2019 at https://www.sexwise.fpa.org.uk/contraception