Stopping the Pill? 10 Ways Your Body May Change

You probably felt a few changes when you started taking birth control pills, like nausea, weight gain, or tender breasts. So it makes sense that you may feel different again when you stop taking them.

Any type of hormone-based birth control can change how you feel, whether it’s pills, the patch, a vaginal ring (NuvaRing), hormonal IUDs (Kyleena, Liletta, Mirena, Skyla), injections (Depo-Provera) or an implanted rod (Implanon, Nexplanon). Everybody’s different, and some of the effects you notice might depend on symptoms you had before you started taking the pill. But a few changes are common:

1. You could get pregnant. And before you say, “Duh,” keep in mind that it could happen sooner than you think. Many women think it takes a long time to conceive after they stop the pill, but research shows pregnancy rates are about the same as those for women who had used barrier methods (like condoms). Up to 96% of former pill-users got pregnant within a year. And in one study, more than half were pregnant at 6 months. But it may take more time -- up to a year -- after you stop injections like Depo-Provera.

2. Your cycle may get wacky. Even if your periods were like clockwork before you started birth control, it might take a few months for them to straighten out after you stop. And if you had irregular periods, you’ll probably be off-kilter again -- the reliable schedule you enjoyed (or the long breaks between periods) came from the hormones in the pill. If your periods stopped altogether, it may take a few months for them to start up again.

3. Your periods could be heavier and crampier. If you had lots of bleeding and pain before you started, it’s likely your problems will return. But if you started as a teenager and now you’re in your late 30s or 40s, you may not go back to that kind of heavy flow.

4. PMS may come back, too. The pill, especially some formulas, helps your body level out the hormonal chaos that can make you feel depressed, anxious, and irritable. Without that balancing, you may start feeling moody again.

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5. You may have mid-month twinges. Any hormonal method of birth control works by keeping you from ovulating. So once your body starts it again, you may feel mild cramping on one side of your pelvis as your ovary releases an egg. You may also have more vaginal discharge.

6. Your weight may go down. Women who used a progestin-only type (like injections, hormonal IUDs, or pills) may have gained a few pounds, so the scale might go down when they stop using them. It’s unclear whether combo pills, patches, or rings lead to weight gain. If you want to lose weight, though, you’ll probably get more results from a better diet and more exercise than from going off your birth control.

7. Acne and unwanted hair may return. The pill can correct the hormone imbalance that makes your skin break out and grow hair in unwanted places. But the fix is temporary: Once you stop the birth control, your hormones can get off-kilter again, bringing back those issues.

8. You might feel friskier. A small number of women find that the pill drives their libido down, especially if they take some very low-dose pills. So a few women, about 15% in one study, may find themselves in the mood more often after they stop their birth control.

9. Headaches may vanish. If the pill tended to give you headaches, you’re likely to get relief when you stop taking it.

10. You’ll still have protection from some cancers. One of the best “side effects” of the pill is that long-time use lowers your risk for ovarian and endometrial cancer. And if you took it for long enough, the payoff continues after you stop. The same is true for some kinds of non-cancerous breast problems, like fibrocystic breast disease, and for fibroids.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on November 03, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

Contraception: An International Reproductive Health Journal, November 2011.

Fertility and Sterility, May 2009.

 NHS Choices: “Contraception Guide: The Contraception Injection."

Planned Parenthood: “Birth Control Q&A.”

“Noncontraceptive Uses of Hormonal Contraceptives,” ACOG Practice Bulletin 110, January 2010.

“Effects of progestin-only birth control on weight,” Cochrane.org, July 2, 2013.

“Effect of birth control pills and patches on weight,” Cochrane.org, Jan. 29, 2014.

European Journal of Contraception and Reproductive Health Care: “The influence of combined oral contraceptives on female sexual desire: a systematic review.”

American Family Physician, Dec. 15, 2010.

International Journal of Endocrinology & Metabolism, December 2012.

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