How to Safely Get Off Birth Control

You may have started hormonal birth control for a number of reasons, including to avoid pregnancies, regulate periods, or control acne. Your motives for wanting to stop can differ, too.

But the safest way to get off will depend on your particular birth control type. Usually, you can easily do it yourself. But some methods may require a visit with your doctor.

How to Quit

No matter what type of contraceptive you’re on, it may be a good idea to talk to your doctor first. You can get advice, learn about possible side effects, understand how quickly you might be able to get pregnant, and your options if you don't want to conceive.

The pill. This is the most popular choice among women who currently use contraception. You can stop the pill on your own any time -- no need to finish your pack. Your menstrual cycle may get thrown off, but your period should come back within 3 months. 

The minipill. This contains only progestin, instead of the usual estrogen and progestin. You can quit the minipill whenever you want. It works slightly less well than the combination pill to prevent pregnancies. So you'll need another form of protection if you want to avoid getting pregnant.

Implants. This toothpick-sized tube is a long-acting contraceptive. It usually lasts for 3 years. You can have it removed by a doctor or a nurse anytime. Your fertility should return quickly.

Patches. These adhesive squares stick to your skin and release estrogen and progestin. If you want to stop using them, just peel the patch off yourself. To avoid getting pregnant, use another birth control method right away.

IUD. An intrauterine device, or IUD, is put into your womb through your vagina. It can keep you from getting pregnant for many years. A doctor or a nurse can remove it in a few minutes. If you're trying to have a baby, you should be able to conceive right away.

Diaphragm. This dome-shaped cup physically blocks sperm from entering your womb. You insert it every time you have sex. Even if you no longer want to use a diaphragm as a contraceptive, leave it in for at least 6 hours after you last have intercourse.

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Vaginal ring. You put this flexible plastic into your vagina, much like a tampon. It has the same two hormones as in the pill. You usually leave it in for 3 weeks and then take it out for a week. You can stop using the ring at any point in your menstrual cycle. Use another form of birth control right away if you're not planning to get pregnant.

Birth control shot. You shouldn’t rely on the shot for more than 2 years without checking with your doctor first. But you can get off of it whenever you want. Since you have to get this shot about every 3 months from your doctor, to stop this kind of birth control, you can simply quit taking the shot. Ask your doctor if you need a back-up contraceptive. You may be covered for a while, since the effects of the shot can last up to 9 months.

Why You May Want to Stop

You’re in charge of your fertility. Sometimes, you may wish or need to get off your current contraceptives for health or personal reasons.

You have side effects. Hormonal birth control can affect everyone differently. Some women have mood swings, weight changes, headaches, or nausea. Ask your doctor if switching to another method may ease your side effects.

You want to have a baby. Quitting your birth control is the first step to jumpstart your family planning. Either stop right away or visit your doctor to remove your implant or device. They also can help you with a pregnancy plan.

You have health concerns. Hormonal birth control sometimes doesn’t mix well with your other medications. It also may raise your chances for heart attacks or breast and cervical cancer.

You don’t have sex often. It takes effort to remember to take your pill every day or to visit your health care provider regularly for new prescriptions or shots. If you’re not very sexually active, that can be too much of a hassle. You might find it more convenient -- and get better protection against STDs -- if you rely on a barrier method like a condom or a cervical cap with spermicide each time you have intercourse.

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When to See Your Doctor

Usually, you’ll have no serious side effects from getting off hormonal contraceptives. But if your period doesn’t resume after about 4-8 weeks, your doctor should check for possible problems.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on June 20, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: “Combined Hormonal Birth Control: Pill, Patch, and Ring.”

CDC: “Planning for Pregnancy,” “National Health Statistics Reports: Current Contraceptive Use and Variation by Selected Characteristics Among Women Aged 15-44: United States, 2011-2013.”

Center for Young Women’s Health: “Hormonal Implants,” “Vaginal Hormonal Ring (NuvaRing).”

Cleveland Clinic: “Depo-Provera.”

FDA: “Depo-Provera.”

Jennifer F. Kawwass, MD, medical director, Emory Reproductive Center; associate professor, gynecology and obstetrics, Emory University School of Medicine; clinical director, Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART).

Mayo Clinic: “Birth control pill FAQ: Benefits, risks and choices,” “Minipill (progestin-only birth control pill),” “Long-acting reversible contraception,” “Contraception FAQs: Intrauterine Device,” “Diaphragm,” “NuvaRing (vaginal ring),” “Combination birth control pills.”

National Cancer Institute: “Oral Contraceptives and Cancer Risk.”

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services: “Intrauterine Device (IUD),” “Birth Control Shot,” “Birth control methods.”

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