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Stopping the Pill? 10 Ways Your Body May Change

Medically Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on December 21, 2022

You probably felt a few changes when you started taking birth control pills, like nausea 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 (Annovera, NuvaRing), hormonal IUDs (KyleenaLilettaMirenaSkyla), injections (Depo-Provera) or an implanted rod (Nexplanon). 

Side Effects of Stopping the Pill After Prolonged Use

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 heavy flow will return. 

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.

5. You may have mid-month twinges. Most hormonal methods of birth control work by keeping you from ovulating. So once your body starts ovulating 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 certain pills) may have gained a few pounds, so the scale might go down when they stop using them. 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 libidos down, especially if they take very low-dose pills. A few women – about 15% in one study – may find themselves in the mood more often after they stop their hormonal 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 noncancerous breast problems, like fibrocystic breast disease, and for fibroids.

How to Stop Taking Birth Control 

It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor before you stop taking any type of birth control. 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. Here are specifics on how to stop various types of birth control.

The pill. 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 type contains only progestin instead of the usual estrogen and progestin. You can quit taking it 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 until you no longer wish to use it. But even if you want to stop using a diaphragm for birth control, leave yours in for at least 6 hours after you last have intercourse using it.

Vaginal ring. You put this flexible plastic into your vagina, much like a tampon. It has the same two hormones as the pill. You usually leave it in for 3 weeks, 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. 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 backup 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 Taking Birth Control

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.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Contraception: An International Reproductive Health Journal, November 2011.

Fertility and Sterility, May 2009.

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

“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.

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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