Most of us are aware that taking the pill can result in unwanted side effects, but what happens when you decide to stop taking birth control pills? Will your body simply return to normal? Well, that depends.
The pill remains to be the most popular birth control method for people aged 15 to 49 in the UK, but if you’re ready to switch to an alternative method or you simply want to stop altogether, then you should be prepared for changes.
What are the side effects of stopping birth control?
It’s important to note that not all people experience side effects when coming off the pill. For some women, they notice very little change to their physical and mental health. But for others, there could be dramatic changes.
Melody Coleman, a personal trainer, writer and speaker, told us that coming off the pill was challenging for her. Melody started taking the pill when she was 16 and continued up until she was 29. She wanted to quit taking hormonal contraception to improve her health but found herself struggling instead. “My periods are increasingly heavier and more painful, and there have been times I’ve been in such agony I’ve considered calling an ambulance,” she says.
Alongside this, she also experienced mood swings, skin breakouts, and pain in one of her ovaries at the time of ovulation. Melody’s experience isn’t uncommon. As Sohère Roked, a consultant GP at Omniya Clinic explains, the body needs time to readjust to your own hormone balance. During this time, people can experience issues with moods and energy. It can take 4 to 6 months for your periods to return, which can be a distressing or confusing experience for some people as well.
How long could symptoms last for?
Some of these symptoms, such as bloating and acne, may last for up to 6 months, according to Roked. But some symptoms can be explained by the lack of synthetic hormones. The pill works by thinning out the uterine lining, which can make periods lighter, less painful, and more manageable for some people. If your periods were painful or heavy before you started birth control, then you may find that your periods return to the way that they were. This can be shocking and upsetting for many people, especially if they have been on birth control for many years and forgotten what their periods used to be like.
How to treat symptoms?
Some symptoms can be managed through dietary and lifestyle changes. “I recommend my patients who are stopping the pill keep a diary to monitor their cycles,” says Roked. “I also recommend taking Zinc, B vitamins and Magnesium which can all help your natural production of hormones to come back after stopping the pill.”
Eating a whole-foods, balanced diet with plenty of vegetables can help with bloating, acne, cramps, and other unwanted side effects. Some people see a big improvement in symptoms when cutting out inflammatory foods like sugar, gluten and refined grains, especially in the week leading up to their period.
If symptoms persist or you are struggling with painful, heavy periods then you should discuss this with your doctor right away. Roked sometimes recommends taking bio or body identical hormones to his patients, which can help to reduce or eliminate symptoms.
Benefits of coming off the pill
Putting potential side effects to one side – there are a lot of benefits that can come from quitting the pill. For some people who can’t tolerate synthetic hormones, giving up hormonal birth control can greatly improve their health. If you experience chronic bloating, headaches, nausea, mood swings, weight gain and low libido, some of these symptoms could go away completely after your body returns to normal.
The mental impact can be significant, too. For anyone experiencing anxiety, depression and brain fog while on the pill, going off it can give you some mental clarity and restore your energy levels. Everyone reacts to the hormones differently. While some people will feel their best on the pill, others will feel a great relief when they stop taking it.
Alternative options to the pill
Unless you’re coming off the pill with the intention of getting pregnant, then you’ll need to find an alternative contraception method that works for you. Here are some of the best non-hormonal options:
This T-shaped copper device that’s inserted into the womb releases copper and protects against pregnancy. The copper IUD is a popular choice as once it’s fitted it can stay in for up to 10 years, and it’s over 99% effective at preventing pregnancy. The downside isthe fitting can be painful and equally, your periods could become more painful and heavier, too. You should speak to your doctor who can discuss the risks and whether the copper IUD is a good option for you.
Condoms are the only form of birth control that protects against STDs, so some people use them alongside another form of protection. They can be used alone, as when they are used perfectly, they are up to 98% effective. The main downside is that accidents can happen and imperfect use of condoms is common – this can bring the effectiveness down to 85%.
Diaphragm or cap
A diaphragm or a cap is inserted into the vagina and used with spermicide to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. If used correctly every time, it can be 92 – 96% effective. However, the diaphragm or cap needs to be left in for 6 hours after intercourse and it can take some time figuring out how to use it correctly.