I spoke to Dr. Alyssa Dweck, MS, MD, FACOG to gain some medical insight about changes women may experience in their bodies after they've stopped using the Pill. Dr. Dweck is an OB/GYN practicing in Westchester County, New York at Mount Kisco Medical Group. She is also the co-author of V is for Vagina Your A-Z Guide to Periods, Piercings, Pleasures and So Much More.
In our conversation, Dr. Dweck discussed the uniqueness of each woman's reaction to birth control pills, which means her body will also uniquely react to ending their use. The best way to predict how your body may respond, Dr Dweck explained, is to consider why you began to take it in the first place. Did you want to treat your acne? Do you suffer from Polycystic Ovary Cyndrome? Heavy periods and awful menstrual cramps? Dr. Dweck emphasized that age also plays a role in how the body responds.
It is an exciting time for birth control; Dr. Dweck now sees young women at her practice asking for IUDs by name. Times are changing, and women of all ages are more knowledgeable about their many birth control options, meaning more women will feel confident that they can stop using the Pill if it hasn't worked for them. So let's explore what might happen when you stop taking your birth control pills:
1. You can get pregnant right away.
There is a misconception amongst some women that, once off the Pill, it takes time for fertility to return. This is simply not the case. Your ability to conceive returns immediately (barring individual complications, of course) as soon as you stop ingesting the extra estrogen or progesterone. Of course, if you have stopped birth control in order to become pregnant, this is wonderful news. However, if you have stopped only because you want to change contraceptive methods, then you must immediately take action to continue pregnancy prevention - whether that means using condoms, having an IUD or NuvaRing inserted, etc. There are even Center for Disease Control and Prevention studies that suggest conceiving immediately after stopping birth control pills increases the chance of having twins!
For women who do stop taking birth control intending to become pregnant, Dr. Dweck stresses the importance of considering your age when assuming that your fertility will "go back to exactly what it had been." When did you start taking the pill, and how old are you now? As Dr. Dweck explains, if women sometimes begin taking birth control as early as 15 years old, and then stop at age 30 in order to conceive, they won't return to the fertility of a teenager. It is important to consider the significance of your changing age, says Dr. Dweck, when understanding the effects of halted birth control.
2. Your weight may fluctuate in either direction.
It is not unusual for women to experience changes in their weight after stopping the Pill. Dr. Dweck says that commonly "one-third of women will lose weight, one-third will gain weight, and one-third will stay the same." If you had been taking pills with higher estrogen levels, weight loss may be more likely to occur since increased estrogen can often cause water retention. Increased hormones at any level can also lead to weight gain, so your body may drop a few pounds after reverting to its normal hormonal state. However, some women report an increased appetite afterward.
3. Your acne may return, and you might experience other changes in your skin as well.
"There are several pills specifically meant to help with acne," Dr. Dweck says, and it is especially common for teenagers to start taking the Pill not only to prevent pregnancy, but to improve their acne-prone skin. The presence of the progesterone hormone plays an active role in pills that specifically fight acne; however, all pills' reduce testosterone production, which reduces the presence of acne as well. If you had been taking the Pill to combat severe acne, then pimples might show up again when you stop. Age matters when predicting this outcome. If you began taking birth control when you were a pubescent 15 year old, then there is a chance you'll have outgrown your acne if you stop using it as an adult.
Another skin-related side effect that some women on the Pill experience is sun sensitivity. As a result, ceasing to take birth control may cause changes in skin pigmentation and/or lessen the frequency of sunburns.
4. Don't be afraid of a little boob shrinkage.
5. Your mood may be affected in different ways.
HoweverIf you had taken birth control in order to lessen the mood swings and/or depression brought on by PMS or PMDD (Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder - in which anxiety and depression symptoms are more severe), those feelings of sadness and hopelessness may unfortunately return once you've stopped taking it. This happens because birth control stops ovulation, which can help regulate the hormonal changes that often cause PMS and PMDD. Again, this will only happen if lessened PMS/PMDD symptoms had been a personal benefit of birth control.
6. Pay extra attention to changes in your period.
When some women stop the Pill, they experience post-pill amenhorrea, meaning you may not get your period for a couple of months. Again, Dr. Dweck stresses that this does not mean you won't get pregnant from unprotected sex. If you don't get your period but have had sex, you should definitely still check for pregnancy. If you go without a period for three-four months and are certain that you have not become pregnant, Dr. Dweck suggests seeing a doctor. It may be the sign of another underlying condition (such as oligo-ovulation), or a doctor may simply prescribe you some medication that will jump start your menstrual cycle's return.
7. Symptoms of other disorders may come back, but you can treat them in new ways!
I mentioned about how women who used the Pill to curb acne and PMS/PMDD symptoms might experience a recurrence of these issues after quitting. Similarly, the Pill is sometimes used to treat severe menstrual cramps, heavy periods, endometriosis, and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS); complications from these disorders may arise again without help from the Pill's therapeutic qualities. Thankfully, as stated earlier, an increasing number of women are no longer solely relying on the Pill since they can attain treatment for these disorders through other birth control methods such as the IUD. Saying goodbye to the Pill doesn't mean saying goodbye to defenses against pregnancy and the struggles of a complex reproductive system. Keep your options open!
And remember, condoms are the only contraceptives that can protect you from STIs!
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