Of all the major innovations and inventions of the past century, one that we are seriously grateful for on behalf of womankind everywhere is birth control. Having a variety of options when it comes to reproductive health is necessary, because much like pants, or sofas, or dresses, there is no “one size fits all” solution when it comes to family planning.
However, now that hormonal birth control is commonly prescribed, transitioning to life off of the pill might seem a bit intimidating–especially if you were prescribed birth control at a young age or have been on it for a long time. Any hormone-based medication will change how you feel, so you will probably notice at least some emotional and physical changes as you transition off of birth control.
Because there are so many different kinds of hormonal contraception and menstrual cycles vary from person to person, we recommend talking to your doctor if you are thinking of stopping birth control. But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s start with the basics: What exactly is going on in your body when you are taking hormonal BC?
There are a bunch of different kinds of hormonal birth control on the market, including the IUD, patch, implant, and more, but right now let’s talk about the most commonly-used form: The pill. While there are lots of variations between pill brands, most of them use a combo of synthetic progesterone (progestin) and estrogen to take over your natural cycle and create its own cycle with lower doses of these hormones. Progestin suppresses ovulation. Estrogen prevents those eggs from developing and getting released. The two of them together change the uterine lining as well as thicken your natural cervical mucus, which helps to block sperm from getting near an egg.
Now that we have that covered, below are some things to know before you start on your journey to transition off hormonal birth control.
You can get pregnant, ASAP
As soon as you start to ovulate again, you can get pregnant again, and this can happen at any time after you stop taking the pill (though most women start ovulating about two weeks later). Unless you are actively trying to get pregnant, you should start using another birth control method immediately. We recommend condoms! Especially the fair-trade, vegan kind. 😏
You will definitely experience a change in your period
One common misconception about hormonal birth control is that the bleed on the pill is a period. It’s actually called withdrawal bleeding. “Both a period and a pill bleed is a shedding of the uterine lining, that is true. The difference is how we define 'period'. So ‘period’ in a physiological sense, from a health perspective, is the menstrual cycle, which is a series of hormonal events. Ovulation is the main event,” says Lara Briden, author of the Period Repair Manual. “There was never a reason to bleed monthly on the pill.”
That is why the “period” you experience on birth control is often lighter or different than your actual period. When you stop taking the pill, your normal ovulation cycle will kick in again, and you will likely experience a period similar to what you had before you started birth control. Lots of cramping and heavy periods? PMS and mood swings? Light and easy? “They’re going to be like whatever they were before you started the pill,” says Briden.
You may get more in touch with your health
For some people, stopping the pill gives them a better picture of their overall health. “To be able to ovulate means being healthy in every way,” says Briden. “Like eating enough. Under eating is a big cause of women losing their periods. If you’re not eating enough to have a period, but you’ve been having drug-induced pill bleeds, it’s like it unmasks the monthly report card, which is what I call the menstrual cycle.”
Hormonal birth control can also offset the symptoms of some chronic disorders such as PCOS or Endometriosis. When you stop taking the pill, you might notice increased symptoms, in which case you should talk to your friendly neighborhood gyno.
You might see changes in your skin
Some people have found that birth control has a positive impact on their skin, clearing up their hormonal acne. Hormonal birth control reduces a hormone called androgen, which produces the natural oils on our skin.
Going off birth control allows your hormones to return to a state of flux, which can result in acne, especially those super deep, painful, cyst-like pimples that pop up around your jawline. If you notice changes in your skin, consult a dermatologist and provide context– they may be able to help you find an alternative solution to keep your skin acne free. Lifestyle changes, like diet, may help as well.
Your libido may increase
Finally–some good news! One side effect of hormonal birth control is reduced sex drive, so you may experience a post-pill surge of sexual energy due to a dramatic rise in your testosterone levels. 🔥Just remember to use another form of birth control while you are enjoying the ride. It’s nice to end on a high note, right?