What to Expect When You Stop Taking the Pill

January 19, 2010

So you have finally decided to stop relying on hormone-based contraception and you are wondering what to expect as your body adjusts. You might also wonder where you go from here, in terms of reliable family planning options, if you are still not ready to get pregnant.

For every woman, getting off the pill (or vaginal ring, IUD, patch and implant) will entail a unique and personal set of concerns and circumstances. Women’s bodies are all different from a physiological and hormonal standpoint, thus reactions to starting and stopping medications can vary. Many women will experience a significant delay until their menstrual cycle returns to normal, yet others will resume having a period without skipping a beat. It all depends on your body’s response to eliminating synthetic hormones and chemicals from your system. While no one can predict for certain how your body will react, here are some common side-effects and results women frequently experience:

Post Birth Control Pill Amenorrhea
Typically, women will resume ovulating within a few weeks of discontinuing hormone-based birth control; however, many do experience a condition called amenorrhea, which is the ongoing absence of menstruation. When you stop taking the pill (or using any form of hormone-based birth control) your body must start producing the hormones which are responsible for ovulation and regulating menstruation. Often, your body will take its time getting back into balance and producing these hormones.
What you can do: Relax
If you were using your method for a significant length of time, it might take a while for it to hormonally rebalance and readjust. The monthly bleeding you experienced on the pill was a false period, or what is called a “withdraw bleed” resulting from a brief halt to the estrogen and progestin that was released in the first 21 days of your contraception. If your period does not resume within three months, be sure to take a pregnancy test to determine if you are pregnant. If your period does not return within five months, schedule an appointment with your OB/GYN to evaluate if there is a more serious issue to address.

Irregular Periods
Many women who suffered irregular periods before using hormone-based contraceptives will continue this pattern of irregularity when they stop taking the pill. Yet, others whose periods were like clockwork prior to using hormonal birth control might notice a brief bout of cycle irregularity when they initially discontinue the method, and then return to a predictable cycle. Again, women’s bodies are all unique and it is impossible to predict how quickly one’s cycle will return to normal. It is reasonable to expect a period of fluctuations of your cycle as your body returns to its natural rhythm.
What you can do: Natural Measures
Approximately 70% of women experience irregular menstruation, with a higher instance for those approaching menopause. There are natural measures one can take when menstrual irregularity is a way of life, not only a temporary issue. First, lifestyle improvements that include a healthy diet, regular exercise and natural remedies will improve the condition.

•    Maintaining a regular eating schedule (don’t skip meals!) with an ample intake of fruits, vegetables, hormone-free meats and poultry and Omega-3 rich fish, while avoiding dairy products, fried foods, refined sugars, caffeine and alcohol will not only help to regulate hormones, but also reduce PMS symptoms. Stay hydrated by drinking lots of water. 
•    Physical activity is essential to keeping your hormones in balance and PMS symptoms at bay. Certain yoga poses will increase circulation to abdominal organs and open up the pelvis and lower back to decrease pain and inflammation. If yoga isn’t your thing, even a daily brisk walk will provide innumerable benefits for body, mind and spirit. 
•    Natural and herbal remedies have been used for centuries to regulate the menstrual cycle. Herbal remedies for boosting fertility are said to offer the same benefits.

Headaches, Breast Tenderness and Nausea

When discontinuing hormone-based birth control methods some women report uncomfortable side-effects including breast swelling and tenderness, occasional headaches and instances of nausea. There is no definitive answer to why this happens that we could find, but most clinical reports point towards a hormonal shift that naturally occurs as a woman’s physiology takes over where synthetic hormones left off.
What you can do: Be gentle with yourself
Women’s bodies are designed to withstand profound hormonal shifts with resilience (we bear children) and to bounce back. This too shall pass. If you experience side-effects for a prolonged period of time, always consult your physician.

Unintended Pregnancy
Unintended pregnancy can be the most serious result of stopping hormonal birth control. The best way to protect yourself and avoid pregnancy is to choose a reliable alternative that you find most comfortable to use. There are plenty of great non-invasive and natural options available that can be used alone or in combination.
Options to consider:
•    Natural Family Planning using a fertility monitor designed for women who want to pinpoint with accuracy the window of ovulation each month and determine when they are fertile. It is NOT a method of birth control, but a sophisticated method which can help you better determine exactly when you need to use birth control to prevent pregnancy.
•    The Today Sponge is a safe and reliable hormone-free method of contraception that is purchased over the counter. The vaginal sponge birth contraceptive is a flexible and cost-effect way to provide protection for up to 24 hours. Today Sponge is an excellent accompaniment to the Lady-Comp.
•    Premium Condoms. Condoms have evolved dramatically over the years and now come in various thicknesses, textures and materials designed to suit the needs of women and even the environment. Our favorites include Kimono MicroThin Ultra Lubricated, the world’s only vegan condom Glyde and the first ever female condom– the FC Condom.

And now for the good news…

Ending your reliance on hormone-based birth control is a serious decision and a natural step towards a body in balance with nature. Living in a world in which we are unwillingly exposed to so many toxins and chemicals, eliminating those we can in our food, water, personal care products and fertility management regimes is often within our control.

Many women who have stopped taking the pill have reported the following positive results:
•    Weight loss
•    Increase in fertility
•    Increase in libido
•    Less intense PMS

•    Reduced risk of hormone birth control related side-effects including stroke, blood clots,  
      PE (Pulmonary Embolism), high-blood pressure, etc.
•    Reduced risk of bone loss associated with hormonal birth control methods
•    Reduced risk of some women’s cancers associated with hormonal birth control methods
•    A deeper relationship with one’s natural cycle