What Happens When You Stop—and Re-Start—Birth Control?

An extended break from hormonal contraception may lead to these symptoms.

If you've ever forgotten to take your birth control pill, you're not alone. About 39% of birth control users report having missed at least one dose of hormonal birth control in the past month. What's more, nearly half of birth control users stop taking the pill within the first 12 months.1

But what happens when you stop taking oral contraceptives for a few weeks, months, or even years? Learn more about what to expect if you stopped taking birth control for a month, then started again.

Woman holds birth control pills near her cell phone while resting hands on a desk.
Eloisa Ramos/Stocksy

Why Might Someone Stop Taking Their Birth Control Pills?

Hormonal birth control methods like oral contraceptives, often called simply "the pill," prevent pregnancy by releasing man-made versions of hormones that prevent ovulation each month. The combination pill contains both estrogen and progestin, while some people use progestin-only contraceptives.2

When used correctly, the pill is over 99% effective in preventing pregnancy.3 Naturally, some people stop taking hormonal birth control if they want to become pregnant.

However, there are many other reasons you may stop taking the pill for a week or two (or more), whether intentionally or not. Research suggests that birth control users often stop taking the pill temporarily for the following reasons:

  • Forgetfulness due to stress, grief, or anxiety1
  • Changes in schedule or daily routine1
  • Birth control side effects, such as headaches, weight gain, depression, and irregular bleeding4
  • Delays in birth control prescription, such as problems with health insurance5
  • Misunderstanding the correct way to take the pill1
  • Missing enough pills that you need a new pack1

What Can Someone Expect When They Stop Taking Their Pills?

Some birth control users notice the following symptoms when they stop taking the pill, even for a short time. Many of these symptoms are related to the hormones released by the pill.


Birth control users who suddenly stop taking the combination pill may experience migraines due to estrogen withdrawal. You're especially likely to develop migraine headaches just before your period starts, particularly if you had migraines before starting hormonal birth control.6

Period Changes

You might experience changes in your period after you stop taking hormonal birth control.7 These can range from longer, heavier periods to irregular bleeding or even amenorrhea (no period).8 If you were taking the pill to prevent severe premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms, such as heavy cramping, those symptoms could return.9

Usually, your typical menstrual cycle will return after you're off the pill for about three to six months.2


About 14% of birth-control users take the pill for reasons other than preventing pregnancy.1 For example, many people use the pill to clear up treatment-resistant acne. Without the balancing effects of hormonal birth control, your skin might break out again.10

Increased Sex Drive

Some oral contraceptives have sexual side effects, such as low libido and vaginal dryness. In fact, about 8% of people stop taking hormonal birth control because of sexual problems. After enough missed doses of the pill, you could notice an uptick in your sex drive.11

Hair Loss

Very rarely, people who suddenly stop (or start) taking the pill experience a form of temporary hair loss known as telogen effluvium (TE). Post-birth control hair loss is especially common among people with preexisting hair-related conditions, such as alopecia, and people whose family members have experienced hair loss.12

Return of Fertility

As soon as you stop taking hormonal birth control, you could start ovulating again. While you're not taking the pill, it's important to use another form of birth control (such as condoms or spermicide) if you don't want to get pregnant. You could get pregnant even if you haven't had a period since stopping birth control.8

When to Visit a Healthcare Provider

Talk to your gynecologist or another healthcare provider right away if you notice any side effects that get worse or persist after stopping birth control. They can recommend a different form of birth control, help you switch to a different pill, and/or assess you for any underlying health problems.

It's especially important to talk to your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Lack of menstrual period (amenorrhea) for six months or more8
  • Persistent or severe vaginal bleeding7
  • Psychological symptoms, such as depression, mood swings, or anxiety9
  • Severe or chronic migraine3
  • Extremely painful periods7
  • Sudden, unwanted weight changes13

You should also talk to a healthcare provider if you are pregnant or think you may be pregnant.8

What to Expect if You Go Back on the Pill

You may not experience major side effects if you stop taking the pill for a short time, such as a few days. However, there is always a risk of pregnancy if you skip or miss a pill—even if it's just one dose. If you've missed a single dose, take the missed pill as soon as you can and then continue taking the rest of the pills in your pack each day as prescribed. (That may mean taking two pills in one day, but that's OK.)14

However, if you've missed more than two doses of hormonal birth control, you have a higher chance of getting pregnant. Here's what you can do to prevent pregnancy in the meantime:14, 15

  • Keep taking one pill per day.
  • Use condoms or another barrier birth control method as a backup for at least a week.
  • Consider taking Plan B or another form of emergency contraception (the "morning after" pill).

If you start taking the pill again after several months or years, your body could need time to adjust to the hormonal changes. You might experience many of the same side effects that you did when you first started birth control, such as irregular bleeding, menstrual cycle changes, bloating, mood swings, and breast tenderness.2 For many people, these symptoms start to go away within a few months.3


Whether you accidentally skipped taking the pill for a few days or plan to stop taking it for several months, you could notice some changes in your body. Monitor your symptoms, and talk to your healthcare provider about any that get worse or don't go away. Ask your doctor about other options if you'd like to switch to a different form of birth control.


1. Fumero A, Marrero RJ, Peñate W, Bethencourt JM, Barreiro P. Adherence to oral contraception in young women: beliefs, locus of control, and psychological reactance. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021;18(21):11308. doi:10.3390/ijerph182111308

2. MedlinePlus. Birth control pills.

3. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Combined hormonal birth control: pill, patch, and ring.

4. Fruzzetti F, Perini D, Fornaciari L, Russo M, Bucci F, Gadducci A. Discontinuation of modern hormonal contraceptives: an Italian survey. Eur J Contracept Reprod Health Care. 2016;21(6):449-454. doi:10.1080/13625187.2016.1234598

5. Kavanaugh ML, Douglas-Hall A, Finn SM. Health insurance coverage and contraceptive use at the state level: findings from the 2017 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. Contracept X. 2019;2:100014. doi:10.1016/j.conx.2019.100014

6. Merki-Feld GS, Epple G, Caveng N, et al. Temporal relations in hormone-withdrawal migraines and impact on prevention- a diary-based pilot study in combined hormonal contraceptive users. J Headache Pain. 2017;18(1):91. doi:10.1186/s10194-017-0801-7

7. Lethaby A, Wise MR, Weterings MA, Bofill Rodriguez M, Brown J. Combined hormonal contraceptives for heavy menstrual bleeding. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2019;2(2):CD000154. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD000154.pub3

8. Girum T, Wasie A. Return of fertility after discontinuation of contraception: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Contracept Reprod Med. 2018;3:9. doi:10.1186/s40834-018-0064-y

9. Lete I, Lapuente O. Contraceptive options for women with premenstrual dysphoric disorder: current insights and a narrative review. Open Access J Contracept. 2016;7:117-125. doi:10.2147/OAJC.S97013

10. Słopień R, Milewska E, Rynio P, Męczekalski B. Use of oral contraceptives for management of acne vulgaris and hirsutism in women of reproductive and late reproductive age. Prz Menopauzalny. 2018;17(1):1-4. doi:10.5114/pm.2018.74895

11. de Castro Coelho F, Barros C. The potential of hormonal contraception to influence female sexuality. Int J Reprod Med. 2019;2019:9701384. doi:10.1155/2019/9701384

12. Mysore V, Parthasaradhi A, Kharkar RD, et al. Expert consensus on the management of Telogen Effluvium in India. Int J Trichology. 2019;11(3):107-112. doi:10.4103/ijt.ijt_23_19

13. Hwang JH. Treatment of postpill amenorrhea with abdominal obesity by traditional Korean medicine treatment focused on pharmacopuncture and moxibustion: a case report. Medicine (Baltimore). 2019;98(35):e16996. doi:10.1097/MD.0000000000016996

14. National Health Service. What should I do if I miss a pill (combined pill)?

15. UpToDate from Wolters Kluwer. Patient education: Birth control, which method is right for me? (Beyond the Basics).

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