Going off Birth Control: 12 Ways Your Body Could Change

Experts weigh in about what might happen to your body after you stop using birth control.

If you're on birth control pills or any kind of hormonal birth control, you likely don't give your period all that much thought. Steady doses of hormones in certain contraceptives help regulate your cycle, meaning you know just when to expect your period every month. It's probably a lot shorter and easier than before you began taking birth control.

But what happens when you go off birth control? Here, OB-GYNs outline some side effects you can expect when you go off birth control.

birth control pills
Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

How Your Body Can Change

Hormonal birth control methods use hormones—usually, estrogen and/or progesterone—to prevent pregnancy. When you stop birth control, your body is no longer getting a regular supply of these hormones which can cause your body to change in different ways.

You Likely Won't Gain or Lose Any Weight

If you believe birth control leads to weight gain, you need to know that this isn't necessarily true. Going off of birth control likely won't help you lose or gain weight. According to one study, the birth control pill did not appear to have a major impact on weight.

″There has been no definitive evidence showing that starting—or stopping—birth control will affect your weight," Neha Bhardwaj, MD, assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive science at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, told Health.

Your Vitamin D Levels May Drop

Going off of birth control may impact your vitamin D levels. The participants in one study experienced a drop in vitamin D levels when they stopped taking birth control pills.

This is especially problematic for individuals who are trying to conceive since vitamin D helps support the fetal skeleton in pregnancy. When talking to a healthcare provider about going off birth control, ask about ways to increase your daily vitamin D intake.

Your Sex Drive Could Spike or Drop

Dr. Agnant told Health that some of her patients reported lower libidos when they started taking birth control pills. One study reported that birth control pills can cause sexual problems such as:

  • Inability to become aroused or maintain arousal
  • Inability to reach orgasm
  • Pain during sex

"This is most likely due to changes in hormonal production," Dr. Agnant said, adding that these individuals usually experience an increase in libido when they stop taking birth control.

You Could Get More Headaches

Headaches—migraines in particular—can be one of the effects of having a period. Approximately 78% of participants in one study reported their period to be a trigger for migraines.

Certain birth control methods, such as extended-cycle pills, let you skip periods or go longer between them and may prevent migraines. Stopping the use of these birth control methods could cause your periods to become more frequent, which may lead to more frequent headaches.

How Your Period May Change

You might start to wonder not only when you're going to get your "real" period back but also what it'll be like after not getting it for months or years.

Most people who stop taking birth control pills can expect their first period to return relatively quickly, within a month or so. Your menstrual cycle will likely return to how it was before birth control.

You May Bleed a Few Days (Or Months)

If you stop taking a combination hormonal birth control pill—which has both estrogen and progesterone—some tissue sheds off, which can cause a light bleed, Alyssa Dweck, MD, an OB-GYN and author of The Complete A to Z for Your V, told Health. This is also why you get a "fake" period on birth control pills during the week you take the placebo pills, Dr. Dweck explained.

"A withdrawal bleed, by definition, is progesterone being withdrawn and the bleeding that occurs," Dr. Dweck said. "A withdrawal bleed is not technically, by definition, a period because it is not a result of ovulation." After your withdrawal bleed, you still have to wait for your real period.

Think that because you've been on birth control for 10 years it's going to take forever to get your period back? That might not be the case.

"Generally, the side effects of birth control pills and the impact on suppressing the hormone pathways are rapidly reversible," Samantha Kempner, MD, an OB-GYN and an assistant professor at the University of Michigan, told Health. "Even with long-term use of the combination birth control pill, most women can expect to resume 'normal periods' quickly."

Still no period after three months? See a healthcare professional—they may want to check for issues like a thyroid condition or hormonal imbalances that could be keeping your period MIA.

Your Period Will Likely Go Back to What It Was Like Before

Think back: Why'd you go on birth control in the first place? Maybe it was because you were having sex and did not want to get pregnant. But many people start using hormonal contraceptives to help regulate an otherwise irregular cycle or control a condition like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which causes infrequent ovulation and an erratic cycle.

When coming off of birth control, Dr. Dweck said, your period will usually return to what it was pre-hormones. Did it come like clockwork every 28 days? Was it super irregular? You can likely expect that to return off of birth control, Dr. Dweck added.

Your Period Could Also Be Totally Different

The other side of that: If you've been on birth control for years, some things may have changed over time and could influence what your period looks like when you come off of birth control, according to Dr. Dweck; this may include:

  • Your age
  • Medical issues
  • Stress levels
  • Diet patterns
  • Exercise habits

Say, for example, that you developed a thyroid abnormality while you were on birth control. You might notice your period is more irregular than you remember because of that. Other period-related symptoms of thyroid problems include:

  • Amenorrhea—when your period stops for several months or longer
  • Having periods that are light or heavy

"Your period may be different when you come off the pill than it was before you went on, but that's completely unrelated to the pill itself," Dr. Dweck said.

You Can Get Pregnant Before You Get Your Period Again

When your body realizes you've stopped taking birth control (which Dr. Dweck added is usually immediately), you might begin to ovulate, which means you can get pregnant right away, Dr. Dweck added.

No period in sight? Dr. Dweck said: "Number one, two, and three on the list of why someone isn't getting their period after coming off the pill for a while is pregnancy, pregnancy, pregnancy."

You Could Experience Breast Tenderness

Many individuals report achy breasts before their period, thanks to the spike of progesterone that stimulates breast milk glands. Birth control can be used to treat breast tenderness, so going off it could bring the sensitivity back.

However, breast tenderness can also be a side effect of being on birth control, Guirlaine Agnant, MD, chair of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Montefiore Mount Vernon Hospital in Mount Vernon, New York, told Health.

So if you were dealing with tenderness while on birth control, ″stopping [it] will bring back normal breast tissue, and no tenderness should be experienced,″ Dr. Agnant added.

Your Mood Might Change

Researchers investigated the relationship between certain types of birth control and mood. They found that individuals were at a greater risk for developing mild depression when using:

  • Injectable combined contraceptives (birth control that is given as a shot)
  • Oral contraceptives over the course of a six-month period

For some people, being on birth control can alter the way you feel, and so can stopping its use. It may be possible that a person could see depressive or other mood-related symptoms go away after stopping birth control.

At the same time, a person's mood may not improve if they stop taking birth control. One case where this might occur is if someone has been diagnosed with premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), a condition that causes mood changes before your period.

Regularly taking active pills in an oral contraception pack has the potential to offer depressive-symptom relief for individuals diagnosed with PMDD. This suggests that the discontinuation of birth control could result in an increased instance of depressive symptoms.

How Your Skin Can Change

Your skin and hair may change as a result of going off of birth control.

You Could Get Acne

Many people take birth control pills to treat acne, so if you stop this treatment, the acne could return.

″Going off birth control pills may return acne symptoms to what they were before starting [birth control],″ Dr. Bhardwaj previously told Health. If you're worried about hormonal acne, talk to a dermatologist about alternatives, which may be as simple as switching your skincare products.

You May Have Some Hair Loss

If you dealt with hormonal-related hair loss—as a symptom of polycystic ovary syndrome—before you went on birth control, going off of birth control might bring it back.

Alternatively, taking birth control pills can also trigger telogen effluvium, a temporary condition that causes your hair to shed.

″Most women won't see a significant net effect on their hair after stopping birth control pills," Joshua Klein, MD, chief medical officer at Extend Fertility in New York City, previously told Health.

What To Do Before You Stop Birth Control

Stopping your birth control will depend on the type of birth control you use, but you'll want to speak to a healthcare professional first.

For oral contraceptives, you can simply stop taking them at any point in the pack. However, if you want to try to keep yourself on a regular schedule, you can stop after you've finished the last pill in the pack.

The same is true for contraceptive patches or rings: You can remove them anytime. Also, intrauterine devices (IUDs) and implanted rods must be removed by a healthcare professional.

A Quick Review

Before you go off birth control, know that your body may experience changes that affect your period, skin, and overall health. If you were experiencing symptoms before going on birth control, there is a chance that those symptoms may return.

Ultimately, if you have any questions or concerns about your birth control—if you want to discontinue them, switch them, or not—consult a healthcare professional for help.

Updated by
Kathleen Felton
Kathleen Felton is a writer, editor, and content strategist with several years of experience working in digital media. She is an expert in health, pregnancy, and women's lifestyle.
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