Tips For Determining If Your Birth Control Is Causing Side Effects

When the first oral contraceptive was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1960, it was groundbreaking. Finally, women could have control over their reproductive system, giving them the option to choose when they wanted to get pregnant. It also was a far cry from the spermicides made of crocodile poop and fermented dough that women were using in Ancient Egypt — you know, they had to start somewhere (via Our Bodies Ourselves Today).


But even though the Pill was one of the most important inventions of the 20th Century, it wasn't without its problem. As time would prove, hormonal birth control, whether it's in the form of a pill, patch, shot, implant, ring, or IUD, isn't always perfect.

Although, according to Planned Parenthood, if you're new to birth control, you're likely to experience side effects at the beginning, like headaches, spotting between periods, sore breasts, and even nausea, these should go away within the first couple of months. If they persist, then you should definitely talk to your doctor.

But not all birth control starts out with side effects. Instead, some effects develop over time and that's why it's so important that you determine if your birth control is causing more issues than it's worth. There are other options out there, but first, you need to pinpoint the problem so you can accurately let your doctor know.


Ask your OB-GYN what you should expect

Once you and your doctor have decided what's the best birth control method for you, you want to make sure you talk to them about what possible side effects you can expect and what side effects will be indicative that something isn't right (via Mayo Clinic). Granted, you'll be sent home with a very long list of possible side effects, but like all medications, some of these are more common than others, so you absolutely want to have that chat with your doctor, so you're not hit with any major surprises — and so you can be aware of what's not "normal" when it comes to birth control side effects. 


It's important to realize that birth control isn't one size fits all, and those who are at higher risks of strokes, cancer, as well as heart and liver diseases should steer clear of hormonal birth control (via Embry Women's Health). Smoking, too, if you use the patch, can cause even higher risks of these medical issues.

Keep track of any physical changes

If you start to realize that either your initial side effects haven't faded in the first few months or new side effects have reared their ugly head over time, then you want to start keeping a journal so you can chronicle everything. From physical and mental changes to even the ups and downs of your menstrual flow. Especially if the latter becomes erratic.


"Monitor for a few cycles, then discuss with your clinician," associate professor and chief of general obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine Jessica Kiley, MD, MPH tells SELF.

Signs to look out for, in addition to what's going on inside your reproductive system, are excessive migraines and the thickening of the cornea in your eyes (via Medical News Today). It might sound strange that hormonal birth control would affect the eyes, but where hormones are concerned, anything can happen.

Keep track of any mental changes

Hormonal birth control can have either a positive or negative effect on emotions and our overall mental state. But it's when it's negative that you should be concerned and, therefore, track it in your journal.


A 2016 study found that hormonal birth control can cause depression in some women (via JAMA Psychiatry). If this is something you notice about yourself and you're someone who's never dealt with depression, ever, in your life, then this is something you want to notice and write down. For example, how often are the feelings of depression? Is it every day, or does it seem to just pop up at certain points in your menstrual cycle?

Also, if you start having suicidal thoughts, not only should you track when you have those thoughts but reach out to your doctor immediately. Research has found that the hormonal shifts that come with birth control can lead to a higher risk of suicide (via Natural Library of Medicine).


If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Take a break from your birth control

If your side effects are interfering in your day-to-day life and the only change has been taking birth control, then take a break from it. If you're on the Pill, you can stop at any time, meaning you don't have to finish the pack, and if you have an IUD, you can make an appointment to have it removed for a bit. As of yet, there's no evidence to suggest that taking a break from your birth control is bad for you (via Healthline). However, even though it can take a bit for your period to return, it doesn't mean you can't get pregnant.


Once you stop taking it, journal about your body and mental state for the next three months that follow. According to Planned Parenthood, it takes a few months for your body to get back on track, which also means it will take a few months to determine if it was your birth control that was negatively affecting you.

Listen to your body

Sadly, we live in a culture where getting male doctors to listen to their female patients is a struggle. Even though we know our bodies and know when something isn't right, we're often dismissed.

"I can't tell you how many women I've seen who have gone to see numerous doctors, only to be told their issues were stress-related or all in their heads," neurologist and director of wellness and health in the department of neurosurgery at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Dr. Fiona Gupta tells The New York Times. "Many of these patients were later diagnosed with serious neurological problems, like multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease. They knew something was wrong but had been discounted and instructed not to trust their own intuition."


Because of this, you need to advocate for yourself, take the necessary steps to determine if your birth control is making you sick, and not back down when you tell your doctor what's going on — all that chronicling of symptoms and changes will help you with your case.

But just because one type of birth control doesn't work out for you doesn't mean there isn't another one that will fit perfectly. There are six different methods of hormonal birth control on the market (via Clue). Even if it's a trial-and-error process, you'll definitely find the best one for you eventually.