Coming Off Birth Control? Here's What To Expect, According To A Doctor

When the birth control pill was introduced in 1950, it quickly became known for its ability to prevent unwanted pregnancy. Today, however, motives for going on birth control aren't limited to reproductive factors. For some, the decision to take birth control is guided by concerns like persistent breakouts or painful endometriosis flare-ups. Moreover, using hormonal birth control can soothe period cramps, regulate cycles, and even boost one's mood. According to research published in the medical database StatPearls, oral contraceptives are the most widely prescribed birth control medication in the United States.

While birth control can be a godsend, there are many reasons why someone might choose to stop taking contraceptives, from starting a family to resetting their hormones. The process can be jarring, as sudden shifts in hormones can lead to uncomfortable changes, like a resurgence of acne or menstrual spotting. To help better understand what to expect when stopping birth control, Glam exclusively consulted Dr. Nisarg Patel, MBBS, M.S., a practicing gynecologist and obstetrician at Nisha Women's Hospital.

Menstrual changes

The body's response to birth control can vary due to several factors, from the type of pill taken to one's individual physiology. As a result, stopping birth control can yield very different symptoms in different people. But one thing remains certain: "No matter which type of birth control you were using previously, coming off of it will likely result in some changes in your menstrual cycle," Dr. Patel exclusively tells Glam.

It's hard to predict exactly how your menstruation might be affected, however. "Your period may become more frequent or less frequent, and the duration of your cycle could become shorter or longer," explains Dr. Patel. Of course, your period can change due to other influences, such as aging, lifestyle changes, and stress levels. But removing the pill from the equation can lead to several other period-related concerns, too. "The amount and type of flow can also vary after coming off birth control," Dr. Patel says. 

With this in mind, it's vital to track your period and share any significant changes with your healthcare provider. Some symptoms, like excessive bleeding, may warrant further monitoring depending on their severity (via The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists).

Emotional changes

Not everyone experiences the effects of PMS, or premenstrual syndrome, though the Mayo Clinic estimates that three in four menstruating women have encountered it to some degree. One of the most common side effects of PMS is irritability or sadness just before one's period. For some people, birth control can greatly diminish the rollercoaster of emotions associated with PMS, per SIU School of Medicine. And according to Dr. Patel, the opposite may occur when the pill is discontinued. "It is important to be aware that you may experience some emotional changes as well when stopping your birth control," he exclusively tells Glam.

So if you find yourself tearing up during mundane episodes of your fave show, stopping birth control could very likely be to blame. "You may find yourself feeling moody, irritable, anxious, or depressed due to hormonal fluctuations while transitioning back to a non-hormonal form of contraception," Dr. Patel advises. "It's perfectly normal for emotions to swing up and down during this period — just try your best to stay mindful of how you're feeling and don't hesitate to reach out for support if needed." 

As such, don't hesitate to schedule a self-care night or two to help you weather any difficult moods. Still, if you continue to experience depressed feelings or anxiety, reach out to a trusted therapist, doctor, or crisis service for additional guidance.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Weight changes

One of the most obvious physical changes attributed to birth control use is weight gain or loss. What's more, the menstrual cycle itself may contribute to emotional eating or weight fluctuations, according to findings published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders. But according to Dr. Patel, shifts in appetite or weight can be influenced by stopping birth control. "It's not uncommon for weight to fluctuate when coming off of birth control," he exclusively explains to Glam. "This is due to changes in your body's hormonal balance, which can cause the levels of various hormones like insulin, cortisol, and thyroid hormone to become imbalanced."

Trying to manage sudden cravings or weight gain after stopping birth control can be tough, but these symptoms are typically short-lived. "Although this change should be temporary, it's still important to take steps to eat a healthy diet and get enough exercise as you make this transition," Dr. Patel tells Glam. Honoring your body through movement and nourishing it with whole foods is a good start, and drinking enough water can help flush out lingering water retention, according to a study in the European Journal of Nutrition. 

Though some level of discomfort is to be expected when stopping the pill, any unusual symptoms should be communicated to your gynecologist. Regardless of where you stand on your birth control journey, it's always best to have professional oversight along the way.