In the 14 years I’ve been on the Pill, I’ve gone off it once. Fed up with the dating scene in New York City and convinced the Pill was behind my recent weight gain, I quit taking oral contraceptives. But my break-up with the Pill lasted just one month. Yup, in those 30 days I managed to meet my future husband. The irony isn’t lost on me.
In that short time span, I didn’t get a taste of life after the Pill. So for half my life, all I’ve known are cramp-free, light, and regular periods. I never worry about getting pregnant because I know the chances are slim to none if I take my birth control pills daily. Conversely, there are myriad reasons women choose to stop taking the Pill, including the desire to have a child, adverse side effects, or a distaste for ingesting synthetic hormones. But what really happens when you go off the Pill? What are some of the side effects?
According to Dr. Christine Derzko (MD), an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Toronto, women who menstruated regularly before going on oral contraceptives will continue to have regular periods once they quit taking the Pill. She says this is the case for about 75% of women, and if you fall into this category you can expect to get your period four to six weeks after popping your last pill.
In the event you don’t get your period within three to four months of stopping the Pill, and neither your weight nor your health have changed since you began taking it, Dr. Derzko recommends a visit to the doctor. It might be that you’re pregnant and don’t know, or there’s another explanation for why you’re not menstruating that should be looked into. That said, if your period was irregular pre-Pill, it’s likely you’ll continue to have irregular cycles once you go off it, explains Dr. Derzko.
While a doctor’s opinion is second to none, we were also interested in hearing what women who have gone off the Pill have to say. For instance, when Ali, 28, stopped taking oral contraceptives, the inconsistent periods and menstrual cramps she had before she quit taking oral contraceptives both returned. The silver lining is her cramps aren’t as painful as they used to be. Gessica, 29, underwent a similar experience, plus she got another not-so-pleasant surprise: heavy bleeding. The pill suppresses ovulation says Dr. Derzko, which is why when you’re no longer ingesting the tablets it’s normal for your menstrual cycle to go back to its unfettered ways. Get excited because heavy bleeding, spotting, cramps, bloating, and tender breasts are all possibilities.
Get excited because heavy bleeding, spotting, cramps, bloating, and tender breasts are all possibilities.
The Pill is the most popular form of birth control in America, but many women, including Mandy, 29, chose it over other forms of contraception because of its skin-clearing benefits. While you’re on the Pill, the ovaries aren’t producing the male hormone testosterone, which is the same hormone responsible for acne, explains Dr. Derzko. Ever wonder why guys get more zits than girls? Testosterone, that’s why. Unfortunately, when you stop taking the Pill your skin may break out again. In Mandy’s case, her acne didn’t return, but it could be because she got pregnant five months after going off birth control pills, which can also affect the skin.
It’s been written that the Pill can reduce one’s sex drive, but Dr. Derzko generally disagrees. “Libido is a weird thing, the problem is we don’t really know what it means. For most women on the pill it makes no difference for their libidos,” she says. However, she has had patients tell her their sex drive improved after they stopped the Pill. In this instance, an increase in testosterone levels may be the reason, but Dr. Derzko says it remains uncertain whether the hormone affects one’s libido.
According to Dr. Derzko, it’s a myth you’ll lose weight once you quit swallowing your tablets. But for Elise, 28, going off the pill was the only way she could shed the five to seven pounds she’d gained since she started taking oral contraceptives. She says the pill significantly increased her appetite. As far as Dr. Derzko is concerned, you shouldn’t be gaining weight on the pill to begin with, and you shouldn’t be losing weight afterwards.
An important thing to remember when going off the Pill is pregnancy is an immediate possibility.
An important thing to remember when going off the Pill is pregnancy is an immediate possibility. We’re talking the next day kind of immediate, because the hormones in today’s low dosage pills (10-20 mcg’s of estrogen) remain in the body for just 24 hours. It’s why Dr. Derzko warns her patients who are on these low dosage brands they can get pregnant if they so much as forget to take their pill for an entire day.
Dr. Derzko isn’t aware of any negative consequences tied to being on the pill for an extended period of time, and says a link between the Pill and infertility has yet to be established. And while some doctors were previously worried if you got pregnant right after stopping the pill, you had an increased risk of miscarriage, those concerns have proved to be mostly unfounded. So now that you have the information, you can decide to stay on the Pill, or quit in peace.