What Happens When You Stop Birth Control?

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Women stop taking hormonal birth control for a variety of reasons. They may be considering getting pregnant or are interested in balancing their hormones naturally. Maybe they just don’t like how they feel on birth control.

The benefits of getting off birth control include fewer side effects associated with hormonal contraception, including a reduced blood clot risk. You’ll also get to know your body’s natural signals.

Side effects of quitting birth control may look different from person to person, and different types of contraception or the length you’ve taken birth control may cause different physical changes. We’ll get into some of the most common side effects to look out for when you stop birth control.

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1. Increased Fertility

While this one seems obvious, many women aren’t prepared for just how quickly ovulation can return to normal.

In a systematic review of women who stopped oral contraceptives, over 80% became pregnant within the first year after stopping birth control. Some became pregnant within weeks.

Expect regular ovulation to begin within a few weeks of stopping most hormonal birth control methods. If you’re not ready to become pregnant, have a plan in place to prevent that from happening, such as barrier methods like condoms and diaphragms.

2. Changes in Menstruation

Any hormonal changes in your body typically accompany changes to your menstrual cycle. That includes post-birth control syndrome.

Post-birth control syndrome is a term used to describe symptoms or side effects that may occur after stopping hormonal birth control. That includes changes to fertility, mood, and skin health, but also irregular periods.

A perk for many women on hormonal contraception is more control over menstruation. If you still experienced irregular periods on birth control, however, changes in your menstrual cycle may not be as obvious.

Some women experience withdrawal bleeding when they stop hormonal birth control. If you’ve been on combination pills, withdrawal bleeding mimics menstruation around the time a natural period would occur.

Others may experience breakthrough bleeding or a lack of regular periods for several months as one of the side effects of stopping the pill after prolonged use. This can depend on your menstrual history before starting birth control.

3. Menstrual Cramps

If you experienced bad cramps around your period before starting birth control, those cramps may come back when you stop. The good news is, they shouldn’t be worse than they were before contraception.

Patients with extreme lower abdominal pain after stopping birth control should talk to their primary care doctor or gynecologist. Conditions like endometriosis or uterine fibroids can cause pain and cramping during menstruation. Estrogen dominance may also be at play.

4. Premenstrual Syndrome

Women who suffered from severe premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms before hormonal contraception will likely see those PMS symptoms return after stopping birth control. These generally include:

  • Mood swings
  • Fatigue
  • Food cravings
  • Bloating
  • Nausea

Managing those symptoms without birth control can feel daunting, but these lifestyle changes can dramatically improve PMS symptoms:

  • Eat a balanced diet high in protein, fiber, and healthy fats.
  • Get regular exercise.
  • Practice good sleep hygiene.
  • Manage your stress.

For persistent PMS symptoms like bouts of nausea after stopping birth control, talk to your doctor. They can check for conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) that worsen PMS or may be the main culprit behind your symptoms.

5. Breast Tenderness

Breast tenderness is a common PMS symptom, but it can also be a side effect of birth control withdrawal. Whether your symptoms worsen or improve depends on how you felt before contraception.

If you experienced achy, tender breasts during your period before taking birth control, that can return. If your breasts were more sensitive during certain times of the month on birth control, those feelings may go away.

Some women also notice changes in the fullness of their breast tissue when they stop birth control. That loss of volume has to do with the effects of the hormones on your breast tissue. You likely won’t drop a full cup size, but your breasts may look and feel different post-birth control.

6. Hair Pattern Changes

Some women may experience thinning hair or an increase in body hair after stopping birth control. For most, hair shedding is a temporary side effect.

If you’re experiencing hirsutism, or excessive growth of body hair, you could be dealing with a hormonal condition like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is associated with an increase in androgens, or male sex hormones.

Excessive body hair, weight gain, and irregular periods because of excess androgens are classic symptoms of PCOS.

7. Acne

Some women start birth control at an early age as a way to manage hormonal acne. Once you stop, you may see your old skin issues return.

You don’t need to suffer through those teenage years again. Talk to your dermatologist before you quit your birth control. They can help you with strategies to keep your skin healthy while your hormones are in flux.

Your primary care doctor may also suggest allergen testing to improve overall skin health from food sensitivities. 

8. Higher Sex Drive

Any changes to hormone levels can cause changes to your sex drive. Women who experienced diminished libido or vaginal dryness while on hormonal birth control may regain a higher sex drive when they stop taking oral contraceptives.

Others may find that hormonal birth control was masking underlying sexual dysfunction. If this sounds like you, talk to your doctor. Libido can also be affected by other hormonal changes like menopause, certain medications, or chronic stress.

9. Headaches

While some women report improvements in headaches after stopping birth control, others use birth control to manage menstrual migraines. When you stop birth control, these headaches may return.

To treat migraines and other headaches after stopping birth control, it’s important to pinpoint the root of your symptoms. Birth control may have been masking an underlying hormone imbalance.

Menstruation, in general, can be a migraine trigger for some women. Anti-inflammatories in the days leading up to your period can help. High-quality sleep, regulated blood sugar, and stress management are also beneficial.

10. Mood Swings

Birth control can cause mood swings in users with a history of depression. It can also help  manage mood changes in others. Any change to contraceptive use has the potential to affect your mood and your mental health.

A hormonal imbalance can cause depression or worsen anxiety symptoms, and that imbalance can happen both on and off your chosen form of contraception.

Simple nutrition changes can support a healthy mind, especially when your gut health is compromised. It’s important to discuss any significant mood changes with your physician.

11. Changes in Blood Pressure

Hormonal birth control that contains estrogen can cause hypertension in some women. In those cases, it’s best to stop taking estrogen immediately in favor of progesterone or hormone-free contraceptives.

Even women who did not experience noticeable increases in blood pressure may see a dip in their numbers at their first doctor’s visit after stopping birth control. 

12. Gut Health

A positive benefit of a hormone-free approach is a healthier gut barrier. Studies show that contraceptives with estrogen affect intestinal permeability, potentially causing leaky gut syndrome. That can lead to bloating, nausea, abdominal pain, and chronic fatigue.

If you’re on hormonal birth control that contains estrogen, it could already be affecting your gut. 

Meta-analyses show a link between the development of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and oral contraceptive use. While there is no cure for IBD, you can make changes to heal your gut and balance your microbiome after stopping birth control. 

A balanced diet high in fiber and anti-inflammatories, stress management, and supplements can help if you’re suffering through symptoms like diarrhea after stopping birth control.

13. Changes in Sleep Patterns

Any hormonal changes have the potential to mess with high-quality sleep. The return of PMS symptoms like cramping, bloating, and nausea could obviously disrupt your rest, even if it’s just temporary.

On a more positive note, some hormonal contraceptives like combination pills are linked to sleep inefficiency. That’s the amount of time you spend in bed actually asleep vs. the time spent lying in bed. 

In that case, stopping birth control could benefit your sleep-wake cycles. It could also improve any fatigue and daytime sleepiness you may have been feeling on contraceptives from that building sleep deficit.

14. Lower Vitamin D Levels

Women on estrogen-based contraceptives tend to have higher levels of vitamin D. Researchers aren’t sure exactly how this works, but there seems to be a positive link between estrogen and the vitamin. When they stop taking birth control, that can mean a drop in vitamin D.

This one shouldn’t give you much pause if you’re thinking about stopping birth control. Vitamin D levels may normalize over time on their own, but spending more time outdoors or adding a vitamin D supplement to your diet can give you the boost you need long-term.

How to Manage Birth Control Withdrawal Symptoms

Many of the negative side effects of stopping birth control resolve over time. Side effects may differ based on the type of birth control options you used, whether that’s oral contraceptives, rings, patches, or an intrauterine device (IUD).

Some women report longer spans of post-pill amenorrhea, or the absence of a regular period, after stopping combination birth control pills. Others find that their cycles are much less predictable after a progestin-only form of birth control like the minipill.

If you’re on a non-hormonal method like a copper IUD, you may not notice many side effects at all after an IUD removal. 

For lingering concerns, symptom management depends on the condition. Lifestyle changes can improve symptoms made worse by bad diet or chronic stress.

In rare cases, some women experience disturbances to their natural cycles for up to 9 months. Most women see their side effects peak in the first few months.

There are some natural ways to rebalance your hormones post-birth control:

  • Eat plenty of protein and fiber.
  • Avoid sugar and caffeine.
  • Try probiotics.
  • Spend time outside to soak up some vitamin D.
  • Get good sleep.
  • Manage your stress levels.

When managing side effects, it’s important to consider that there may be more to them than your birth control. You know your body best, so it’s important to empower yourself to seek out long-term solutions.


Can stopping birth control cause weight gain?

Stopping birth control pills may cause weight gain. How your body reacts can depend on how it retains water, your body type, and your lifestyle. A healthy diet and regular exercise can go a long way in managing potential weight gain after stopping birth control.

If you notice dramatic changes in your weight, there may be something else going on. Conditions like hypothyroidism may cause weight gain. At PrimeHealth, we address hypothyroidism by looking at everything from gut imbalances to stress and come up with a plan from there. 

What is the safest way to stop taking hormonal birth control?

The safest way to stop taking hormonal birth control is under the care of your primary healthcare provider or OB-GYN. That’s the best way to manage side effects and make sure there aren’t any gaps in contraception if you still wish to prevent pregnancy.

Can you stop birth control cold turkey?

You can stop birth control cold turkey, but it could cause immediate changes like mood swings and irregular periods. You could also become pregnant. If you’re on oral contraceptives, medical advice may be to finish out your pill pack.

How long does birth control withdrawal last?

Birth control withdrawal can last anywhere from several days to several months as your body adjusts to new hormone levels. Individual experiences vary based on your menstrual history, the kind of contraception you used, how long you were on it, and your overall health.

How soon can you conceive after stopping birth control?

One can conceive as soon as ovulation resumes after stopping birth control, assuming there is no other condition preventing pregnancy. Some are able to get pregnant within a few months, while others may wait up to a full year as part of their family planning. It depends on things like contraceptives used and the duration of use.

Is there a connection between HPV risk and hormonal birth control?

Birth control alone does not cause HPV, and you cannot contract HPV from contraceptives. However, there is limited evidence that long-term exposure to hormonal birth control may alter cervical cells in a way that increases the risk of cervical cancer for individuals who contract HPV. Research in this area is unclear, so take this with a grain of salt when making health decisions.

What are the common side effects after stopping birth control injections like Depo-Provera?

Common side effects after stopping birth control injections like Depo-Provera include irregular menstruation, mood swings, headaches, and a potential delay in a return to fertility. This is similar to the side effects of NuvaRing after stopping or the side effects of Yaz after stopping.

Specific to Depo-Provera, some women also experience flu-like symptoms and changes in bone density after the birth control shot.

Women’s Health Done Right

At PrimeHealth, we work with women at every point in their journey toward better reproductive health and hormonal balance. If you think you’d like to try non-hormonal contraceptive methods, we can help.

If you’re experiencing side effects from discontinuing any method of birth control, we can help with that, too.

For women in Colorado, our Women’s Health Group Program can help bring your body back into balance. Our program starts with lab testing to pinpoint obstacles to hormonal health from the inside out.

From there, group sessions remind you that you’re not alone on your wellness journey. We give you the tools to improve your health and your well-being long-term.


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