There are so many reasons women find themselves on the birth-control pill. Many women take the pill for acne, painful periods, heavy bleeding, ‘irregular cycles’, endometriosis and PCOS related symptoms. But the pill doesn’t treat the root causes of these symptoms it offers temporary relief, and even though the main reason for the birth control pill is preventing pregnancy scores of women (and teenage girls) take the pill as a way to manage these symptoms among others.
Unfortunately, if you go to your doctor with any period-related issues the pill is pretty much the only option presented to you. Along with heavy duty pain meds of course. As far as the doctors are concerned there is no other solution. I have found myself in a specialist’s office trying to find answers as to why my periods don’t fall within the 28-day range and why my cramps and heavy bleeding are so bad only to be looked at like a crazy person for even thinking there could be another way to reverse my symptoms. Apparently, in their world “common” means “normal”. And because so many women suffer from painful and relentless period related issues it’s not really considered to be a health issue anymore, but just a normal part of being a woman.
The problem is that these symptoms are not normal. Although they are common these symptoms indicate that there is an underlying issue often related to a hormonal imbalance. The pill offers temporary relief by masking these symptoms, but the underlying health issues causing the symptoms continue happening in the background and can be much worse when the time finally comes to go off the pill.
I devote two full chapters to the side effects of birth control in my new book The Fifth Vital Sign: Master Your Cycles & Optimize Your Fertility. Make sure to grab your copy today! I also devoted an entire podcast episode to this topic that you can listen to by clicking below, or you can click here to open the episode in iTunes.
So what are some of the effects you may experience after coming off the pill?
1. You might actually get your sex drive back!
Woo-hoo! One of the side effects of the pill is a lack of or reduction in sex drive. The birth control pill suppresses the production of hormones in the ovaries including testosterone which is responsible for sex drive. Many women are disappointed to find that after starting to take the pill so they can have lots of uninhibited sex, they lose their sex drive. So after getting off the pill, you may be welcoming back your long lost libido!
2. Your breasts might get smaller and they won’t be sore and tender all the time
Speaking of side effects, many women have slightly swollen, tender and sore breasts ALL THE TIME after going on the pill. This may be a welcome change as your breasts may be larger and fuller as a result, but after going off the pill you may notice that your breasts aren’t sore and tender and they may decrease in size. Women who aren’t on hormonal contraceptives may start to observe cyclical changes in their breasts related to the phases of the menstrual cycle. When progesterone levels rise in the post-ovulatory phase women may notice their breasts feeling a bit tender and more full until menstruation when they tend to become less full and stop feeling tender and sore. Conversely when a woman gets pregnant her breasts will often swell to the tune of one or two cup sizes by the time she’s ready to give birth!
3. Your mood might change for the better
For many women, the pill has an effect on their overall mood. Many women notice a dramatic shift in their mood when they start taking hormonal contraceptives. In other words, they start feeling a bit CRAZY. For example in the article “How the pill messes with women’s minds” Jill Foster describes her experience:
…We both knew my behaviour wasn’t normal. My mood swings and uncharacteristic tearful outbursts were, we decided, down to the Microgynon contraceptive Pill I’d started taking several months earlier. Days after I stopped taking it, I returned to my (relatively) sane, easygoing self. Since then, I’ve never experienced anything like it, but I’ve often wondered how many other women have had similar episodes.
Obviously, every woman doesn’t have the same experience, and many women don’t experience noticeable changes in their emotional state, however, for those who do experience unpleasant mood changes going off the pill may help you return to normal!
4. You’ll probably experience a return of any symptoms the pill was masking.
The pill and other hormonal contraceptives provide a temporary band-aid solution for many of the serious period-related symptoms women experience. For many women, the pill reduces or eliminates period pain, acne, endometriosis and PCOS related symptoms, and heavy periods. However, when the time comes to come off the pill you can expect these symptoms to return, and to possibly be worse than they were before. The pill prevents ovulation and as a result, the “period” that women experience while on the pill is not actually a period. It is withdrawal bleeding. A true period occurs after ovulation and it is the complete shedding of the uterine lining, whereas withdrawal bleeding is the body’s response to the sudden drop in hormones during the 7 days when you take those “sugar pills”. The result is a lighter “period” with fewer symptoms. But since the pill does not address or heal any of the true health issues and/or hormonal imbalances that were causing those symptoms in the first place, they will still be there when you come off the pill.
5. Your period may not return for months
On the other hand, it could take several months for your period to come back. Since true menstruation only happens after you ovulate, getting your period back is an indication that your fertility has returned and that you have started ovulating again. After taking the pill for 2, 5, 10, or even 15 years many women are surprised to discover that sometimes it takes several months for their period to return. Everyone has a different experience after coming off the pill. Some women get their period back right away, and for others, it could take 6 months to a year before their period returns. For women who were taking Depo Provera (the shot), it could take 18 months to 2 years before you finally get your period back.
6. You’ll have to find a new birth control method you trust
When you decide to come off the pill, especially after having been on it for many years, it can be quite a challenge to find a form of birth control that you’re comfortable with. Non-hormonal birth control options include condoms, withdrawal, getting fitted for a diaphragm, and using the fertility awareness method. Each of these options has pros and cons and are not for everybody. Using fertility awareness takes the guessing out of the equation by allowing you to identify the days you are fertile and act accordingly. But these methods require more planning and preparation than the ease of being able to take a pill and not have to think about it.
7. You’ll finally have the opportunity to learn how your body actually works
When you’re not on the pill and you start ovulating again your body will (ideally) resume a cyclical pattern of menstruation, followed by dry days, then mucus days, followed by ovulation, then dry days and menstruation again. If you pay attention to the fertile signs you’ll notice cyclical changes in your cervical mucus, basal body temperature, and cervical position. You may observe cyclical changes in your breasts as they change and become more full and tender after ovulation. You may even notice cyclical changes in your moods, cravings, libido, creativity and the list goes on. For many women, myself included, it wasn’t until I went off the pill that I really had the opportunity to learn how my body works and observe the cyclical changes that occur throughout each menstrual cycle.
8. You might discover that you hate the way your partner smells!
Studies have shown that hormonal contraceptives change our preferences when it comes to sexual partners. We’ve all heard about pheromones, but most of us have probably never given it much thought. It turns out that women who are taking the pill have different preferences when it comes to the scent of their partners than women who aren’t. One study showed that women on the pill were more attracted to genetically similar males. Whereas women who aren’t on the pill are attracted to males who are genetically different. Couples with similar genes are more likely to encounter fertility issues, and less likely to stay together since odor perception plays an important role in maintaining sexual attraction .
But what happens when a woman taking birth control pills marries a man to whom she’s attracted — and then stops taking the pill?…Marriage counselors report that the No. 1 complaint among women no longer sexually interested in their husbands is that they can no longer stand how they smell and if you can’t stand how someone smells, you cannot be intimate. 
So beware ladies! If you started your relationship with your partner while on the pill you may find that you can’t stand the way he smells once you stop taking it.
9. You might get pregnant
Since the pill works to prevent ovulation and implantation it must be said that if you stop taking the pill you may get pregnant! Big surprise there I know. If pregnancy is what you’re going for then awesome, but if not then this point may need additional consideration. We have been conditioned to fear our fertility from a young age by being told repeatedly that we can get pregnant at any time. So naturally, this is one of the biggest fears when coming off the pill if you’re not ready to have a baby. With that being said it is possible to prevent pregnancy very effectively without hormones. The Fertility Awareness Method, for example, when followed correctly is 99.6% effective . It involves a fair bit of time and commitment initially if you choose to learn the fertility awareness method, but you’ll know if and when you’re ready to make that change.
10. You might discover that you can’t get pregnant
Taking the pill is kind of like putting your fertility on a shelf for awhile. When it’s finally time to take it down from the shelf and dust it off you may find that getting pregnant isn’t as easy as you thought it would be. It doesn’t mean that the pill is making everyone infertile, but the pill certainly isn’t helping matters if there are any existing issues that might cause problems down the road. The pill allows you go about your life without addressing any of the important health concerns that could affect your fertility later on. We are at a point in time where we’re putting off having babies until later in life only to discover that fertility isn’t just a switch that can be turned on and off. When you go off the pill after several years of taking it you may find that it takes a lot longer to get pregnant than you thought it would.
Grab your copy of The Fifth Vital Sign: Master Your Cycles & Optimize Your Fertility. With over 1000 scientific references it is the most comprehensive resource on fertility awareness and the menstrual cycle to date. Chapters 7 and 8 cover the pill in incredible detail. Click here to read the first chapter for free!
1. Contraceptive pill ‘can lead women to choose wrong partner’: http://www.theguardian.com/science/2008/aug/13/medicalresearch.medicaladvicefortravellers
2. Women on birth control pill attracted to ‘wrong’ sexual partners: http://www.steadyhealth.com/Women_on_Birth_Control_Pill_Attracted_to__Wrong__Sex_Partners_t181999.html
3. Scientific Basis of Fertility Awareness Methods: http://www.justisse.ca/index.php/pages/page/justisse-method-effectiveness