Side Effects After Discontinuing Birth Control Pills

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Many women consider discontinuing their birth control pill use because of unpleasant effects, a change in sexual activity or because they would like to become pregnant. Most of these women, especially those who experienced side effects when starting oral contraceptives, are concerned about what might happen when they discontinue their use. While side effects vary from woman to woman, most are mild and last three months or less as the body adjusts to hormonal changes.

Birth control pills
Birth control pills (Image: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Effects

Discontinuing birth control pills causes hormone levels in your body to shift, which may result in nausea, breast tenderness, irritability, fatigue, headaches, acne, irregular periods, amenorrhea (a complete absence of periods) or weight loss due to reduced water retention. These side effects should subside as the artificial hormones in birth control pills leave your body over a period of weeks or months.

Side effects
Side effects (Image: Polka Dot Images/Polka Dot/Getty Images)

Time Frame

Within one to three months your body will begin producing its own hormones again and hormone levels will return to normal. Your body will probably return to the state it was in before you began taking oral contraceptives; that may mean the return of acne, irregular periods, heavy periods or anything else you typically experienced before birth control use. If you stopped taking oral contraceptives more than six months ago and you still haven’t had a period, see your doctor.

Tampons
Tampons (Image: Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Fertility

Many women discontinue birth control pills because they’d like to become pregnant and some are surprised at the difficult they experience in doing so. While it’s possible to ovulate and get pregnant as soon as two weeks after stopping birth control pill use, it’s uncommon. Many women don’t ovulate until one month or more after discontinuing birth control so it’s recommended that you stop taking the pill about two to three months before you plan to become pregnant.

Pregnancy test
Pregnancy test (Image: Thinkstock/Comstock/Getty Images)

Treatment

Some side effects of discontinuing birth control pills like irritability, breast tenderness and mood swings are best treated with patience and an understanding that they should subside soon. Others, such as acne, can be treated with over-the-counter face cleansers and skincare products containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid or a doctor can prescribe topical or oral medication. Extra rest can relieve fatigue and headaches and peppermint or ginger tea may get rid of nausea.

Treat acne with an over-the-counter face cleanser
Treat acne with an over-the-counter face cleanser (Image: Jupiterimages/Pixland/Getty Images)

When to See a Doctor

Talk to your doctor if the side effects of stopping birth control pills become severe, such as depression, or if they last significantly longer than expected. Although less than 3 percent of women experience a delay in the return of fertility, a doctor or fertility specialist can address your concerns if you’re having trouble getting pregnant and you believe it may be related to your discontinuation of oral contraceptives.

Talk to your doctor
Talk to your doctor (Image: Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images)

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