7 side effects to expect after stopping birth control from a higher sex drive to more acne

Douglas Sacha/Getty ImagesYou may be able to get pregnant within the first month of stopping birth control.
  • When you stop birth control, your period may be heavier and more irregular.
  • You may also have a few acne breakouts and your frequency of headaches may change.
  • Birth control can also dampen your sex drive, so stopping it may make you feel more eager to have sex.
  • Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.

For some women, stopping birth control can be a seamless experience with minimal side effects, whereas others might notice some major differences.

When you go off birth control, you’re essentially resetting your body’s hormonal behaviour back to default mode. Without that steady dose of hormonal birth control each day, you may see changes in your cycle, skin, and headaches.

Here are seven things that may happen when you stop taking birth control.

1. Your cycle may be irregular

When you use birth control pills, your cycle is very regular — usually 28 days — because it’s being manipulated by the hormones in the pill, says Donna Maria Neale, MD, assistant professor of Gynecology and Obstetrics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

When you stop birth control, your periods will likely go back to the cycle length that they were before birth control. Neale says this may range anywhere from 21 days to 35 days.

This may be a lot different than what you were used to from the pill, and it may make you feel like your period is irregular, when in reality, your cycle is just resetting itself to its natural default.

Neale says your period should return to your natural cycle length in a month, but it is possible to have irregularities for up to three months after stopping the pill.

Really, all you can do here is be patient with your body as it adjusts. It may be helpful to keep a log of your period start and end dates to learn about your new cycle and know when to anticipate your next period.

2. You will be able to get pregnant

Once you are no longer taking the birth control pill, you are no longer taking the hormones that suppress ovulation. Because of this, you’re able to get pregnant as soon as you ovulate, which can be within the first month of going off of birth control.

It’s important to note that you can still get pregnant while on birth control, since most contraceptives are between 91%-99% effective. But your chances greatly increase after stopping birth control.

If you do not want to get pregnant, it’s important to take precautions and use another type of contraception. Neale recommends using condoms to protect yourself from pregnancy as well as STIs.

What the research says: In a large 2009 study of participants from European countries, people stopped taking oral contraceptives containing progestin in an attempt to get pregnant. After one cycle, 21.1% of participants had conceived. In one year, that number jumped to 79.4% of people.

3. You may have a few acne breakouts

You might experience some acne breakouts when you come off of the pill, especially if you took birth control to control your acne in the first place.

When you regulate your hormones with birth control pills, it’s more likely that those breakouts will be controlled. When you go off birth control, Neale says acne may come about as a result of the hormonal fluctuations that happen in a normal cycle.

“When you’re off the birth control pill, that’s your body doing its own thing, and often the body doesn’t quite have the perfect combination of the hormones in the way the pill does,” says Neale.

General advice: To treat acne, use over-the-counter acne treatments if your acne is mild. If your acne is more severe, see a dermatologist for prescription options to clear up your skin.

4. Your period may be heavier

Especially if you had very heavy periods pre-birth control, it’s likely that your heavy periods will return off of the pill.

“People who were having regular periods, it will go back to that,” says Tamika K. Cross, MD, FACOG, an OB/GYN at Serenity Women’s Health & Med Spa. “People who were having crazy, heavy periods, it will most likely go back to that.” The only exception she notes is if you have been on birth control long enough that your body and period naturally changed.

When you take birth control, periods are typically shorter and lighter. Neale says this is in part due to the fact that there is a balanced amount of the hormone progesterone throughout the cycle, which results in the uterine lining not getting too thick.

However, when you come off of the pill, your uterine lining can grow thicker, which may result in heavier periods.

To cope with this, you might have to use more absorbent pads or tampons than you’re used to. But if you’re soaking through multiple pads or tampons in an hour, Neale says this is a red flag and you need to contact your OB/GYN.

5. Your sex drive may be higher

Many women say that their libido is lower when they take the pill, and that when they go off it, their sex drive returns to previous levels.

This is because on the pill, your hormones are very measured and calculated. Off the pill, your hormones reset to default, and if you’re a woman prone to producing more testosterone — like those with PCOS —Neale says you may experience an increased sex drive.

6. Your frequency of headaches may change

For some people, headaches are tied to fluctuations in hormone levels. If you experienced headaches tied to your period, birth control might have reduced them.

However, other people have also experienced an increase in headaches after beginning to take birth control.

Depending on your experience, the number of headaches you have after going off birth control may fluctuate for better or worse.

7. Your vitamin D levels might decrease

In a 2016 study, researchers found that for African American women living in the Detroit area, taking estrogen-containing birth control can increase vitamin D levels. Taking an oral contraceptive, patch, or ring was associated with a 20% higher level of vitamin D.

If you plan to go off birth control, speak with your doctor about considering a vitamin D supplement.

Insider’s takeaway

These seven changes may occur after you stop taking birth control, and it’s normal if you experience them. It’s also normal if you don’t experience big changes and transition off the pill pretty smoothly.

If you were using non-hormonal birth control, such as the ParaGard IUD, the effects of stopping are less immediate. Non-hormonal IUDs prevent pregnancy by creating an inflammatory environment in your uterus. When you take a non-hormonal IUD out, it may take up to three months for you to feel the side effects of coming off of birth control, says Cross.

She notes that with non-hormonal birth control, it’s less likely to have caused fluctuations in weight or appetite, so those factors should remain the same even after stopping.

If you’re experiencing troubling symptoms of any kind after going off birth control, be sure to consult your OB/GYN to make sure everything’s ok.

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