Written by Michele Drake, FAE
Do you feel like you have tried so many types of birth control and can’t seem to find the perfect fit? Are you tired of the side effects? Do you have anxiety, recurrent yeast infections and irregular bleeding? Do you want your sex drive back? Do you want to start trying for a baby?
If you answered yes to any of these questions then I’m here to help.
Let’s start by putting this out there. You definitely aren’t alone. The latest research shows that nearly half of injection or patch users and 30% of pill users discontinue use due to negative side effects. Read on for more information about what to expect when coming off of hormonal birth control, how to support your body, and how to find a new and reliable birth control method.
photo credit: Simone van der Koelen
A brief overview of how hormonal birth control works
All forms of hormonal birth control (HBC) work by turning off your natural hormone cycle and replacing it with synthetic hormones. They alter the endometrium (or the lining of the uterus) which prevents implantation and can make periods lighter. Additionally, HBC changes the cervical mucus (a liquid produced by the cervix to help sperm fertilize an egg) often causing dryness and recurring yeast infections. Most hormonal birth control also prevents ovulation, which can put us at risk for developing heart disease, breast cancer, and can decrease bone density.
When you quit HBC , your body needs to start making hormones again and to relearn the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Gonadal Axis. In other words, your body needs to remember how to communicate between the brain and the ovaries in order to make the right hormones at the right time.
To best prepare for this transition, make a plan to manage your fertility, support the physical body, and support the emotional self.
Manage your fertility without hormones
If you’re trying to avoid pregnancy and don’t want to use synthetic hormones, you have 3 options:
- The Copper IUD doesn’t contain hormones,however it does come with a long list of side effects, like other IUDs.
- Barrier methods (like condoms, cervical caps, diaphragms, and spermicide) don’t contain hormones, but they do depend on correct use which poses a challenge for some.
- Fertility Awareness Based Methods (FABMs) don’t contain hormones and are side-effect-free. They do require that users learn how to observe ovulation and follow a set of rules to avoid pregnancy so a little extra effort is needed at first.
FABMs can be used as a birth control option but more importantly, they are also used as a measure of fertility, and thus health. Practicing a FABM means learning (through book, web, or instructor) how to identify your fertile signs. Charting cycles with a FABM is particularly helpful, even if you are not planning to avoid pregnancy because you are able to see if ovulation is occurring and whether your hormone levels are healthy.
If you plan to use a FABM as birth control, it is recommended that you learn from an instructor. Tempdrop can also make practicing charting easier.
Clear out old hormones
Your body is always working to stay clean and healthy. Once you stop using hormonal birth control, your body will begin the hard work of cleaning out. You can support this process by taking extra care of your liver and digestive tract, both of which are involved in getting rid of old hormones.
To love your liver, consider taking a probiotic and avoiding antibiotics if possible. This will help you foster a strong microbiome. You might also include more cruciferous vegetables in your diet. Veggies like broccoli, kale, cabbage, and carrot can aid in eliminating excess synthetic hormones from our systems. Lastly, take a break from alcohol. Alcohol can really slow down the detoxification process (especially if you are having a drink every day, or a few drinks at a time). When our liver is busy processing alcohol, it can’t process anything else, including hormones.
Clean up your lifestyle
Another way our liver can get bogged down is through chemicals that disrupt our endocrine system. We are exposed to a surprising number of them each day. To eliminate endocrine disruptors from your environment, we have to read labels carefully. Common culprits include BPA, DDT, dioxin, phthalates, PFCs, glycol ethers, anything with the word "fragrance." They can be found in most conventional cleaning, beauty, and hygiene products.
And of course, this simple lifestyle advice bears repeating: exercise and hydrate. Increasing movement can help your liver because you will sweat it out! And definitely drink lots of water to help those hormones move through.
Help your body make new hormones
Our diets are just as important as those lifestyle considerations. If we aren’t getting proper nutrients, we won’t be able to make hormones. Hormones are made of cholesterol, so it's important to consume lots of healthy fats. If you are vegetarian or vegan, this might mean an Omega 3-6-9 supplement. Otherwise, you could incorporate some healthy animal or fish fats into your diet. Another layer: hormonal birth control (and especially the pill) depletes the body of vital nutrients. The best way to manage this is to supplement these while on birth control, but it's never too late. These vital nutrients include zinc, magnesium, selenium, vitamin B, and folic acid.
Support your emotional self
Perhaps most importantly, it is essential to support your emotional health as you transition off of birth control. Whenever we make big changes, it's important to be clear about our goals. Mid-transition, things can get tough and we may forget what motivated us to make this change. Writing down your intention can help you maintain clarity. A few examples might be: eliminating synthetic hormones from my body, improving fertility, healing a hormonal imbalance, preparing for pregnancy.
Finding a support network can be very helpful. After quitting hormonal birth control, many people express a feeling of a veil having been lifted or a sense of seeing a sharper image of the world. Some people experience mild depression during the transition off of hormonal birth control. If you have experienced anxiety or depression before, it will be especially important to monitor that. It's best to tell a partner/spouse, roommate, or family member about your plan. That way, you will have someone safe to talk to about your experience, and will also have a "check-in" person to keep an eye on your emotional well being. You may also choose to find a birth control doula to support you during this time.
Returning to our cycles
Returning to their natural, cyclical state is empowering for many. As menstruators, we go through internal seasons. There are times in a cycle for being social, for working hard, for being romantic, and for resting.
When it comes to your health, you are your sole ally. You can only advocate for yourself if you are informed about how your body works and how it should work. It is so important to know your own normal. Learning a FABM is one of the best ways to do that. You deserve health and happiness and a positive relationship with your body. When you learn to listen to your body, you know when you’re ready for a challenge, a change, or in need of rest.
Michele Drake is a Fertility Awareness Educator and advocate with a passion for supporting people with their birth control choices. After witnessing many friends struggle to find their ideal method for avoiding pregnancy, balance their hormones, or achieve pregnancy, she was inspired to empower people with knowledge about their own bodies so that they may make informed choices about their health.
Michele offers one-on-one classes for natural birth control, conception, menstrual wellness, and achieving hormonal balance. She is also donation-based distance birth control doula support. You can find her through her website or over on Instagram.