Written by Michele Drake, FAE
Statements here have not been evaluated by the FDA or any other organization. Please consult your provider before making changes to your medications.
Are you ready to stop taking hormones? Whether you're ready to start trying to conceive (or preparing to soon) or just want to see how your body naturally cycles, it can be incredibly empowering and beneficial to stop taking hormonal birth control - as long as you're ready for a baby or have chosen an alternate method of birth control.
Hormonal birth control has plenty of side effects, many of which you may not have heard about from your provider or pharmacist. The common list includes
- yeast infections,
- irregular bleeding,
- decreased libido, and
- mood swings.
And there are plenty more side effects, including an increased risk of breast cancer.
So whether you're just hoping to give yourself a break from symptoms, or you're ready to take control of your cycle, here's a guide on what you should expect, and what you can do to support your body through this transition period.
How hormonal birth control works
All forms of hormonal birth control (HBC) work by turning off your natural hormone cycle. It does this by replacing your natural hormones with synthetic hormones, some of which aren't even the same type of hormone as the ones they're replacing. Most forms of hormonal birth control do three separate things (each to a different extent):
- prevents ovulation,
- changes cervical mucus, and
- alters the endometrium (tissue lining the uterus).
Let's go into each of these a little more. After all, it's important to understand how medications are affecting you, and what changes are happening in your body.
Prevention of ovulation decreases likelihood of pregnancy (since you must ovulate to become pregnant), but it also puts you at risk for developing heart disease, breast cancer, and bone density. Ovulation is actually a sign of overall health, and it's incredibly beneficial for your body to ovulate because you receive plenty of good hormones.
Inhibiting cervical mucus production decreases the likelihood of pregnancy by making the vagina a more hostile environment to sperm. If the step of preventing ovulation occurs, this is intended to make it so sperm doesn't make it to the egg. However, many women experience recurring yeast infections and/or uncomfortable vaginal dryness.
Altering the endometrium (tissue lining the uterus) is the final pregnancy prevention method of most hormonal birth control. Hormonal birth control that affects the endometrium generally makes it thinner, decreasing the likelihood of successful implantation of a fertilized egg. Ultimately, this can make your periods lighter (one reason hormonal birth control is prescribed!), but it can also cause some irregular bleeding patterns.
When you stop taking hormonal birth control, 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 again.
To best prepare for this transition, make a plan to manage your fertility (and have a plan for preventing pregnancy if that's what in your goals!), support the physical body, and support the emotional self.
Note: Tempdrop is not a form of birth control, but it is a tool that can be used for any intention of family planning if you're following a method and rules.
Clearing 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 what it's accumulated. 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.
Tempdrop has a whole article about supporting your body nutritionally while coming off hormonal birth control - even written by a certified nutritional practitioner! You can check it out here. I'll just make a few brief nutrition suggestions here.
- Add a probiotic and avoid antibiotics when possible
- Increase your cruciferous vegetables intake
- Decrease your alcohol intake
- Incorporate more healthy fats into your diet
- Check your zinc, magnesium, selenium, vitamin B, and folate levels and supplement if necessary
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 our environments, 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. Find simple tips to help remove them from your environment here.
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.
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 my fertility, healing a hormonal imbalance, and/or preparing for pregnancy.
Finding an external support network can be very helpful. After stopping 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 yourself. 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 you will also have a "check-in" person to keep an eye on your emotional well being.
Returning to your cycles
Returning to a natural, cyclical state is empowering for many. Many times, we compare this to going through internal "seasons." There are times in a cycle for being social, for working hard, for being romantic, and for resting. If you want to learn how to optimize your schedule for your cycle, check out this article!
When it comes to your health, you are your biggest ally and advocate. 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. 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 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.