By Michele Drake, FAE
Are you thinking about quitting birth control? Are you ready to take the plunge? If you have been thinking about it for a while and just have no idea how to go about it. I want to help.
There is a huge movement of people quitting birth control right now. So many people are seeing the value of avoiding synthetic hormones in order to learn their natural cycles. Here is a list of common experiences that people report as they go through the transition.
What’s happening in my body?
Amenorrhea (no period):
Remember that for most hormonal birth control users, ovulation has not occurred for the duration of use. After quitting hormonal birth control, the timeline for the return of fertility varies. Users of Mirena will likely have a faster return of fertility and users of Depo-Provera may have a long wait.
Dysmenorrhea (painful period):
Most likely, when your period returns, it will feel similar to the way it was before you began using hormonal birth control.
If you initially went on birth control to treat endometriosis, PCOS, PMS symptoms, or acne, it is extremely likely that any symptoms you had before will surface again. This is because hormonal birth control does not actually fix or cure these ailments- it only silences them.
But, don’t get discouraged. Most of the ailments listed above are symptoms of hormonal imbalance, which can be identified through fertility awareness and be corrected with support from a healthcare provider.
Weight gain and weight loss can occur when you transition off hormonal birth control. Often, people gain weight on birth control as a result of insulin-resistance. This is a hormonal imbalance that can be treated.
Changes in Libido:
Most people report a positive (and sometimes drastic) change in their libido after quitting hormonal birth control. This is not surprising since the synthetic hormones turn off our natural ones. This can actually cause some of our reproductive tissue to atrophy- including the clitoris. In addition to a higher sex drive, most people report experiencing more satisfying encounters post-birth control.
Changes in Emotional Health:
When the cycle resumes after being turned off for a long time, this can be a surprising experience. Many people describe a sort of awakening when they transition off of hormonal birth control. Some people say it's like a veil has been lifted. Others describe colors and images appearing sharper and more distinct or feeling vulnerable and extremely heightened emotions.
This is likely due to a return to cycling. Menstruators are naturally cyclical, and the emotional range is reflective of this.
Increased risk of breast cancer:
In addition to all these changes, a recent study conducted by researchers at Oxford Population Health’s Cancer Epidemiology Unit has shown that the use of progestogen-only hormonal contraceptives is associated with a 20-30% higher risk of breast cancer.
Troubleshooting Your Cycle. What you need to know.
Your cycle is like a monthly report card for your hormonal health. Every event in your cycle is dependent on sufficient hormone levels. This means that by paying attention to your cycle, you will get insight into your hormone levels.
- Noticing periods (amount and color of bleeding) can tell you a lot about estrogen and progesterone levels.
- Monitoring Basal Body Temperature will help you determine whether you are ovulating, and if you have a healthy level of progesterone. (It’s important to note that basal body temperature (BBT) is measured much more accurately with a basal body thermometer than with a fever thermometer. Tempdrop is a wearable thermometer that measures your sleeping temperature to make recording accurate temperatures more attainable.)
- Pay attention to cervical mucus. If you notice patterns like an increase in quantity or water content, it's possible that your estrogen levels are still rising, but possibly not enough to stimulate ovulation. It’s also important to learn how to check and qualify cervical mucus. I would definitely recommend reading Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler or Garden of Fertility by Katie Singer. Alternatively, you could find a certified instructor to learn from (this is recommended if you plan to use FABMs for birth control). It can be very helpful to have some extra support when you are first learning.
Important to note: when you quit birth control, your body needs to start making hormones again and to relearn the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Gonadal Axis (in other words, remember how to communicate between the brain and the ovaries in order to make the right hormones at the right time. It can take a while (weeks or months) for cycles to return to normal.
If you need guidance in supporting your transition off hormonal birth control, check out this blog post or contact a fertility awareness instructor.
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.