Birth Control Withdrawal Symptoms

Fertility and Sterility , May 2009.

Stopping the Pill? 10 Ways Your Body May Change

You probably felt a few changes when you started taking birth control pills , like nausea or tender breasts. So it makes sense that you may feel different again when you stop taking them.

Any type of hormone-based birth control can change how you feel , whether it’s pills, the patch, a vaginal ring (Annovera, NuvaRing ), hormonal IUDs ( Kyleena , Liletta , Mirena , Skyla ), injections ( Depo-Provera ) or an implanted rod ( Nexplanon ).

Side Effects of Stopping the Pill After Prolonged Use

Everybody’s different, and some of the effects you notice might depend on symptoms you had before you started taking the pill . But a few changes are common:

1. You could get pregnant . And before you say, “Duh,” keep in mind that it could happen sooner than you think. Many women think it takes a long time to conceive after they stop the pill, but research shows pregnancy rates are about the same as those for women who had used barrier methods (like condoms ). Up to 96% of former pill users got pregnant within a year. And in one study, more than half were pregnant at 6 months. But it may take more time — up to a year — after you stop injections like Depo-Provera.

2. Your cycle may get wacky. Even if your periods were like clockwork before you started birth control, it might take a few months for them to straighten out after you stop. And if you had irregular periods , you’ll probably be off-kilter again — the reliable schedule you enjoyed (or the long breaks between periods) came from the hormones in the pill. If your periods stopped altogether, it may take a few months for them to start up again.

3. Your periods could be heavier and crampier. If you had lots of bleeding and pain before you started, it’s likely your heavy flow will return.

4. PMS may come back, too. The pill, especially some formulas, helps your body level out the hormonal chaos that can make you feel depressed, anxious, and irritable. Without that balancing, you may start feeling moody again.

5. You may have mid-month twinges. Most hormonal methods of birth control work by keeping you from ovulating . So once your body starts ovulating again, you may feel mild cramping on one side of your pelvis as your ovary releases an egg. You may also have more vaginal discharge .

6. Your weight may go down. Women who used a progestin-only type (like injections, hormonal IUDs, or certain pills) may have gained a few pounds, so the scale might go down when they stop using them. If you want to lose weight, though, you’ll probably get more results from a better diet and more exercise than from going off your birth control .

7. Acne and unwanted hair may return. The pill can correct the hormone imbalance that makes your skin break out and grow hair in unwanted places. But the fix is temporary: Once you stop the birth control , your hormones can get off-kilter again, bringing back those issues.

8. You might feel friskier. A small number of women find that the pill drives their libidos down, especially if they take very low-dose pills. A few women – about 15% in one study – may find themselves in the mood more often after they stop their hormonal birth control.

9. Headaches may vanish. If the pill tended to give you headaches , you’re likely to get relief when you stop taking it.

10. You’ll still have protection from some cancers. One of the best “side effects” of the pill is that long-time use lowers your risk for ovarian and endometrial cancer. And if you took it for long enough, the payoff continues after you stop. The same is true for some kinds of noncancerous breast problems, like fibrocystic breast disease, and for fibroids.

How to Stop Taking Birth Control

It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor before you stop taking any type of birth control. You can get advice, learn about possible side effects, understand how quickly you might be able to get pregnant , and your options if you don’t want to conceive. Here are specifics on how to stop various types of birth control.

The pill . You can stop the pill on your own any time — no need to finish your pack. Your menstrual cycle may get thrown off, but your period should come back within 3 months.

The minipill. This type contains only progestin instead of the usual estrogen and progestin. You can quit taking it whenever you want. It works slightly less well than the combination pill to prevent pregnancies. So you’ll need another form of protection if you want to avoid getting pregnant.

Implants. This toothpick-sized tube is a long-acting contraceptive. It usually lasts for 3 years. You can have it removed by a doctor or a nurse anytime. Your fertility should return quickly.

Patches. These adhesive squares stick to your skin and release estrogen and progestin. If you want to stop using them, just peel the patch off yourself. To avoid getting pregnant, use another birth control method right away.

IUD. An intrauterine device , or IUD, is put into your womb through your vagina . It can keep you from getting pregnant for many years. A doctor or a nurse can remove it in a few minutes. If you’re trying to have a baby , you should be able to conceive right away.

Diaphragm . This dome-shaped cup physically blocks sperm from entering your womb. You insert it every time you have sex until you no longer wish to use it. But even if you want to stop using a diaphragm for birth control, leave yours in for at least 6 hours after you last have intercourse using it.

Vaginal ring. You put this flexible plastic into your vagina , much like a tampon. It has the same two hormones as the pill. You usually leave it in for 3 weeks, then take it out for a week. You can stop using the ring at any point in your menstrual cycle. Use another form of birth control right away if you’re not planning to get pregnant .

Birth control shot. You shouldn’t rely on the shot for more than 2 years without checking with your doctor first. But you can get off of it whenever you want. You have to get this shot about every 3 months from your doctor. To stop this kind of birth control, you can simply quit taking the shot. Ask your doctor if you need a backup contraceptive. You may be covered for a while, since the effects of the shot can last up to 9 months.

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Why You May Want to Stop Taking Birth Control

You’re in charge of your fertility. Sometimes, you may wish or need to get off your current contraceptives for health or personal reasons.

You have side effects. Hormonal birth control can affect everyone differently. Some women have mood swings, weight changes, headaches , or nausea . Ask your doctor if switching to another method may ease your side effects.

You want to have a baby . Quitting your birth control is the first step to jumpstart your family planning. Either stop right away or visit your doctor to remove your implant or device. They also can help you with a pregnancy plan.

You have health concerns. Hormonal birth control sometimes doesn’t mix well with your other medications . It also may raise your chances for heart attacks or breast and cervical cancer .

You don’t have sex often. It takes effort to remember to take your pill every day or to visit your health care provider regularly for new prescriptions or shots. If you’re not very sexually active, that can be too much of a hassle. You might find it more convenient — and get better protection against STDs — if you rely on a barrier method like a condom or a cervical cap with spermicide each time you have intercourse.

Show Sources

Contraception: An International Reproductive Health Journal , November 2011.

Fertility and Sterility , May 2009.

NHS Choices: “Contraception Guide: The Contraception Injection.”

“Noncontraceptive Uses of Hormonal Contraceptives,” ACOG Practice Bulletin 110 , January 2010.

“Effects of progestin-only birth control on weight,” Cochrane.org, July 2, 2013.

“Effect of birth control pills and patches on weight,” Cochrane.org, Jan. 29, 2014.

European Journal of Contraception and Reproductive Health Care: “The influence of combined oral contraceptives on female sexual desire: a systematic review.”

American Family Physician , Dec. 15, 2010.

International Journal of Endocrinology & Metabolism , December 2012.

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: “Combined Hormonal Birth Control: Pill, Patch, and Ring.”

CDC: “Planning for Pregnancy,” “National Health Statistics Reports: Current Contraceptive Use and Variation by Selected Characteristics Among Women Aged 15-44: United States, 2011-2013.”

Center for Young Women’s Health: “Hormonal Implants,” “Vaginal Hormonal Ring (NuvaRing).”

Cleveland Clinic: “Depo-Provera.”

Jennifer F. Kawwass, MD, medical director, Emory Reproductive Center; associate professor, gynecology and obstetrics, Emory University School of Medicine; clinical director, Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART).

Mayo Clinic: “Birth control pill FAQ: Benefits, risks and choices,” “Minipill (progestin-only birth control pill),” “Long-acting reversible contraception,” “Contraception FAQs: Intrauterine Device,” “Diaphragm,” “NuvaRing (vaginal ring),” “Combination birth control pills.”

National Cancer Institute: “Oral Contraceptives and Cancer Risk.”

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services: “Intrauterine Device (IUD),” “Birth Control Shot,” “Birth control methods.”

Stopping Birth Control

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Stopping birth control

Planning on quitting your hormonal birth control like the pill, patch or IUD? Here’s the best way to stop taking hormonal birth control, plus the surprising symptoms you may notice when you do.

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In This Article

  • How to stop taking hormonal birth control
  • How to stop taking non-hormonal birth control
  • Side effects of going off birth control
  • How to manage the side effects of going off hormonal birth control
  • When to call the doctor about side effects of stopping birth control

If you’re thinking it’s time to try for a baby, step one is giving your birth control the boot. Once you do, the hormones your pill, patch or ring has been delivering leave your body within five days, after which you might experience surprising symptoms — even some that mimic pregnancy.

No need to worry: These are just your body’s way of catching up with natural cycle changes that were suppressed by hormonal birth control. Here’s the scoop on symptoms you’ll likely encounter over the next couple months after stopping birth control.

How to stop taking hormonal birth control

Hormonal birth control methods like the pill, patch, ring or hormonal IUD all work by turning off hormone signals that prevent your body from ovulating. Once you stop using the birth control, those hormone signals turn back on and your body is able to ovulate again, usually within one to three months.

If you’re taking birth control pills

You can stop taking them at any point, including in the middle of a pack or cycle. Trusted Source Mayo Clinic Birth Control Pill FAQ: Benefits, Risks and Choices See All Sources [1] But finishing your current pack before calling it quits might make it easier to predict when your next period will come.

Regardless of when you opt to stop, it’s worth giving your OB/GYN a heads up. He or she can tell you more about any symptoms you might notice post-pill and help you determine what’s normal versus what might not be.

If you have a hormonal IUD

Your OB/GYN will have to remove the device for you. But once it’s out, you’ll go back to ovulating within one to three months.

If you’ve been getting hormonal birth control shots

These shots work similarly to other hormonal birth control methods. But because a dose lasts for three months, it’ll take at least that long after stopping in order for you to start ovulating again, and some women find that it takes up to a year or two after stopping their shots to conceive. Trusted Source Cleveland Clinic Depo-Provera See All Sources [2]

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Endometriosis and Pregnancy

man and woman talking about getting pregnant

couple at doctor

So if you’re currently on the shot and are hoping to try getting pregnant in the near future, talk with your doctor about when to stop or switch to another method of birth control.

How to stop taking non-hormonal birth control

Hormone-free birth control options don’t affect your body’s hormone signals or stop you from ovulating, so there’s not much to consider when deciding to stop in terms of getting pregnant.

If you’re using a copper IUD, you’ll have to have that removed by your OB/GYN. Once the IUD is removed, you can start trying to get pregnant with your next cycle.

As for other methods like condoms or barriers? Since they only work to block sperm while you’re using them, it’s possible to get pregnant any time they’re not used.

Side effects of going off birth control

Hormonal birth control methods like the pill, patch, ring or shot work by turning off hormone signals between your brain and pituitary gland and your ovaries to prevent you from ovulating, so you can’t get pregnant. Those hormones — and the ovulation process — turn right back on when you stop taking them, which could lead to some unexpected side effects.

Here are a few symptoms you might experience when you stop taking hormonal birth control:

Acne

Just when you want to entice your mate into some baby-making action, a big blemish (or two or 10) pops up on your face. Pimple problems are common after going off hormonal birth control for a few reasons:

  • The pill, patch or ring is no longer pumping your body with estrogen, a hormone that combats oily skin (which is why the pill is sometimes prescribed to treat acne).
  • Stopping birth control boosts your levels of testosterone, a hormone that causes breakouts.
  • Returning to your natural cycle means your hormones are constantly in flux, and your finicky skin responds with zits.
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The good news is that there are plenty of topical meds that are safe for keeping acne at bay while you’re trying to conceive, plus a host of cover-up cosmetics to camouflage pimples.

Mood swings

It’s easy enough to get stressed about conception (and the life change you’re making, which is a much bigger deal to swallow than those birth-control meds). But some of those nerves and mood swings may be a result of eliminating the steady flow of hormones your birth control provided, which kept your emotions on a pretty even keel (at least for three weeks every month).

Now that you’re off birth control, hormonal fluctuations resume and vary significantly from day to day. Still, whether or not your moods get out of whack might be a coin toss: Some research has found that hormonal birth control actually makes moods worse, while other research finds no link between birth control and women’s moods.

Tender breasts

You’re in the throes of foreplay when all of a sudden, ouch! Turns out your boobs are also extra sensitive since you gave contraception the slip. And it could make you wonder if you’re already expecting, since breast tenderness is an early symptom of pregnancy.

So, sure, while you might have conceived before you got your first period after going off birth control, your sore breasts may actually just be a side effect of your ovaries ramping up again — making estrogen and building an egg. Let your partner know your boobs are ouch-prone right now so they’re extra gentle during baby-making sessions.

Back pains and cramping

Yes, they’re annoying, but these aches are signs of exciting things happening in your body. As your body prepares to ovulate every month, the follicle on your ovary holding the egg that could become your baby begins to grow.

When the follicle ruptures and releases the egg and surrounding fluid, it can be irritating, causing cramping and lower back pain. You may even feel a quick pinch on one side of your lower abdomen when the egg matures and releases from an ovary (that’s called “mittelschmerz”). While these pains are no fun, they could clue you in as to when you ovulate so you know when to jump in the sack.

If you find that this pain is getting progressively worse, consult with your OB/GYN, since hormonal contraception can mask the painful symptoms of some conditions like endometriosis.

Increased libido

Don’t be surprised if your sex drive goes into overdrive once you’ve ditched your birth control. While research has found the impact is likely minimal, hormonal contraceptives can suppress the libido.

So it makes sense that when they’re out of your system, you might feel friskier — and that’s good news for your mission to parenthood. Your sex urge may surge during ovulation, when you’re most fertile.

Spotting or heavier flow

If your pill, patch or ring worked perfectly, your periods were regular with a medium flow and you had no (or minimal) spotting at other times of the month.

It’s a whole new ball game now that you’re going off birth control. You may spot a bit when you ovulate and perhaps again just before your period officially arrives. And that period may hit with fuller force post-pill, -patch or -ring, since hormonal contraceptives may help keep your menstruation more regular, lighter and shorter. Be prepared with super tampons or pads — at least until you conceive.

Heightened sense of smell

Pregnant noses aren’t the only sensitive sniffers. If you haven’t ovulated in a while — which you wouldn’t have while on hormonal birth control — you may be surprised by just how much your nose knows about fertility.

In fact, ovulating women’s noses are more perceptive than those of women in other parts of their cycle (as well as postmenopausal women, men and kids). This could be because estrogen and progesterone affect your sense of smell, so as those hormone levels fluctuate throughout the month, your sensitivity to scents may differ.

Longer, shorter or less predictable cycles

Birth control makes your period come like clockwork, but stopping can throw that predictability off balance. It can take your body a few months to settle back into a regular ovulation cycle after stopping the pill. (For birth control shots, it can take at least three months and up to one to two years.)

And when it does, chances are, it’ll look a lot like it did before you started taking birth control. If your cycles are extremely irregular after two months, consult with your OB/GYN.

How to manage the side effects of going off hormonal birth control

Just like you might have felt a little out of whack when you first started using hormonal birth control, it’s normal to feel a little off when you stop. The good news is that your body will adjust pretty quickly — usually within a matter of a few weeks.

In the meantime, try to take care of yourself. Stress can affect your cycle — and ultimately, exacerbate any unpleasant symptoms you might be dealing with. So make relaxation and self care a priority while your body recalibrates.

Be open with your partner about what you’re feeling too, so they can help support you as best as possible — whether that means rubbing your sore back or giving you some more space if you’re feeling on edge.

When to call the doctor about side effects of stopping birth control

It’s normal to feel not quite like yourself in the first few weeks after stopping the pill or other hormonal birth control. But you should let your doctor know if you haven’t gotten a period after three months, since that could be a sign that your body isn’t ovulating the way it should be.

You should also talk to your doctor if your post-pill period is getting in the way of everyday life. Let your OB/GYN know if you experience: Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Heavy Menstrual Bleeding See All Sources [3]

  • Very heavy bleeding, where you soak through one or more pads or tampons for several hours in a row or you need to double up on pads
  • Bleeding with clots that are bigger than a quarter
  • Bleeding that lasts for more than seven days
  • Severe or constant abdominal cramping
  • Fatigue or shortness of breath
  • Extremely irregular cycle

From the What to Expect editorial team and Heidi Murkoff, author of What to Expect When You’re Expecting. What to Expect follows strict reporting guidelines and uses only credible sources, such as peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions and highly respected health organizations. Learn how we keep our content accurate and up-to-date by reading our medical review and editorial policy.

Sources

References

  1. Mayo Clinic, Birth Control Pill FAQ: Benefits, Risks and Choices, June 2021. | Show in the article
  2. Cleveland Clinic, Depo-Provera, May 2021. | Show in the article
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Heavy Menstrual Bleeding, December 2017. | Show in the article
  4. What to Expect Before You’re Expecting, 2nd edition, Heidi Murkoff.
  5. Tarun Jain, M.D., Associate Professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, IL, and Member of the What to Expect Medical Review Board.
  6. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Contraception and Mental Health: A Commentary on the Evidence and Principles for Practice, June 2015.
  7. Fertility and Sterility, A First-Choice Combined Oral Contraceptive Influences General Well-Being in Healthy Women: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial, May 2017.
  8. Planned Parenthood, How Do You Stop Taking Birth Control Pills?, April 2020.
  9. Planned Parenthood, How Does IUD Removal Work?, 2022.

Updates history

August 18, 2022

Editor: Caroline Picard

  • Minor copy and formatting changes.
  • Medically reviewed to ensure accuracy.

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Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD, is a well-known doctor. He is famous for his studies of ageing, genetics and other medical conditions. He works at the Institute of Food Biotechnology and Genomics NAS of Ukraine. His scientific researches are printed by the most reputable international magazines. Some of his works are: Differences in the gut Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes ratio across age groups in healthy Ukrainian population [BiomedCentral.com]; Mating status affects Drosophila lifespan, metabolism and antioxidant system [Science Direct]; Anise Hyssop Agastache foeniculum Increases Lifespan, Stress Resistance, and Metabolism by Affecting Free Radical Processes in Drosophila [Frontiersin].
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