Hormonal Birth Control: Top FAQs

October 12, 2021   Sexual Health

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In our series of posts on birth control, we’ve covered the common side effects of oral contraceptives, factors that affect their reliability, and an overall look at the various forms of birth control.

Now, let’s dive into a few common questions that our providers often hear from patients about the oral pill.

What happens when you stop taking the pill?

Whether you’ve been taking birth control pills for one or ten years, the hormones disappear from your body very quickly once you stop taking them. From there, your periods should go back to 'normal’ relatively quickly. If your periods were like clockwork before you started birth control, it might take a few months for them to regulate once you stop — don’t be alarmed if that happens. If you encountered heavy periods prior to using birth control, you may notice that heavy periods return — this is to be expected.

Don’t forget, becoming pregnant could happen sooner than you may think. Many women think it takes a long time to conceive after they stop taking the pill, but in many cases, it’s quite the opposite. The hormones will be out of your body in a matter of days. Therefore, you will no longer be protected from pregnancy. Another form of birth control is encouraged.

When some women stop taking birth control, they may not notice much of a difference, but others may encounter side effects. The side effects vary by person, but the most common include:

  • Menstrual cycle changes
  • Cramping during ovulation
  • Mood changes
  • Weight fluctuation
  • Acne
  • Headaches
  • Unwanted hair growth
  • Changes in sex drive
  • Breast tenderness

Before stopping the use of birth control, be sure to keep your provider informed of your decision, including your journey after the pill.

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Does the pill impact sex drive?

Hormonal birth control is incredibly effective at preventing pregnancy, but it can also contribute to some not-so-great side effects, like decreased libido. However, the benefits of lighter periods, acne treatment, headache management, pregnancy prevention, etc., generally outweigh this.

A low libido doesn’t happen to every person on birth control. Don’t fret, there are ways to enhance your libido (with or without the use of birth control).

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Do birth control pills affect fertility?

The correlation between birth control and fertility tends to cause some confusion. Hormonal contraceptives do not cause infertility. They are formulated to temporarily delay your fertility and prevent pregnancy. Birth control pills utilize hormones to stop ovulation, while also thickening the cervical mucus so sperm can't travel easily to fertilize the egg. The pill itself should not impact future fertility. When you stop taking them, your normal fertility levels should return.

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Can you be on the pill for "too long"?

We often hear, “I’ve been on the pill since I was in college… have I been on it for too long?” The answer is no.

If you’ve been taking birth control pills for quite some time and have had no side effects, it’s likely that you can continue using them for as long as you need them (provided your OB/GYN deems it a safe choice). Once you reach 35 years of age, your provider may recommend a different form of contraception — they will review those options in detail with you.

Birth control pills are safe for long-term use for most women. There are exceptions, of course. Not everyone has the same experience with birth control pills, but the general consensus is that they are safe, can be taken for years, and do not have life-long implications.

Janet Perkins, MD

It's always best to use a shared decision-making approach with your health care provider when you are trying to make the choice for you. Ask questions!

— Janet Perkins, MD

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