Birth control also known as contraception, is any method, medicine, or device used to prevent pregnancy. Women can choose from many different types of birth control. Some work better than others at preventing pregnancy. The type of birth control you use depends on your health, your desire to have children now or in the future, and your need to prevent sexually transmitted infections. Your doctor can help you decide which type is best for you right now.
A range of devices and treatments are available for both men and women that can help prevent pregnancy. Some methods are more reliable than others. How well a method work often depends on how carefully it is used. The contraceptive pill, for example, used correctly, is over 99 percent effective. However, because people make mistakes, as many as 9 out of 100 women each year will become pregnant while using it.
How does birth control work?
Birth control works to prevent pregnancy in different ways, depending upon the type of birth control you choose:
• Female or male sterilization surgery prevents the sperm from reaching the egg by cutting or damaging the tubes that carry sperm (in men) or eggs (in women).
• Long-acting reversible contraceptives or “LARC” methods (intrauterine devices, hormonal implants) prevent your ovaries from releasing eggs, prevent sperm from getting to the egg, or make implantation of the egg in the uterus (womb) unlikely.
• Short-acting hormonal methods, such as the pill, mini-pill, patch, shot, and vaginal ring, prevent your ovaries from releasing eggs or prevent sperm from getting to the egg.
• Barrier methods, such as condoms, diaphragms, sponge, cervical cap, prevent sperm from getting to the egg.
• Natural rhythm methods involve avoiding sex or using other forms of birth control on the days when you are most fertile (most likely to get pregnant).
What happens when you stop taking your birth control?
Depending on the type, there are several things that can happen when you stop taking birth control. For example, 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). Everybody’s different, and some of the effects you notice might depend on symptoms you had before you started taking the pill.
According to WebMD, the following 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 method of birth control works 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 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 libido down, especially if they take some very low-dose pills. So a few women, about 15% in one study, may find themselves in the mood more often after they stop their 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 non-cancerous breast problems, like fibrocystic breast disease, and for fibroids.
If I plan to have a baby, how soon after stopping birth control pills can I conceive?
Usually, ovulation begins again a few weeks after stopping birth control pills. As soon as you ovulate again, you can get pregnant. If this happens during your first cycle off the pill, you may not have a period at all. Take a pregnancy test if you’ve had unprotected sex and your period hasn’t returned.
Is there an advantage to waiting a few months after stopping the pill before trying to conceive?
Conceiving immediately after stopping the pill does not increase your risk of miscarriage or harm to the fetus. The hormones in birth control pills don’t remain in your system.
Usually, periods start again a few weeks after stopping the pill. However, if your periods were infrequent before you started taking the pill, they will likely be that way again after you stop taking the pill. It may take a couple of months before you return to regular ovulation cycles.
After stopping the pill, if you’re not ready to conceive, consider using a backup form of birth control.
What happens if I stop taking the birth control pill and my period doesn’t come back?
If you don’t have a period for several months, you may have what’s known as post-pill amenorrhea. The pill prevents your body from making hormones involved in ovulation and menstruation. When you stop taking the pill, it can take some time for your body to start producing these hormones again.
Menstrual periods typically resume within three months after you stop taking the pill. But if you took the pill to regulate your menstrual cycles, it may take several months before your period comes back.
If you don’t have a period within three months, take a pregnancy test to make sure you’re not pregnant and then see your doctor.