Maybe you’re ready to start trying to conceive, or perhaps you’re just done with taking hormonal birth control. Regardless of the reason, this can be a super big change leaving you wondering what the heck happens next, especially if you've been on it for a while. Will your skin break out like crazy? Will your cycle get wonky? Rest assured, we're here to answer all your questions about going off birth control.
How birth control works
The type of birth control you're quitting will dictate the type of things to expect when going off it. To understand the potential effects, it helps to understand exactly how the different methods work.
A hormonal method, like the pill, Depo shot, hormone patch, uses hormones to trick the body into not ovulating.
A copper or hormonal IUD makes changes to the cervical mucus and the uterine lining that prevent pregnancy.
A barrier method—think condom or diaphragm—blocks the sperm from meeting the egg and really doesn't affect the human body before or after its use.
Why someone might go off of birth control
There are a few different reasons you may go off birth control:
- Ready for pregnancy. If you're ready to start trying to have a baby, you obviously have no need for that IUD or NuvaRing any more.
- Health risks. We are all for birth control when it’s needed. It’s a beautiful thing! But people taking hormonal birth control are at a slightly higher risk for blood clots, migraine, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease. It’s important to keep in mind that in the absence of underlying risk factors (ie. older age, high BMI), most of these complications are exceedingly rare. For example, the risk of having a blood clot on birth control for a healthy, young, non-smoker is significantly lower than the risk of a blood clot during pregnancy.
- Abstinence. Hey, if you're not having sex, then you really don't need birth control. You probably want to have a plan in case you start back up though.
Whatever the reason, talk it over with your doctor if you're taking prescription birth control. You could get pregnant as soon as you go off it, says Lilli Dash Zimmerman, MD, Fertility Specialist at Columbia University Fertility Center. So you should truly be prepared for that possibility. Some patients go off hormonal methods a few months before they want to try, and that's fine, but you'll want to use a barrier method, like a condom, until it's go time, she says.
Birth control side effects, nasties and other things to expect
It's common for people to experience acne, heavier periods, or irregular periods when they stop hormonal birth control, but those aren't exactly side effects from ditching the pill or patch. Rather, they're much more likely to be things that you experienced before you started birth control, that the medication was actually suppressing, says Zimmerman.
Remember: If you're on a hormonal birth control method, you're not actually getting a period, since you're not ovulating. Instead, any bleeding you get every month is not a true period—it's a withdrawal bleed that happens when you take a week of placebo pills.
"I see a lot of patients that say, 'Oh, well, I've been regular for the past 20 years on birth control pills. Then I came off and only for the past year, I've been having irregular periods,'" says Zimmerman. "Well, their birth control may have been hiding issues with anovulation or irregular cycles because they've been on birth control pills for so long."
Do I have to get off hormonal birth control for egg freezing?
Yes, you will need to stop taking the pill or remove the patch before freezing your eggs. That’s because hormonal birth control is intended to prevent ovulation, but during freezing you want to do exactly the opposite. If you’re on the pill or use the patch, some doctors will have you stop during your egg freezing cycle, and some may have you stop for the month leading up to the retrieval.
If you have an IUD, you can keep it in. Although if you’ve been meaning to take it out, ask the doctor if they can do it during your procedure.
Do I have to get off hormonal birth control to become an egg donor?
At Cofertility, our donors freeze their eggs for free when they give half to a family who can't otherwise conceive. This means the egg donation procedure is the same as the egg freezing procedure. As stated above, you will need to get off the pill but an IUD is fine.
Trying to conceive after going off birth control
Now, we bet you're wondering just how quickly you can become pregnant after going off birth control and the answer is it depends on the type of birth control you've been using.
If it was a barrier method, you can start baby making right away, since the only thing preventing sperm from meeting egg was that physical barrier you've removed.
With a hormonal method, it depends—and it can be tough to predict. Some people's bodies need time to adjust to life without the birth control hormones and so they don't ovulate for about the first one to three months. When it comes to the Depo-provera injection, it is given once every three months, so the hormones stay in the body for about three months. Therefore, it is very unlikely to become pregnant until at least three months after your last injection.
As for the progesterone containing and non-hormonal copper IUD, these methods are immediately reversible.
The best thing you can do, once you're off birth control, is to track your period to ensure you are ovulating regularly. There are several different apps that allow you to log Aunt Flo's visits. You'll probably want to invest in an ovulation predictor kit, too. This is a pee-on-a-stick test that helps you pinpoint when you're ovulating, which is the time each month you can get pregnant.
For some people, the conception process happens fast. "We see a lot of pregnancies within that first month of coming off birth control," Zimmerman says.
But we know first-hand that others may be in it for the long haul. If your periods are irregular, you don't get them, or you just...have a bad feeling, go with your gut and chat with an OB/GYN or a reproductive endocrinologist. We're rooting for you!