What happens when you stop taking the pill?
Thinking of stopping the pill? Here's what to expect...
The obvious! You may get pregnant
The most obvious one! Fertility returns to “normal” as soon as you stop taking the pill (so be prepared!) You can start ovulating sooner than you might think (depending where in the pill packet you took the last pill), and you can get pregnant without having a period once you’ve stopped the pill. There's no link between having been on the pill and infertility, in fact, primary infertility is reduced in women who have taken the pill.
Your sex drive may change
Some women find their libido changes (usually down a gear or two) when they start the pill. It’s different for different types of pill and also varies for different people. If you do find your sex drive changes, it’s a sure bet that this will reverse once you stop taking the pill.
Your skin may change
Many women find that their skin becomes more oily, or that they have an increase in acne or hair growth over the few months after stopping the pill. This is especially so if you started the pill to help bad skin. However, some pills contain progestogens that women find make their skin worse than normal, and for these women, stopping is likely to improve matters.
You periods may become more painful and/or heavy
If you start taking the pill to treat heavy or painful periods, it follows that when you stop the pill, your heavy flow will return. Sometimes that happens straight away, but it can take a few months. Endometriosis is a common cause of period pain that worsens once the pill is stopped. If you’re concerned about this, you should discuss it with a gynaecologist with expertise in endometriosis surgery.
You may become aware of ovulation
The combined oral contraceptive works by stopping ovulation from occurring, so once you stop taking the pill, ovulation starts again - quickly. You’ll know you’re ovulating by the increase in clear and stretchy cervical mucous during the first half of your cycle (from menstruation to ovulation) followed by an abrupt change to thick white mucous after you've ovulated. Your breasts may feel more tender in the second half (luteal phase) of your cycle. Some women experience mild sensation on both sides during ovulation, but consistent pain on one side is often due to underlying endometriosis.
Irritability, headaches, tiredness, spontaneous sadness…premenstrual syndrome (PMS) can be responsible for a wide range of physical and emotional changes. The pill may improve many of these symptoms by levelling out hormonal changes (but some pills will exacerbate them - in which case you should stop taking that pill) and stopping the pill will reverse these changes.
Your breasts may change
You may find you go up a cup in bra size once you start taking the pill. If you particularly notice a size increase, you may want to get a bra extender, because chances are your breasts will increase and decrease cyclically, from when you ovulate until your next period.
Your period may become irregular
Iregular periods are not normal after you’ve been on the pill, despite what many people believe. If you have irregular periods when you stop taking the pill it's likely you have an underlying ovulatory disorder, which shouldn’t be put down to recent pill use. If you started the pill to regulate you periods then it should be no surprise that they return to being irregular. For women with polycystic ovarian syndrome PCOS, the first few periods may be quite regular, but further down the track, they’re likely to get more and more irregular.
Your weight may change
Does the pill make you put on weight? There’s no data to support this. A study comparing pill users and non-users showed a 0.5kg weight gain in about 30% of both groups, while 20% of both groups lost weight. So, if you’re lucky, you might lose half a kilo.