Unopened packet of birth control pills against a pink background

Does Birth Control Make You Gain Weight?

Written on June 26, 2023 by Gillian (Gigi) Singer, MPH. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

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Does birth control make you gain weight? After decades of research, 44 studies to be exact, there is no conclusive scientific evidence that indicates that it contributes to significant weight gain.[1] However, this does not mean that it doesn’t happen.

In this article, you will learn how birth control, its side effects, hormones, and more influence weight gain and body shape.

Types of Birth Control and Their Side Effects

Birth control, or contraception, comes in many forms though all of them are designed to prevent the fertilization of an egg—or a pregnancy. Options for birth control include oral pills (of different hormonal makeups), patches placed on the skin, vaginally inserted rings, devices placed in the body, and injections.

Birth Control Pills

All birth control pills are a hormonal method of contraception. They “come in a pack, and you take 1 pill every day. The pill is safe, affordable, and effective if you always take your pill on time. Besides preventing pregnancy, the pill has lots of other health benefits, too.”[2]

To prevent pregnancy, the hormones in the pills stop ovulation, meaning no egg is released from the ovary, and thus there is no egg to be fertilized. Second, the hormones thicken the cervical mucus which blocks sperms’ entry into the uterus—like a biological bodyguard.

There are two main types of birth control pills—combination pills (also called combined oral contraceptives or COCs) and progestin-only pills (POPs).

Combined oral contraceptives (COCs)

Combined oral contraceptives (COCs) contain both estrogen and progestin and are the most common type of birth control pill. Common side effects for COC users include breast tenderness, nausea, increased risk of blood clots, and high blood pressure. Estrogen can contribute to breast soreness, minimally increases the risk of thromboembolism (blood clots), and might increase blood pressure.[3,4] Some COC users, about 15%, report nausea.[5]

Progestin-only pills (POPs)

Progestin-only pills (POPs) only contain progestin—they do not contain estrogen—and sometimes have fewer side effects.[2] That said, the side effects of POPs can be more serious. Around 20-30% of users on POPs have breakthrough bleeding and irregular bleeding.[6] Hormonal acne may increase because of its relationship with progestin. POP users may have an increased risk of problematic ovarian cysts, and higher progestin levels are known to correlate with higher rates of depression.[6]

Oral contraception and weight gain

Clue says, “Some people may gain weight while using hormonal birth control, while others may experience bloating or changes in body composition (the amount and distribution of body fat) which could make them feel like they’re gaining weight.”[7] Changes in hormone levels during puberty, and later menopause, impact how body fat is distributed—body fat is then more often distributed in the chest, thighs, hips, and buttocks.[8] Estrogen may also lead to water retention, which can be perceived as weight gain.[8]

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Birth Control Patch

“The transdermal contraceptive patch is a safe and convenient birth control method that works really well if you always use it correctly. You wear the patch on certain parts of your body, and it releases hormones through your skin that prevent pregnancy,” says Planned Parenthood, “Like most birth control pills, the patch has the hormones estrogen and progestin… The hormones in the patch stop ovulation … [and] also thicken the mucus on your cervix.”[9]

Similar to combination oral contraception (COC), the combination of estrogen and progestin can lead to headaches, breast tenderness, etc. Other patch-specific side effects include skin irritation, diarrhea, and muscle spasms.[6]

Birth control patch and weight gain

Regarding weight gain, “There’s lots of research on the hormones in the birth control patch, and studies show these hormones don’t usually cause weight gain or weight loss.”[9]

Vaginal Rings

Soft flexible vaginal rings are inserted into the vaginal canal where they “emit progestin and estrogen to the surrounding uterus. Since these rings locally release hormones, they attempt to minimize side effects. However, a combination of hormonal symptoms is still possible in addition to ring-specific side effects” like vaginal infection and irritation, increased vaginal discharge, and diarrhea.[6]

Vaginal rings and weight gain

Birth control rings do not cause weight changes.

Birth Control Implant

Placed by a healthcare provider, “the birth control implant (AKA Nexplanon) is a tiny, thin rod about the size of a matchstick. The implant releases hormones into your body that prevent you from getting pregnant.”[10]

Common side effects of the implant are changes in bleeding—this could come in the form of breakthrough bleeding or spotting, lighter periods, or heavier periods (some people might not have their period at all).[10] Other side effects can include headaches, breast tenderness, nausea, ovarian cysts, and pain/bruising/infection at the site of insertion.[10]

Birth control implant & weight gain

Planned Parenthood reports, “The birth control implant (AKA Nexplanon) may cause weight gain in some people while they’re using it, but this doesn’t happen to everyone. It’s not a very common side effect, and many people use the implant without gaining weight.”[10]

Birth Control Shot

The birth control shot is administered every three months, contains progestin, and functions the same as other methods.

In the first year, side effects may include more frequent bleeding, spotting, and the disappearance of a monthly period (all of which are totally fine). Other side effects can include headaches, breast tenderness, nausea, depression, and bruising or a small dent at the site of injection.

Birth control shot and weight gain

The shot can cause weight gain to varying degrees during use, depending on the individual. All bodies are different, so even though one person experiences weight gain, it doesn’t mean someone else will.[11]

Intrauterine Devices (IUDs)

Intrauterine devices (IUDs) are small T-shaped devices that are inserted into the uterus. There are two categories of IUDs: hormonal IUDs (Mirena, Kyleena, Liletta, and Skyla) and non-hormonal copper IUD (Paragard).

Hormonal IUDs function the same as other hormonal methods. The nonhormonal IUD option, Paragard, is made of copper, which repels sperm.

Apart from the pain or discomfort of IUD placement, hormonal IUDs are known to cause irregular bleeding, and many users don’t get their period while they have the IUD. The copper IUD can cause spotting between periods, irregular periods, heavier or longer periods, and more or worse cramping during your periods.

Intrauterine Devices (IUDs) and weight gain

Regardless of if your IUD is hormonal or copper, studies show that IUDs do not cause weight gain.

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  1. Does birth control cause weight gain? Nurx. Reviewed August 16, 2022. Accessed June 7, 2023.
  2. Birth control pills: The pill: Contraceptive Pills. Planned Parenthood. Accessed June 7, 2023.
  3. Brynhildsen J. Combined hormonal contraceptives: prescribing patterns, compliance, and benefits versus risks. Ther Adv Drug Saf. 2014;5(5):201-213.
  4. Oparil S. Hypertension and oral contraceptives. J Cardiovasc Med. 1981 Apr;6(4):381, 384-7. PMID: 12263383.
  5. de Melo NR. Estrogen-Free Oral Hormonal Contraception: Benefits of the Progestin-Only Pill. Women’s Health. 2010;6(5):721-735.
  6. What are the side effects of birth control? Everlywell. Reviewed February 17, 2022. Accessed June 7, 2023.
  7. Laurie Ray D. Birth control and weight gain. Birth Control and Weight Gain: Side Effects & Comparison. Published November 14, 2022. Accessed June 7, 2023.
  8. Leeners B, Geary N, Tobler PN, Asarian L. Ovarian hormones and obesity. Hum Reprod Update. 2017;23(3):300-21.
  9. Birth control patch: Ortho Evra: Transdermal Patch. Planned Parenthood. Accessed June 7, 2023.
  10. Birth control implants: NEXPLANON information. Planned Parenthood. Accessed June 7, 2023.
  11. Depo-Provera: Birth control shot: Birth control injection. Planned Parenthood. Accessed June 7, 2023.
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