Healthcare provider in an office with a patient and discussing getting off birth control

Getting Off Birth Control: What You Need to Know

Medically reviewed on December 10, 2023 by Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT. 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.

Table of contents

Hormonal birth control methods like birth control pills or intrauterine devices (IUDs) use synthetic hormones to alter the body’s reproductive cycles.[1] However, your exact experience on birth control will vary widely according to the specific birth control method, how long you’ve been using it, and your unique biological makeup.[2]

So, if you’re thinking about getting off birth control and you discontinue use of these hormonal contraceptive methods, you may notice physical effects, mental effects, both, or no effects at all.[3]

The most important guideline for getting off birth control is to do so with the guidance of a healthcare provider. Before you make a change, learning more about what to expect from the process can help you navigate sex and family planning safely amid the transition.

Understanding Hormonal Birth Control

Hormonal birth control methods are some of the most popular and effective approaches to family planning. By administering synthetic hormones to your body, the hormones can help reduce pregnancy by [4]:

  • Inhibiting ovulation
  • Thinning the uterine lining (the endometrium)
  • Thickening cervical mucus

Healthcare providers recognize two categories of hormonal birth control: short-acting and long-acting.[5] The former can take effect daily or in periods of up to 3 months (e.g. birth control injections). The latter helps to counteract pregnancy for periods ranging between 3 and 10 years, though these methods are reversible.[5]

Short-term methods of hormonal birth control may contain two versions of the hormones estrogen and progestin. These methods include [6]:

  • Oral contraceptives, (also called “the pill” or “mini-pill”), which are taken daily to suspend ovulation.
  • Vaginal rings, which are inserted once a month.
  • Patches, which are applied to the skin weekly.
  • Injections, which are administered by a healthcare provider around every 12 weeks.

The long-term methods of hormonal contraception are [6]:

  • Implants, which are inserted under the skin (usually in the arm). These contain progestin that’s disbursed over 3 years or longer.
  • Hormonal IUDs, which also contain progestin. They’re inserted into the vagina and sit at the cervix. Depending on the brand, they can effectively prevent pregnancy for as long as a decade.[7]

Another form of IUD is the copper IUD. Copper IUDs don’t use hormones to prevent unwanted pregnancy; rather, they’re comprised of a material that makes it harder for sperm to fertilize an egg and makes your uterus less hospitable if an egg is fertilized.[6]

Each type of hormonal birth control has its own way of inhibiting pregnancy. For this reason, each can result in differing effects and symptoms for people who choose to stop using them.

Should You Get Off Birth Control?

There is no “right” reason to decide to get off or switch your birth control method: it’s a personal decision. Some common reasons to stop using birth control include:

  • The desire to become pregnant or start a family
  • Experiencing negative side effects from an existing birth control method
  • Approaching a different phase of your reproductive life cycle, like menopause
  • Going through a significant life change, like a change in relationship status
  • Wanting to explore other birth control methods

If you’re sexually active and discontinuing your current birth control method, it’s important to consider which alternative family planning methods you’ll use instead (and as you transition).

Some effective non-hormonal birth control methods include[4]:

  • Barrier contraceptives, including latex male or female condoms, cervical caps, diaphragms, or contraceptive sponges.
  • Fertility awareness methods (FAM), where users track their ovulatory and reproductive cycles to identify when they’re most likely to get pregnant. Tracking basal body temperature or examining your cervical mucus consistency are two ways of applying FAM.
  • Sterilization, a permanent approach to birth control for people who know they do not want children. People with female anatomy can have a surgery known as tubal ligation; people with male anatomy can get a vasectomy.

Some people use spermicides or vaginal gels to ward off the possibility of pregnancy, but statistically, these aren’t as effective as other approaches.[4] Spermicide alone has a 70% efficacy rate at preventing pregnancy; if used alongside a barrier contraceptive, like a condom, it can be up to 94% effective.[4]

What Happens When You Get Off Hormonal Birth Control?

Discontinuing birth control can have many effects on your body, mind, and overall well-being. Interestingly, it typically only takes a few days for the synthetic hormones to exit your body, even if you’ve been using your method of choice for a long time.[8]

Some potential effects and symptoms of discontinuing hormonal contraception and birth control include [8]:

  • Menstrual irregularity – Many hormonal birth control methods can lighten or even completely suspend menstruation. When you stop using birth control, you may experience irregular periods and it can take some time for your cycles to re-regulate. You may also observe the return of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms like acne flare-ups. Some people also experience spotting between periods.
  • Changes in sex drive – For some people, taking hormonal birth control—especially from a young age—can influence your libido. While there is currently no scientific consensus on the subject, some studies indicate that hormonal contraceptives can enhance sex drive in some people while depressing it in others.[9]
  • Mood swings – There are many causes of mood swings in females, hormones being one of them. Mood is deeply influenced by hormonal fluctuations, so removing hormones used in contraceptives could result in emotional changes. That said, it’s thought that modern oral contraceptives are better tolerated than older forms of “the pill,” which contained ethinylestradiol (a type of synthetic estrogen).[10] That said, noticing a shift in your feelings or mental health isn’t uncommon when discontinuing or switching your birth control method. If you struggle with mood or have a diagnosed mental health condition, you may be more likely to observe emotional fluctuations temporarily.

Many people who stop using hormonal birth control experience side effects—but many others don’t. If you’re experiencing shifts—whether physical, mental, or both—it’s important to take them seriously. A healthcare provider can provide counseling and resources on both physical and emotional symptom management as your body adapts.

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Are There Any Risks Of Stopping Birth Control?

There is no scientific evidence to suggest that the use or discontinuation of hormonal birth control harms female fertility, either in the short or long term.[11] That said, the time it takes to recover your ability to conceive can vary widely and may depend on which method you use.

For instance, discontinuing the use of a hormonal contraceptive injection (the “depo shot,” or Depo-Provera®) may delay fertility resumption longer than other hormonal birth control methods.[12] While this method offers coverage against pregnancy for 15 weeks, some studies suggest it can take up to 10 months to get pregnant after getting off it.[13]

Unfortunately, there’s no way to predict how long your normal cycles will take to resume.[13]

The biggest risk of going off birth control is your susceptibility to unwanted pregnancy. If you use birth control pills, you may discontinue use at any time, but it’s possible to get pregnant only a few days after you discontinue them.[6] When going off the pill, be sure to plan ahead, and choose an alternative method of protection if you aren’t ready for a pregnancy.

How Long Will It Take For Your Body To Adjust?

The answer, again, depends. In general, the longer-acting your birth control method is, the longer it may take for your reproductive cycles to resume their natural cadence.

Moreover, any preexisting health conditions—whether hormonal, physical, or psychological—may prolong the time it takes for your body and mind to adjust.

Recommendations For Discontinuing Hormonal Contraceptives Safely

It’s important to work with a healthcare provider when retiring the use of your birth control. In fact, in some cases, you’ll need to see a healthcare provider to have your method discontinued and/or removed (like having an IUD removed in-office).

Aside from this, healthcare providers can provide insights, support, and can monitor you closely should you experience any adverse side effects. They can also help you meet your family planning goals if you’re recently off birth control and trying to conceive.

In addition to your healthcare provider’s supervision, the following recommendations can help support your transition:

  • Keeping a symptoms diary – This is an excellent way to track any physical, mental, or emotional symptoms and discuss them later with a provider. You'll also be able to refamiliarize yourself with how you feel at different stages of the menstrual cycle.
  • Focusing on holistic well-being – One of the best ways to support your body through the change is to get back to basics: You can start by eating balanced meals, scaling back alcohol use, incorporating daily movement, and doing your best to avoid triggers of mental or emotional stress.
  • Doubling down on safe sex – Birth control is just one facet of creating a healthy sex life. In addition to choosing a transitional birth control method, be sure to check your sexually transmitted infection (STI) status (particularly If you’re having sex with multiple partners). You can undergo STI screening with a healthcare provider or by using an at-home test kit.

Retiring or switching your birth control method can feel like a big change for your body, and it’s a highly personal decision. However, with clinical support and a conscious, proactive attitude, you can help your body adjust and enter a new chapter in total reproductive well-being.

Take Charge Of Your Sexual Health With Everlywell

No matter where you are in your reproductive journey, Everlywell gives you the tools you need to stay on top of your sexual health. For instance, Everlywell provides discrete at-home STI test kits that are physician-reviewed at CLIA-certified labs so that you can feel confident in your results.

From fertility testing to comprehensive online women’s health services, find out everything you need to know about your total well-being by exploring the Everlywell Women’s Health collection today.

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Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT works with a wide variety of individuals, ranging in age from children to the elderly, with an assortment of concerns and clinical conditions. She helps individuals optimize overall health and/or manage disease states using personalized medical nutrition therapy techniques.

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