It’s an obvious question: Does your body really put off the permanent injection of synthetic hormones so easily? What would happen if you just stopped? In Germany alone, about 7 million women use the contraceptive pill. While in the 1960s it was still celebrated as a symbol of female self-determination, its reputation has since suffered greatly. The list of side effects is long and the studies are overwhelming.
Can it really be healthy to swallow synthetic hormones every day? © Africa Studio / Shutterstock.com
What dangerous side effects does the pill have?
Most dangerous side effect of the pill: the development of thromboses, which can lead to dangerous, sometimes even fatal embolisms. The number of thromboses increases significantly among pill users: With the second-generation birth control pill (such as Evaluna or Femigoa), there are about 20 out of 100,000 women. And for those who swallow 3rd and 4th generation pills (such as Mayra, Yasmin or Valette) the risk doubles again.
For comparison: among women who use non-hormonal contraception, the risk is ‘nur’ 10 out of 100,000 women who get thrombosis, according to a study published in the German Ärzteblatt.
When does the pill increase the risk of thrombosis?
The probability of cardiovascular disease or depression is also higher for women who use the pill. An international team of researchers recently found that the Pill has a negative effect on women’s well-being after just under 3 months. In the study, the women stated that they felt less energetic and less in control of their emotions.
What happens in the body when I stop taking the pill?
Although many women think about stopping their daily hormone intake again and again, they are unsure of the consequences this will have for their body. After all, they have benefited for years from the positive side effects such as more regular periods, clean skin and full hair. We clarify which concerns are unfounded and what consequences they should actually expect:
1. the period becomes more irregular
After stopping the pill, the regularity of the period is a major issue: “The natural cycle must first get going again,” says Cologne-based gynaecologist Dr. Ursula Sottong. “About one third of women have irregular cycles after stopping the pill.” Because although they no longer take the pill, they are not immediately ‘clean’: “The hormones of the pill are stored in the fat cells of the body and are only gradually broken down after stopping the pill”.
And that takes time: It is quite possible that the period will not come at all for weeks. However, anyone who still has not had any bleeding 3 months after stopping the pill should see a doctor.
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2. you become more emotional
Your loved ones may be the first to know that you have stopped taking the pill – even if you have not told them a word. If you stop taking the pill, it will also affect your mood. Why? Because the natural female cycle is controlled by hormones, the concentration of which fluctuates throughout the cycle: In the first half of the cycle the oestrogen level rises steadily until ovulation, after which progesterone takes control – and both have a different effect on mood.
However, by taking a combined pill (the most common type of pill) the hormone level remains the same throughout the cycle. This is because the daily hormones estrogen and progestin practically paralyse the natural cycle. If you stop taking the pill, the constant hormone level drops accordingly – and the mood swings return.
However, discontinuing the pill can also give you true feelings of happiness, because you perceive emotional highs more intensely: “Especially shortly before ovulation, it is very possible that you will feel particularly good,” explains Dr. Katrin Schaudig from the Hormone Center Hamburg.
3. You get impure skin and hair loss
The pill not only ensures that contraception is safe, but also that your facial skin is quite clean. Because the male hormone testosterone is suppressed during the period of taking the pill and the oestrogen level is very high, clean skin and full hair are the pill’s popular side effects.
However, if the oestrogen level drops after stopping the pill, this changes – and unfortunately something else also turns out: “Almost exactly three months after stopping the pill, many women experience short-term hair loss,” says Schaudig.
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This is because the high oestrogen level thanks to the contraceptive pill keeps more hairs than usual in the growth phase. When the pill is discontinued, the estrogen level suddenly drops – and the body sends the hairs from the growth phase to the rest phase, where they remain for about 3 months before they fall out. The good news: “Within 1 to 2 months, the hair growth normalizes by itself.”
Anyone who wants to stop taking the pill should consider a few essential things to make the changeover as gentle as possible for the body. © shurkin son / Shutterstock.com
4. the desire for sex increases
The testosterone deficiency also has its good side: since the male hormone has restricted the libido in many female pill users, the desire for sex also increases in some after stopping the pill.
5. you lose weight
Lose weight without doing anything about it? Shut up! “The estrogen in the pill can bind 1 to 2 kilos of water in the body,” says Schaudig. These water retentions disappear on their own after stopping the pill.
Can I get pregnant right after stopping the pill?
Yes, it’s possible. Sounds banal, but anyone who has not had to worry about a possible pregnancy for years should be particularly careful after stopping the pill, because: “Immediately after stopping the pill, the probability of getting pregnant is particularly high,” says Dr. Schaudig. This is partly because ex-pill users are often not yet as experienced with their new contraceptive method.
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What should I look for when I stop taking the pill?
If you stop taking the pill after years, this means a serious hormonal change for the body – in a woman’s life between puberty and menopause this is rather rare. “That’s why there is nothing more exciting for me than the phase after stopping the pill,” says Dr. Sottong. “Many women only then really get to know their own biology and are really confronted with their fertility for the first time.
Therefore, the decision to stop taking the pill should not be made thoughtlessly: Schaudig strongly advises against taking short breaks from the pill “just to see what it’s like”. Because the risk of thrombosis is highest in the first 6 to 12 months of taking the pill.
Headaches and no desire for sex are still the harmless side effects of the pill. © shurkin son / Shutterstock.com
Stop the pill in 5 steps
You want to stop taking the pill, but don’t know how to do it most skilfully? We can help you to stop taking the pill in a controlled way:
Stop taking the pill – Step 1: Go to your doctor for a check-up
Ideally, you should first consult your gynaecologist to find out about alternative contraceptive methods. Many young women are prescribed the pill because they have had particularly heavy or irregular bleeding. If you have not used the pill as a contraceptive only, you should be prepared for the possibility that previous irregularities in your cycle may return.
Stop taking the pill – Step 2: Find an alternative method of contraception
If you stop taking the pill but do not yet have an acute desire to have children, you should start thinking about how you want to use contraception in the future. Some hormone-free methods need a little practice. “Any form of contraception – even the pill or condom – is only safe if it is used correctly. The more experienced you are with it, the better,” explains Sottong.
Which contraceptive method suits you?
Stopping the pill – Step 3: Now stop taking the pill
How to stop taking the pill is self-explanatory: just stop throwing in the small film tablet every day. But: Not even in the middle of it. But before you let the ovaries take control, you should finish the last pack. If you stop taking the pill in the middle of the day, you may start bleeding in between and your hormone levels will go out of balance.
Stop taking the pill – Step 4: Give your body a break
Some women feel like they are on a rollercoaster ride or back to their youth after stopping the pill: Stronger periods, painful cramps, perhaps even mood swings and pimples can be the result. Conversely, however, this can also mean that many symptoms that you experienced during your pill period now disappear. For example, painful breasts, headaches, dizziness and bleeding in between. Which side effects actually occur is very individual.
Stop taking the pill – Step 5: Keep everything in view
Give your body some time to adjust after stopping the pill. The natural cycle must first get going again. Cycle apps such as Ovy or MyCycles can help you better document your menstrual cycle and monitor other symptoms besides your periods. If after 3 months you still don’t get your period regularly or notice other inconveniences, be sure to see your doctor again to have your hormone levels checked.
The 10 most common condom excuses Anyone who stops taking the pill after a long time gets to know their body in a new way © shurkin son / Shutterstock.com
Field report from Lena: “This is how I felt when I stopped taking the pill”
“Like many women, it was completely natural for me to swallow hormones every day. After more than 10 years, I didn’t know any other way – and then I realized: I didn’t really know my own body either. With the pill my cycle was regular and my periods less painful, but I felt somehow dull and unhappy and didn’t know why. I had already changed the pill several times because of a lack of desire, but without any real success. Then I stopped my daily hormone intake – and everything changed!
Already in the first weeks I felt liberated. I developed a much better feeling for my body. At the same time, however, I also felt the full force of my fertility: in the past, girlfriends used to complain about PMS I always thought it was exaggerated – I had no idea how they felt!
The first months my period came fairly reliably, but then everything got mixed up. Sometimes I waited 6 to 7 weeks for my period – and of course I got totally nervous. Pregnancy test (negative), visit to the doctor, the full program. But my gynaecologist gave the all-clear: ‘Don’t worry, you are ovulating.’ Aha.
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Since then I have been observing my cycle symptoms very closely, and it is fascinating to perceive my body in the different phases. I either feel super sexy (before ovulation) or mega ugly (just before my period). And I readily admit it: It can be quite exhausting! But it’s a good feeling to know what makes your body tick and to notice how your hormonal balance is restored.
By the way, even after 8 months I still didn’t have a super average 28-day cycle. But at least I still had the feeling of being myself. And if it’s not worth it, then what is?!”
Those who stop taking the contraceptive pill have to expect some short-term side effects such as hair loss and have to consider alternative contraceptive methods, but in return they gain a completely new body awareness and minimize health risks from the pill. Whatever you decide, approach the subject of contraception carefully and listen to the signals your body is sending you.