What happened when I went off hormonal birth control

I went off the pill in May of 2017, so it’s been about two years now. I went off suddenly, didn’t talk to my doctor about it — which in hindsight was not the smartest idea, I’m just lucky I was seeing a functional medicine doctor for gut issues around the same time. Here’s the weird part, no one really talks about what happens when you go off the pill. We all know about the side effects that you could experience when you go on the pill — mood changes, weight gain, etc. I didn’t experience any of those on the pill I was on for the majority of the almost 10 years I was on hormonal birth control. The only time I experienced not so great side effects, mostly pertaining to mood, was when I went on the generic form of the pill I was on (ortho tri cyclen lo), and they claimed it was the same formula, but it definitely was not, so I (aka my mom) shelled out extra money each month for the years to come for the brand name prescription, which the majority of the time was not covered by insurance — insert eye roll. Here’s the thing — the side effects hit me when I went off the pill! And newsflash, this is a super common occurrence.

A lot of the women in my generation — prime millennial lady over here — were put on the pill as teenagers to bandaid issues. For me it was horrible cramps. The added benefit being reduction of acne (which I didn’t really have, but luckily never really got probably thanks to the pill) and the actual birth control aspect for when we all did become sexually active. Here’s the thing though, no one told me about other options — besides the shot and eventually IUDs when those became a big deal. The pill was just what everyone did, it was the norm, and therefore no one asked any questions — not even my over protective jewish mother. She was on the pill before getting pregnant with me and had absolutely zero complications and in fact even got pregnant like that (insert finger snap)!

The thing is, no generation has been on the pill for as long as we have…making us total guinea pigs. That is absolutely terrifying to me. If you’ve read my gut healing story (basically the inception of my blog and where this all began), you would know at the beginning of 2017 I experienced a debilitating case of bloat. I’d been diagnosed with IBS-C in 2012, but seemingly had things under control for those 5 years. Finally, things weren’t under control anymore. Looking back knowing what I know now, I’m guessing my liver was a ticking time bomb — and birth control didn’t help that. After running a bunch of tests, colonoscopy, endoscopy, CT scan, etc. due to the colon cancer that runs in my family, the only thing odd that showed up was my non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. So that begs the question, what came first — the chicken or the egg? Or in my case the pill or the liver disease?

This diagnoses aligned with my seriously raised liver marker levels my functional medicine doctor stumbled across a couple months later. But let’s backtrack a bit. After we ran all of these tests at the beginning of the year, my gastroenterologist gave me a handout on the Low FODMAP diet (this was before anyone really knew about it), so I started playing with it on my own — saw improvement after about 2 months — so proceeded to stay on it for far longer than I was supposed to as it is a very restrictive diet. I would say that after those 2 months, my bloat improved by 35-40%, making like bearable again. The real shift came when I went off birth control. Within a week my bloat was down probably another 40%.

So, that all sounds great right? Right…but also wrong. Along with the decreased bloat came some unexpected things.

7 things I experienced when I went off hormonal birth control:

  1. A copper and zinc imbalance - leaving my body with excess copper. Copper and zinc fight for space within the body. Luckily, that means by reducing copper rich foods and incorporating a zinc supplement, one can fix the situation quite quickly (approx. 2 months in my case). The issue arises when you don’t know it’s happening — which I wouldn’t had I not been seeing my functional medicine doctor and doing blood taste (praise be! that I just so happened to be running tests for other things and she caught it). So what does excess copper mean? Psychiatric symptoms can include: anxiety, depression, and mood disorders. Other symptoms can include: poor concentration, brain fog, sensitivity to food dyes and shellfish, white spots on fingernails (this I’ve always had), poor immune function, low libido, belly pain, diarrhea, vomiting, liver damage, among others.

  2. I had zero sex drive. Part of this had to do with my copper imbalance, the other part had to do with the fact that my hormones were completely out of whack, the other part of this was that things were on the decline with my long-term relationship. Our periods are a vital sign that is seriously undervalued // overlooked in our society today. Our cycle health mirrors our overall body health, and libido is a big part of life. Let’s work together to break the stigma of sex and period talk and share out stories.

  3. My body shape changed. I may have gained a couple of pounds (I don’t weight myself regularly and quite frankly needed it), but the biggest difference was that my body shape literally changed. It’s almost like I went through puberty again as a 26 year old. My boobs grew, my butt grew, and I even now have baby hips. Not mad about it. It’s actually been quite funny, dating in this “new” body. I’ve never been complimented so much on my feminine assets.

  4. I got acne and I don’t think it’s going away anytime soon. It’s totally hormonal. It comes in waves. While it was worse when my body was first struggling to regulate it now ebbs and flows with where I am in my cycle, even though I’m not currently ovulating. Here’s to hoping it keeps me looking younger for longer #eternalyouth.

  5. My anxiety got worse. Whether this is hormonal or has to do with the fact that I’m more “in my body” and feeling and working through all the things and inner work, the world may never know.

  6. I hold a new respect for my body and honor my inner feminine. Our bodies are amazing. Before I went off the pill, I had no idea what cervical fluid was (and that it changes throughout our cycles), cervical angles, even that you can only get pregnant a max of 6 days out of the month. The fact that they don’t teach any of these things in school is beyond me.

  7. My period came back, but it took AWHILE and it’s still not regular. It’s a severe work in progress. Was it the pill that caused this? Probably not, but it definitely served as a bandaid and was masking issues that I’ve been having. For all we know my period was never regular — I went on the pill at 15 or 16 and got my period around 14 (late bloomer, as you can probably tell per point 3. I’m currently struggling with low progesterone and it’s effects — aka my current anovulatory cycles, painful periods, etc. More to come here.

Now I’m curious. How long have you been on the pill? Are you toying with coming off of it? Everyone needs to do what works best for them and their own body. Not saying that coming off is always the best option. Some people struggle from disease that is actually best managed on some forms of hormonal birth control. For my personal body? It was the right choice to go off. I’m still working on balancing my hormones, regulating my flow, and creating a fertile, functioning body that feels good day to day and is primed and ready to go when I do get to the stage in life where I’m ready to think about kids — we all know I like to plan, haha!

Questions // comments? Drop them below or slide into my DMs over on instagram @nowheylady.