Ovulation - Nucleus Health
What Happens to Your Period When You Stop Taking the Pill?
For most women coming off the pill, menstrual cycles resume their regular schedule. But for some women, it takes a while.
By Melanie Winderlich
Medically Reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH
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Birth control pills, otherwise known as oral contraceptives, prevent pregnancy by changing the course of your menstrual cycle: The hormones in the pill stop normal ovulation. In essence, coming off the pill puts your body back on its natural cycle. If you have been using the birth control pill to lessen the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) or to manage irregular periods, you may be wondering exactly what will happen when you stop taking it.
How Birth Control Pills and Devices Work
Oral contraceptives, as well as many birth control methods involving patches, injections, rings, and implantable devices, rely on hormones — specifically estrogen and sometimes progestin — to be effective. These forms of contraception work by preventing ovulation (the monthly release of an egg from an ovary) and by changing the uterine lining and cervical mucus to help block sperm from reaching the egg, fertilizing it, and implanting in the uterus.
“Active” hormone pills, taken for different lengths of time as well as in different doses depending on the brand, are followed by a week of inactive pills, containing no hormones — this drop-off in hormones triggers the uterus to shed its lining, causing a menstrual period.
Because low-dose birth control pills are designed to suppress the growth of the uterine lining — most of which the body expels during menstruation — this usually means a lighter, shorter period that's more regular. In fact, some companies design birth control pills so that a woman will only get her period a few times each year; you continuously take the active pills for months, depending on the brand.
Coming Off of the Pill
Most women’s bodies will go back to normal hormone production after coming off the pill. In fact, it’s possible to become pregnant just a few days after you stop taking oral contraceptives. On the other hand, it could also take a few months for your body to begin ovulating and menstruating on its own schedule again — some women will experience a delay before their normal menstrual cycles returns, especially those who had irregular periods before taking oral contraceptives.
If you began taking a birth control pill to help regulate your period, your menstrual cycle may return to its original irregular behavior, or you may now have a more consistent pattern. If you’re waiting for a normal cycle to return but still don’t want to become pregnant, you’ll need to be vigilant about using another form of contraception, like condoms.
What if Your Menstrual Cycle Doesn’t Return to Normal?
If your menstrual cycle hasn't returned to normal after a few months, your doctor will test your hormone levels, including human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), to check for pregnancy. Testing other hormone levels can tell if there's a problem with other endocrine glands such as the pituitary gland, for example.
Besides pregnancy, conditions that may prevent normal menstruation from returning include:
No matter what your reason for deciding to come off the pill — from wanting to become pregnant to choosing an alternative method of contraception — talk to your doctor first. Every type, dose, and brand of birth control pill works differently. Meeting with your doctor can help you get answers to any questions or concerns you have about what will happen to your body, especially your reproductive system. This visit will also give you the opportunity to discuss other forms of contraception if you don't wish to become pregnant.
Video: This is Your Period in 2 Minutes | Glamour
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