From Lauren: If you want to quit hormonal birth control or struggling with post birth control symptoms, this is for you! I’m excited to introduce you to Dr. Jolene Brighten, who helps women recover post-Pill in her private practice. She recently released her book Beyond The Pill, an immediate Amazon bestseller.
This post from Dr. Brighten is a great place to start when recovering from hormonal birth control, but I highly recommend getting her book if you want further support on rebalancing your hormones, regulating your cycle, increasing fertility, and/or practicing non-hormonal birth control.
I champion women’s sexual expression, and The Pill played a critical role in women’s sexual liberation. However, women can reach higher level of sexual empowerment by working with, not against, the rhythm of nature within us.
For information on non-hormonal birth control, read Beyond the Pill and my post, How To Track Your Cycles for Non-Hormonal Birth Control.
What is post birth control syndrome?
For many women, starting hormonal birth control means the end of uncomfortable symptoms like cramps, heavy bleeding, and acne. But it is often a trade off for symptoms like depression, chronic yeast infections, and a missing libido.
If you are ready to quit The Pill, here are the benefits to ditching hormonal birth control, and what you need to know about post birth control syndrome.
After 4 months of quitting the pill cold turkey, Paige came to me desperate not to go back. For Paige, stopping the birth control pill had side effects and at 33 she was now experiencing acne, was shedding hair everywhere and her period had returned with a vengeance. Paige had no idea what was happening in her body, and her doctor’s only solution was to put her back on the pill to regulate her period. (P.S. the pill doesn’t regulate your period.) In fact, it’s a big reason why coming off the pill can be so hard.
She shared with me that she started taking the pill back when she was 16. She was not only experiencing acne then, but her cramps were so bad they’d bring her to vomiting monthly. The fear of that debilitating pain kept her on the pill for more than 15 years. And can you blame her? Her doctor had assured her that staying on the pill long term would be perfectly fine and that when she was ready to have a baby, she’d be able to transition off the pill without any delay to her fertility or her period.
Immediately after going off the pill, Paige found quite the opposite. Her period was triggering some major high school PTSD. “Have you seen that meme from Carrie? The one with all the blood? It was like that,” Paige said. And to top it off, she was dealing with painful cystic acne. I explained to Paige that a medication had been controlling her menstrual cycle and hormones for more than 15 years.
A lot of women like Paige struggle with post birth control syndrome when they quit The Pill, and it’s something I happen to have a lot of expertise in treating.
As I reviewed Paige’s history with her it was evident that going off the pill wasn’t all bad, she now had better energy, the uncomfortable vaginal itching, and dreaded monthly yeast infections had disappeared, and as she explained it, “I feel a lot more like myself!”
While post-birth control syndrome can be a tremendous pain in the ovaries (LOL!), there are also some positive benefits that come with kicking that pill. Here are the common symptoms of post birth control syndrome, plus the tips that have helped my patients, including Paige, heal.
6 Positive Side Effects of Stopping The Pill
1. Better Moods
For some women, coming off the pill does mean better moods, less anxiety, and like a cloud has been lifted. For Paige, one of the biggest benefits she saw when she kicked that birth control pill was that her anxiety disappeared.
It wasn’t long after starting birth control that Paige began to find herself struggling to get to sleep at night due to racing thoughts keeping her awake. Once a social butterfly, she soon found that she was tense and uneasy in social settings.
She had spent many years working with counselors to try to reign in the anxiety. It wasn’t until she discontinued birth control that she found herself falling asleep easily, waking feeling rested, and getting together with her friends more regularly.
2. Improved Sex Life
Paige was excited the day she realized her issues with vaginal dryness were behind her. As she worked with her cycles to optimize her hormones she soon discovered that sex was a lot more pleasurable.
You see, the birth control pill can lead to vaginal dryness, which means a gal can need some extra support for that bow chicka wow wow. If that is true for you, be sure to opt for lubes that are phthalate and petroleum free (like this onelike this one). If you’re wondering if chemicals in your lube is a big deal—it is.
It’s not uncommon for women to experience a low libido while on birth control and sex can be painful with orgasms being non-existant.
Paige supported her hormones, experimented with her partner, and reclaimed her libido in a big way!
3. Yeast & Other Vaginal Infections
Paige also had way less vaginal irritation and itching. For as long as she could remember she had needed to treat a vaginal infection at least several times per year and her underwear had always felt a bit uncomfortable. “I had to be militant about my after sex routine or I’d end up with a UTI or yeast infection,” she shared.
If you’re a woman who experienced chronic vaginal infections while on the pill, coming off of it may mean no more infections and a lot happier vagina.
4. Weight Loss
Some women gain weight as a side effect of the pill. If that’s true for you, one of the best ways to start kicking those extra pounds is to lose that highly inflammatory pill. While research has shown a moderate increase in weight on the pill, there are many women who report gaining 5-10 lbs that just won’t budge until they stop the pill.
In my clinical experience, women who experience weight gain due to birth control may be experiencing water retention or metabolic issues. It is important to love who you are everyday and it is important to investigate unexplained weight gain, as it may be a sign of a deeper issue.
5. Energy Boost
The pill robs you of the nutrients your cells need to make energy, plus seriously hinders the hormones that help you with your “get up and go!” Many women report their energy levels gradually increase after stopping the pill. As I explain in chapter 7 of Beyond the Pill, hormonal birth control can impact adrenal and thyroid function, which in turn can lead to lower energy levels.
6. Incredible Hair, Skin, and Nails
Paige started out losing hair, but within 6 months of using the protocols in Beyond the Pill her head was covered in the fuzzy joyous sign of new hair growth! Some women experience increased acne with certain hormonal contraceptives, and others experience hair loss and other skin symptoms. Whatever your symptoms, they have a root cause and you can support your body in healing.
Paige was able to clear her skin, bump her natural glow and grow some luscious locks.
5 Common Symptoms of Post Birth Control Syndrome
1. Heavy, Painful Periods After Stopping Birth Control Pills
Paige shared that the first day her period came back, she was in a yoga class. She could feel the gush of blood and the warmth between her thighs as her period made its grand debut (at the expense of her favorite yoga pants). “I panicked, grabbed my mat, and ran out of the classroom,” she shared. It made her feel like she was reliving her middle school days where her heavy periods sabotaged her favorite clothes and social life.
I think there’s a lot of us that can relate. I know I certainly have my share of “my period ruined my life” stories from middle school.
If heavy periods is the reason you started the pill, chances are they’ll be back when you quit. That is, if you don’t take steps to clear your estrogen, reduce inflammation and support your nutrient stores. (More on this soon!)
2. Post-Pill Amenorrhea.
Unlike Paige, some women’s periods just stop when they finish their last pill pack. In fact, quite a few women can experience what’s known as post-pill amenorrhea. This is when your period goes missing for several months after stopping the pill.
Sometimes patients share with me that they have a period after stopping birth control and then it all of a sudden stops. As I explain to these women, that first bleed is in response to you discontinuing the medication. It isn’t a real period. In fact, not a single period you had on birth control is a real period because it was artificially induced by this drug that suppressed your hormones and ovulation.
If you’re a woman who had a regular menstrual cycle before starting the pill, then you should expect your period to come back within 3 months of stopping the pill. Has it been more than 3 months? Then it is time to find out just why your period has gone missing.
If you had irregular periods prior to starting the pill, your period may take up to six months to return.
In my clinical practice, I recommend that women investigate their amenorrhea after three months of missing their period. The longer your period stays away the harder it can be to get it back. Not to say it can’t be done, I’ve had patients welcome their period back after more than 10 years of it taking a hiatus. The answer as to when your period will come back lies in the why it is missing to begin with.
3. Post-Pill Acne
Oh boy, how that acne can flare! Pimples, cystic acne, bacne, and zits where they’ve never been before—I’ve had patients present with all of these. But let me tell you there are a lot of things that you can do prior to stopping the pill to help prevent this. (If this is a problem for you then you’ll be happy to know we cover how to create incredible skin for life in Beyond the Pill. Yes, it is 100% possible to have clear skin without birth control.
And if you’ve already kicked the pill then no worries! There are lots that can be done to improve your skin and eliminate acne for good. Eating probiotic-rich foods, increasing dietary zinc, eliminating dairy, and taking hormone supportive supplements are just a few of the ways you can begin to improve your skin.
The acne that you experience with post-birth control syndrome is typically at its worst about three to six months after stopping the pill. In some women, it begins to improve after 6-8 months, but in my experience, it tends to hang around until you address it directly. I’ve treated women in my practice who have experienced relentless acne for years after stopping the pill. The good news is, they were able to eliminate it naturally without needing to suppress their hormones.
4. Post-Birth Control Mood Swings
While on birth control your body has been dealing with a combination of inflammation, blocked ovulation and nutrient depletions—any one of which can lead to mood issues.
I’ve seen women in my clinical practice have symptoms that vary from anxiety and debilitating panic attacks to feeling depressed and falling out of love with their life all while on the pill.
It might feel scary to come off the pill, but listen, you can do a hell of a lot more for your mood off the pill than you can on the pill.
I recommend women work with a counselor or mental health specialist if they are experiencing extreme ups and downs with their mood. Leveraging a mental health expert alongside a Naturopathic or Functional Medicine Doctor can help you get ample support in breaking up with these hormones and rediscovering “you off of hormones.”
Because diet is so foundational to the way we feel, how we create hormones, and enabling our body to heal, I also recommend that you consider working with a nutritional consultant, registered dietician, or other qualified food focused provider.
5. A Libido That Stays Gone
This was something Paige wasn’t too happy about either. You see, her doctor had told her the answer to her low libido was as simple as stopping that pill. However, as a doctor who has helped thousands of women recover their hormones from post birth control syndrome, I can assure that you that a missing libido post-pill is more the norm. And just like your mood, the only way to get your libido back is to kick that pill and to take steps to reset your hormones.
Eating libido supportive foods like dark chocolate, pineapple, spinach, and oysters are beneficial foods to get you and your libido back together.
As I mentioned before, Paige was able to eliminate her issues of vaginal dryness and create a satisfying libido. Adaptogens, along with a hormone friendly diet and daily mind-body practices were exactly what she needed to get her libido back on-line and take her orgasms to the next level. (Yes, women report better orgasms off the pill!)
For each of us, the root cause of our missing sex drive may go deeper than just the use of birth control or it may be multifactorial. As I discuss in Beyond the Pill, having open communication with your partner and seeking support when needed is important in your healing journey.
How to Reset Your Hormones Post Birth Control
While Paige’s skin and heavy painful periods may have seemed like a big burden for her to bear, it was actually providing us incredibly useful data for us to biohack her hormones and reset her cycle. We employed the five fundamentals of the Brighten Protocol™ that you’ll find in Beyond the Pill to fast track Paige’s healing. Here are three of the five that you can employ right now, whether you’re on birth control now or have already stopped.
1. Replenish Nutrient Stores
Step one was to replenish Paige’s nutrients big time. We got Paige eating a whole foods diet, focusing on anti-inflammatory, nutrient-dense foods to replenish her nutrient stores that were depleted by the pill.
Because she had been on it for so long without any targeted nutritional support, we also started Paige on a prenatal. Her blood work revealed she was low in her iron stores, although not yet anemic. This was likely due to her heavy periods. Supplementing with iron helped her prevent anemia and her periods from becoming heavier. Improving her diet was key in clearing her skin, creating easier periods, and boosting her energy.
Within weeks, Paige’s energy was up. She said that she was feeling more motivated and her colleagues had noted that she was sharper at work. “I’m on fire and have never felt more on top of life,” she explained at a follow-up visit.
2. Hormone Detox Support
We got Paige going on some much-needed estrogen detox support. Paige’s symptoms and labs all pointed to estrogen dominance, so step one was making sure that her liver was well equipped with the best nutrients to help package up that estrogen and move it out.
Including more vegetables in the broccoli and onion family, along with a 14-Day professional grade detox program helped support Paige’s natural detox pathways do their job. The result? Clear skin, less cramps, less clots in her menstrual blood and a manageable period that got her back into yoga on the reg.
3. Addressing Your Hormone Imbalance
We got Paige rolling with some mind-body support. We needed to drop stress and get it out of the way so that she could get back to ovulating and get her progesterone levels up. Decreasing stress can help increase progesterone, which opposes all that extra estrogen.
Paige was dealing with low progesterone, estrogen dominance and way too many stress hormones. But she was able to 180 that business with some simple daily mind-body practices.
Using the quiz in chapter 1 of Beyond the Pill, you can dial in the key hormone “troublemakers” that you need to address and follow the corresponding protocols to bring them back into balance. While your PMS and other symptoms of hormone imbalance can be similar to what other women experience, the root cause of this may be due to a different hormone or system. It’s important to address the correct hormones so you can feel better fast.
Recovery from Post Birth Control Syndrome
After three months on my protocol, Paige’s skin was looking better than it had before and her periods were completely manageable. She was no longer having to pack an extra change of clothes to work or change her Diva Cup multiple times a day the first few days of her period. This was a huge relief for her.
After relying on the birth control pill to control her acne and periods for so long, Paige was glad to be back in her body and in tune with her hormones once again. And for the first time without the pill she had one of those “easy periods” she had heard about.
The symptoms of post birth control syndrome may seem overwhelming, but I have your back in Beyond the Pill. Just like Paige, you can balance your hormones naturally with the steps I share in my book.
About Dr. Jolene Brighten
Dr. Brighten is an expert in Post-Birth Control Syndrome and hormonal birth control related problems. She’s a women’s health naturopathic medical doctor, practicing physician, author and speaker. She helps women who are looking to ditch synthetic birth control and balance their hormones, as well as those want to stay on birth control without long term consequences.