COMING OFF THE PILL? READ THIS to help you make the transition as easy as possible!
This is not intended as medical advise and each individual should speak to their health practitioner to find out what is right for them.
Even though the oral contraceptive pill (aka the birth control pill) has been available in Australia (and much of the world) since the early 1960s, there is still so little information available to women about the aftermath of coming off of the pill. Women have come on leaps and strides in terms of our careers and place in society and the pill was a HUGE part of that, however doesn't mean that there aren't any disadvantages to going on and off of the pill.
I recently did some Instagram posts about my own experience of being put on the contraceptive pill, and coming off of the off it (and how uninformed I really was about the process, I honestly had NO idea what I was getting myself into!)
Considering the number of comments and message’s that the posts got, I know that so many women felt exactly the same way.
I for one, am VERY glad that I decided to come off of the contraceptive pill, BUT I wish that I knew more about what might (and in my case did) happen to me when I did come off it.
So, If you are thinking about coming off the pill or have come off it and are experiencing some crazy symptoms, then read on because I'm here to share my own story and hopefully help others going through a similar journey.
What is the contraceptive pill and how does it work?
The contraceptive pill is essentially designed to stop you falling pregnant by shutting down ovulation (usually by using synthetic estrogen and synthetic progestin).
The oral contraceptive pill also changes your cervical mucus to make it thicker and therefore more difficult for sperm to get through, as well as changing the nourishing lining of your uterus.
If you take the pill correctly (every day and on time) then it is about 99.9% effective at preventing pregnancy.
However many women (like myself) are not put on the pill for contraceptive purposes, and are in fact put on it to mask other hormone imbalance symptoms such as acne, hair loss, hirsutism, irregular or painful menstrual cycles etc.
My own experience with The Pill
Incase you are new to my page or don’t follow me on on instagram @pcos_to_wellness, I would love to tell you a bit about my own story.
When I was in 17 I was put onto the contraceptive pill to see it would help clear up my skin and regulate my non-existent menstrual cycle. I was on the pill for 10 YEARS before deciding to go off it cold turkey the age of 27.
Jesse, (aka, the LOVE of my life and husband!) and I had just got back from our honeymoon, and we were starting to think about possibly having babies, so naturally I thought that this would be as good a time as any to stop taking the contraceptive pill and get my body back to ‘normal' and ready to fall pregnant.
If I knew what was about to happen!
One of my biggest regrets I have is letting my 17 year old self take the contraceptive pill without fully understand what it was, and what it would be doing to my body.
I'm not saying that I would have never taken the pill even if i did know what it did. (I was 17 when I started taking it, and it was considered ‘cool’ to be taking the pill, plus it really did clear up skin and magically brought back my ‘period’), BUT one thing I know for sure is that I certainly wouldn’t have taken the decision lightly, and that there is no way I would have just stopped taking it so abruptly without taking the time transition of it and prepare my body.
The symptoms I experienced were horrendous, and I was completely unprepared for the acne, hair loss, anxiety, depression, brain fog, migraine, nausea and absent menstrual cycles that took place.
I now believe that if I had of taken the time to start to prepare my body my symptoms would not have been so severe and perhaps my journey would have been much easier.
If you are planning to come off the pill I highly recommend finding a health practitioner to support you through this period.
Some things you should know about the contraceptive pill:
Post Pill syndrome and post pill PCOS
There is a thing called post-birth control syndrome or post oral contraceptive syndrome and is sometimes even referred to as ‘post pill PCOS’, however like much in the way of women's health and hormones, there is a real lack of research into this area, in fact some doctors don't even think that it is a real thing. As such, much has been left to alternative therapies and personal experience, which is why I wanted to do a post on this!
The contraceptive pill lowers your sex drive
The contraceptive pill shuts down your body's natural testosterone production and increases your sex hormone-binding globulin SHBC levels. The SHBC binds to the rest of your free testosterone and prevents your body from having access to it, which is one of the reasons why it is so often used to help ‘manage’ PCOS- However, less testosterone means less sex drive.
It takes longer to conceive after being on the Pill
Studies show that it takes on average twice as long for women to fall pregnant that have been on the contraceptive pill long term, versus those that have never used the pill. AND if you went on the pill for reasons other than just contraception, these same symptoms may come back with a vengeance when coming off the pill - things like irregular menstrual cycles, PMS, and acne etc.
The contraceptive pill affects your mood
Many women have reported that since going onto the pill they have felt lethargic, sad, depressed, moody and anxious. Unfortunately many women also report these same symptoms after going OFF of the pill, but this will usually ease once your hormones have rebalanced.
Periods and the contraceptive pill
You know those sugar pills that some contraceptive pill packs have? Well, they are pretty much pointless! They were put in there as a bit of marketing trick to help women feel more natural if they still got their ‘period’ every month. BUT A PILL BLEED IS NOT A PERIOD! A period happens when you ovulate, and your body is flushing out the unattached egg, along with the lining of your uterus (the endometrium). During a pill bleed or withdrawal bleed, it is just the endometrium that is being shed.
How to support your body when coming off the contraceptive pill?
So, you've decided to stop taking the contraceptive pill? Maybe you want to get pregnant, or maybe you just want all of those synthetic hormones out of your system. Now what?
To start with, don't forget that the pill can often suppress many of the symptoms of PCOS and other hormone related conditions, so now is the time to treat your body with kindness and give it every opportunity to get your hormones under control. It often takes three to six months to get back to ‘normal’, and possibly much longer if you have no other underlying conditions such as PCOS. So although this may not going to be a quick fix, if you are hoping to rebalance your hormones naturally, its totally worth putting in the time, energy and consistency to support our bodies and hormones back to their natural cycles.
If you can start preparing your body two or three months BEFORE you stop taking the pill you might find your transition will be much easier.
Going cold turkey with stopping the pill, can be pretty brutal to your system - it certainly was for me! Support your body and your mental health with the transition of going off of the contraceptive pill by doing your research and start putting into place some of the below tips to give your body the extra support it will need.
Stress and exercise
Lighten up your stress levels as much as possible. Symptoms of coming off of the contraceptive pill can include anxiety and depression which can be compounded by stress. Learn to say no to extra work, set aside some 'me time' and what I really recommend is doing some type of cortisol concious exercise. Exercise is essential to boosting your happy hormones and contributing to your overall health. Please don't feel like you need to be in the gym for hours, as often those high intensity workouts can actually cause even more stress on your hormones, Find YOUR thing; yoga, walking, pilates, hiking- whatever you enjoy an can do regularly
Clean up your diet
What you eat is crucial to how you feel and how you feel impacts your stress levels which circulates back to your hormones. Our bodies are very complex but our food should be pretty simple. Try to avoid all processed or packaged foods - if it comes in a box, or has a long list of ingredients with chemical-sounding names, you can be pretty sure its not that natural.
Start to remove inflammatory foods from your diet for at least 30 days (to start).
These may include:
Caffeine (stick to herbal teas or if you want some extra support check out my hormone balancing Cysterhood tea)
I'm a big advocate for organic and seasonal fruit and vegetables. If you fill your fridge with a rainbow of colourful fruits and veggies then you will be less tempted to go for that bag of chips or snacks. And the other big secret - meal prep! Spend time on Sunday making your favourite recipes, and snacks for the week!
I know its not a sexy topic but to help detoxification we should be aiming or regular bowel movements every day. This should be easy if you increase the amount of fresh fruit and veggies in your diet and will assist in eliminating any toxins from your body. Eating lots of the foods listed below should be a great help - and don't forget about your water, prebiotics and probiotics
cruciferous veggies - kale, bok choy, swiss chard, rocket, broccoli raab, cabbage, cauliflower
citrus fruits - navel oranges, mandarins, grapefruit, lemon, limes, pomelos
garlic - reduces inflammation and tastes great!
turmeric - can be beneficial for reducing the effects of estrogen
omega 3s - salmon, mackerel, tuna, walnuts, flaxseed, chia seeds
herbal tea and detoxifying herbs - nettle leaf, lemon balm, alfalfa leaf, ginger root, ladies mantle can be found in my specially formulated Cysterhood Herbal Tea or you may be able to get them from your herbalist or naturopath
Support your liver when coming off of the contraceptive pill
Your liver is really important to overall health and is responsible for getting rid of excess hormones and toxins. By eliminating inflammatory foods and increasing your cruciferous veggies, you are allowing your liver to focus on removing all of the synthetic hormones from the contraceptive pill from your body.
Give your liver a helping hand - DRINK YOUR WATER! I know it can be hard to get in your 8 glasses of water a day but this is so important to flushing (like the pun) all of the nasties out of your system. If you aren't a huge water drinker, you can get your intake from other means like high water content foods such as melons, cucumber or my Cysterhood Herbal Tea.
You may also want to consider things like Chinese medicine, naturopathy or liver support supplement which you can get from more health stores.
There's no doubt that some aspects of coming off the contraceptive pill are outside of our control, but I fully believe that if you take the time to be kind to your body and nourish yourself with quality foods then the transition can be so much better.