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Coming off the pill: a how-to guide and what to expect

Coming off the pill: a how-to guide and what to expect

Saying goodbye to a daily habit is always a big change, but knowing what to expect can help make coming off the pill a worry-free experience.

In this health guide, we’ll discuss any side effects you might notice from stopping the pill as well as how to do it safely. And if you’re still wondering if you should come off the pill, we’ll share reasons why many women do — whether that’s with a goal of pregnancy, switching to another type of birth control or something else.

Daniel Atkinson
Medically reviewed by
Daniel Atkinson, GP Clinical Lead
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Medically reviewed by
Dr Daniel Atkinson
GP Clinical Lead
on August 02, 2022.
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How to stop taking the pill

Stopping the pill to get pregnant? Or going off the pill and switching to a different birth control method like the IUD? If you’re wondering how to come off the pill, we recommend two things: talk to your doctor, and then stop taking the pill. Yes, it’s possible to just stop taking birth control pills and do so safely.

Here are our tips for coming off the pill:

  • Talk to your doctor and let them know if you’re planning to try for pregnancy or switching to another type of birth control
  • You don’t have to finish your pack, but doing so might help you avoid spotting
  • Use condoms if you’re not wanting to get pregnant; your protection against pregnancy will go away quickly
  • When switching to another type of birth control, you might need to overlap two birth control methods or use condoms if the contraception you’re switching to doesn’t protect you immediately

What happens in the body when you come off the pill?

When you’re on the pill, the artificial hormones keep certain processes from happening every month. You don’t ovulate, your cervical mucus becomes thicker and the lining in your uterus doesn’t grow. Once you stop taking the pill, all of these things start happening again.

The effects of coming off the pill are a little different for everyone, and can occur right away. How long after stopping the pill can you become pregnant? Pretty much right away, so use condoms if you don’t want to get pregnant.

Here’s what to expect when coming off the pill:

  • You might experience spotting or other menstrual cycle irregularities.
  • While your period could go back to normal right away, it might take a few months. Talk to your doctor if it takes longer than that.
  • If you were taking the pill to help manage cramping or heavy bleeding, these might return after coming off birth control. This can also be true for mood swings or acne.
  • Your vaginal secretions might change in consistency, and be more varied throughout your cycle.

When to stop taking the pill: is there an ideal time?

Can you just stop taking the pill? Yes. There aren’t any strict rules about coming off birth control, as long as you’re prepared that you might become pregnant right away. Finishing the end of your pack is an option that can keep your period more regular as your body adjusts, and is also recommended if you’re switching to a different type of birth control. Because some birth control options take a while to kick in, you’ll want to use condoms so you don’t have a dip in your protection.

Is there a specific age I should stop the pill?

At what age should you stop taking the pill? It’s safe to use oral contraceptives until you reach menopause, or until around age 50-55. If you’re older, the progestin-only mini pill is usually recommended over the combined (estrogen and progestin) pill.

While there used to be a recommendation to not take the pill for more than a decade, or past age 35, this isn’t true anymore. There aren’t any risks to going off birth control pills after 25 years compared to after 15 years, but you should talk to your doctor about your medical history and any risk factors you might have if you’re nearly 50 and taking hormonal birth control.

If you’re going through menopause, it’s possible to stay on the mini pill as part of hormone replacement therapy, though this is considered off-label use. This is also true for other progestin-only birth control like the hormonal IUD.

Is stopping the mini pill different to stopping the combined pill?

Coming off the mini pill can be a little different, because it only has one hormone and often lower levels of it. Depending on the particular hormone in your mini pill can mean that you may be considered ‘late’ or ‘missed’ sooner. Which in turn means you’re able to get pregnant sooner. Mini pills that contain desogestrel do still have a 12-hour window like many combined pills.

There aren’t any unique instructions for coming off Microgynon or Rigevidon. Waiting until the end of the pack can help reduce spotting, and your protection against pregnancy can be considered compromised after two missed pills, depending on where they were missed in the pack. Same goes for coming off the Yasmin pill.

Mini pills like Cerazette and Cerelle contain the progestin desogestrel, which gives you a 12-hour window in which to take your daily pill compared to the 3-hour window other mini pills have. If you’re coming off Cerelle or stopping Cerazette, your protection against pregnancy is considered compromised after 12 hours. If you’re coming off Cerazette to get pregnant, it can happen right away.

How about the patch and the ring?

Because the contraceptive patch and ring are combined methods of birth control, meaning they have both oestrogen and progestin, they work in the same way as the combined pill. You can stop using them at any time, and should use a back-up birth control method like condoms if you don’t want to become pregnant straight away.

Getting pregnant after stopping the pill

If you want to get pregnant but are on the pill, coming off is the next step. You shouldn’t do this until you’re ready to get pregnant, because your protection starts dropping right away.

You can stop taking the mini pill (aka the progestin-only pill) at any time, and don’t need to wait for a specific point in your cycle. With the combined pill, some doctors recommend that you finish the pack you’re on. Waiting until you’re done with your pack can help reduce spotting as your cycle adjusts to different hormone levels, and is also best if you’re stopping the pill to switch to another type of birth control.

Talk to your doctor before coming off the pill to get pregnant. They can tell you what changes you can expect to your monthly cycle and will have the most up-to-date info on your unique medical history. They might also have specific advice about when to stop taking the pill before getting pregnant.

You shouldn’t be taking the pill while pregnant. If you are on hormonal birth control but suspect you’re pregnant, talk to your doctor as soon as possible. Missed pills and worried about pregnancy? If you missed 2 birth control pills, your chances of pregnancy depend on what type of birth control you’re taking, how many pills you missed and even where you are in your cycle. Read our health guide about missed pills, refer to the patient info that came with your prescription and talk to your doctor about any questions you have. 

How long will it take me to get pregnant after coming off contraception?

Because your body and your partner’s body are unique, there’s no real way to know how long it will take to get pregnant after getting off the pill. However, it’s definitely physically possible to become pregnant during your first cycle after birth control — and that means you should not stop taking the pill until you’re fully ready for pregnancy. While your period might not return to normal right away, your protection against pregnancy goes down as soon as you start coming off the contraceptive pill.

Your chances of getting pregnant the first month off the birth control pill aren’t significantly different from your chances of getting pregnant the first month you’re trying, period. According to one study, that’s about 30%. And another study found that being on the pill for multiple years actually increased fertility. Is there an average time off birth control to get pregnant? Around 84% of couples who aren’t using any form of birth control get pregnant within a year, but studies have also found some differences depending on what type of birth control was previously used. For the pill, the likelihood of pregnancy can be as high as 95%.

Periods after stopping the pill

Your periods will probably change after stopping the pill. You might have irregular periods after coming off the pill, or no period at all for a few weeks. But just because you’re not getting your period doesn’t mean you can’t get pregnant. If you’re not using any other protection, it doesn’t take long to be able to become pregnant after coming off the pill.

Because the pill can help with period heaviness and pain, you might have a heavy period after stopping birth control — especially if your period was like this before you started taking it. Give your body a few months to adjust. And if your periods stopped after coming off the pill and don’t come back within a few months, talk to your doctor.

How long will it take for my periods to get back to normal?

They might go back to normal right away, or it could take some time. This depends on a few factors, like when you stop taking your birth control or how long you’ve been on it. If you’ve taken birth control for many years, your “normal” might not be what you remember it as.

Your first period after coming off the pill is actually not a period but a “withdrawal bleed.” That’s the same type of bleeding you have while on the pill. After that, you’ll have a regular period again. If you only have a light period after stopping birth control, that’s normal too. You could also experience spotting or other cycle irregularities for a while, especially if you stopped in the middle of your pack. The change in your hormone levels could also keep you from having a period, which is why your period might be late after stopping the pill.

If a few months have passed and you still haven’t had a period since stopping birth control, it’s best to check in with your doctor. Most women have their first period 2-4 weeks after stopping the pill.

Side effects of stopping birth control: what to expect

The symptoms of coming off the pill are different for everyone, and you might not experience anything at all. While a few symptoms like amenorrhea (missing your period) have been confirmed by studies, others are grouped anecdotally under the term “post-birth control syndrome.” If you’re having symptoms after getting off the pill or are concerned about specific issues like how to stop hair loss from birth control, it’s best to talk to your doctor. But here are some things that women have reported experiencing:

  • Menstrual irregularities, including spotting, irregular periods, heavy periods and amenorrhea
  • Cramping, uterus pain or abdominal pain after stopping birth control
  • Breast tenderness, especially around your period
  • Changes to your skin and hair due to hormone fluctuations, like acne or hair loss
  • Differences in your energy levels or mood
  • Rarely, some have had hives after stopping birth control

Will I gain or lose weight?

Will you experience weight loss after stopping birth control? It can depend on what happened to your weight after you began taking the pill. There aren’t any studies linking birth control and weight gain or loss, but that’s partially because weight is a number with so many variables that it’s hard to come to a scientific conclusion.

One reason you might experience weight loss after stopping birth control pills is because of water retention — or lack thereof. Some pills cause bloating as a side effect, which can change the number on the scale even though it doesn’t change your actual body composition.

Another reason is appetite. If you noticed appetite changes after starting the pill, again you might go back to “normal” once you’ve stopped.

You shouldn’t be losing or gaining a significant amount of weight, whether you’re starting or stopping the pill. If you do notice extreme changes to your weight or appetite, you should talk to your doctor in case something else is going on.

Will I get acne or skin problems if I stop the pill?

If you’re experiencing bad skin after coming off the pill, you’re not alone. But if you’re dreading coming off the pill because of acne, don’t — it’s not a guarantee, and often resolves itself.

The hormones in the pill can change your skin, but how they do depends on the individual. Some people find that their skin clears up while on the pill, and there are even pills that are approved at treating acne in addition to acting as birth control. Others find that the hormones make their skin worse, and might try a few different pills before finding one that has the fewest acne side effects.

Generally speaking, your skin will probably go back to the way it was before you were taking the pill. But this might take some time. If you’ve suddenly got acne after stopping birth control, give it a few months for your body to get back to normal.

What effect on my sex drive will stopping the pill have?

This isn’t a very helpful answer, but there’s no way to know. If you experienced a decrease or increase in sex drive when starting the pill, it’s possible your sex drive will go back to normal once you’ve stopped taking it. However, if you’ve been on the pill for many years, what’s “normal” for you might have changed as you’ve gotten older.

In terms of scientific research, there hasn’t been anything definitively linking oral contraceptive use to sex drive. One review of 30 studies found that women experienced “positive effects, negative effects, as well as no effect” on their libido while taking the pill.

When should I see a doctor about symptoms after stopping birth control?

If you’re planning to get pregnant, we recommend talking to your doctor before coming off the pill so they can give you advice based on your medical history. Pregnancy is an important health decision, and it’s always good to have the supervision and support of your medical team.

But when should you see a doctor about post-pill symptoms? Whenever you notice something that’s causing you discomfort, it’s good to at least call and talk through the issues. Because the pill contains hormones, you might experience similar things when you go off the pill as when you started taking it: mood changes, acne or an irregular period. This is all perfectly normal, and should go away soon. But if you are bleeding heavily or in pain, it’s best to get a doctor involved.

When can I start birth control again after having a baby?

There are quite a few types of birth control you can start almost immediately after giving birth, while with others it’s best to wait a few weeks. If you’re breastfeeding or developed certain conditions during your pregnancy, waiting six weeks is recommended before starting certain hormonal birth control options. Talk to your doctor so you can get a game plan in place after delivery.

Here’s what you can use right away:

  • Condoms, including female condoms
  • Progestin-only mini pill
  • Implant
  • Injection (shot)
  • Hormonal or copper IUD, if inserted within 48 hours of birth

Here’s what you can use after three weeks if you’re not breastfeeding:

  • Combined (progestin and oestrogen) pill
  • Ring
  • Patch

Here’s what you can use after four weeks:

  • Hormonal or copper IUD, if you didn’t have one inserted right away

Here’s what you can use after six weeks, even if you’re breastfeeding:

  • Combined (progesterone and oestrogen) pill
  • Ring 
  • Patch

Although the Summary of Product Characteristics for the combined pill, ring and patch do still recommend alternative contraception even after six weeks if continuing to breastfeed.

How can I find out which birth control will suit me best after giving birth?

Talk to an expert. There are so many types of birth control out there, from daily options like the pill to more increasingly long-term options like the contraceptive ring, patch, injection and IUD. Most have hormones, but some have fewer or none at all, and some types of birth control are better for women with acne, endometriosis or other concerns. 

Read more about contraception.

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When we present you with stats, data, opinion or a consensus, we’ll tell you where this came from. And we’ll only present data as clinically reliable if it’s come from a reputable source, such as a state or government-funded health body, a peer-reviewed medical journal, or a recognised analytics or data body. Read more in our editorial policy.

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