Getting Off Birth Control

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You may have taken birth control for months, years or maybe even decades. And you’ve probably settled into a type and routine that works best for you. But now you’re ready to get off birth control, and while stopping birth control sounds simple, it also comes with tons of questions and possible side effects to be aware of. Bree Herring, CNM, UnityPoint Health, has the need-to-know information, plus gives you peace of mind if you're trying to get pregnant.

Getting Off Birth Control: Different Types

Herrings says step one for how to get off birth control is actually contacting your women’s health provider. Although there are some methods you can stop on your own, it doesn’t hurt to first chat with your doctor.

“I always recommend discussing family planning options with your provider before stopping birth control,” Herring says. “Your provider may have important health recommendations for you before you conceive, such as weight loss, stopping or changing certain medications that could be harmful to a developing pregnancy or starting a prenatal vitamin. You should almost always start taking a prenatal vitamin containing folic acid before stopping your birth control.”

From there, depending on the type, getting off birth control can look a little different. Herring says most birth control methods stop working right away, which means even forgetting one day of pills can lead to an unplanned pregnancy. Others, though, can lead to a longer delay for regular menstrual cycles, taking several months or even up to a year.

Stopping Oral Contraceptive (The Pill)

Most women stop using the pill at the end of a pack and begin having unprotected intercourse in hopes of conceiving a baby. Choosing to stop your pill could result in pregnancy the same month.

Stopping the Patch

Usually, women stop using at the end of a month of patches, then start trying to get pregnant.

Stopping Using a Vaginal Ring

Similarly, most women no longer use this method when they reach the end of a month of rings.

Stopping a Birth Control Shot

This is the method that may be the most frustrating to stop, as it can take up to a full year to get normal menstrual cycles back — meaning even for a healthy couple, it could be close to two years between when you stop the birth control method and when pregnancy occurs.

Removing an IUD (Intrauterine Device)

You will need to see a provider for removal of your IUD. IUDs typically are no longer working within 6-12 hours of removal, but you may have an absent period or irregular periods for a few months after removal.

Removing Nexplanon (Arm Implant)

You will need to see a provider for removal of your Nexplanon. The hormone clears from your system within a few days, but like the IUD, you may have absent or irregular periods for several months once removed.

Side Effects of Stopping Birth Control

Stopping birth control is a personal decision you should make with guidance from your doctor, as it can come with many side effects. When you first started birth control, it may have been to fight off nasty side effects associated with your menstrual cycle. One of the effects of stopping birth control after long-term use can be the return of these symptoms. Herring says the most common side effects of getting off birth control include:

  • Irregular periods or spotting
  • Cramping
  • Acne
  • Mood swings
  • Weight change
  • Sexual libido change

“Schedule an appointment with your provider if you’d like to discuss any specific concerns you have about undesirable side effects. Keep in mind, though, treatment options may be fairly limited if you’re wanting to stay off birth control to try and conceive,” Herring says.

How Long After Stopping Birth Control Can You Get Pregnant?

Trying to get pregnant is an exciting time, but it can also be emotional if it doesn’t happen right away. There are a few things to know when stopping birth control to get pregnant. First, Herring encourages couples not to compare themselves to others they know who may have gotten pregnant immediately.

“Remember, even when you decide to get off birth control, it can take healthy couples up to one year of unprotected intercourse before getting pregnant. Rest assured though that there are no FDA-approved birth control methods on the market that cause infertility,” Herring says.

The chances of getting pregnant your first month off birth control are pretty similar to what they would be any other month. On average, Herring says a couple has about a 25 percent chance of getting pregnant any given month, although that may drop with age.

“Take comfort that most women don’t get pregnant the first month off birth control. If you’re under 35 years old and have been trying to get pregnant for one year, see your doctor. If you’re over 35 and have been trying for 6 months, schedule an appointment,” Herring says.

Hard as it is, Herring says to try not to get discouraged if getting pregnant after stopping birth control takes longer than you thought.

“Be patient and expect an adjustment period. Use the time you’re considering getting off birth control to develop a management plan for any health problems you have and to make lifestyle changes that will help you and your baby stay healthy during pregnancy.”