Is ‘Post-Birth Control Syndrome’ Even A Thing? Ob-Gyns Weigh In

If you just stopped taking hormonal birth control, your body and brain might feel all over the place. Maybe you’re having mood swings or getting serious acne and irregular periods. These symptoms—which some alternative medicine providers call post-birth control syndrome—can get overwhelming, but don’t worry, they’re totally normal.

Birth control can affect many systems in the body, so when you stop taking it, it's common to notice physical changes, says ob-gyn and Women’s Health advisory board member Jessica Shepherd, MD. Of course, the pill, ring, and patch use hormones like estrogen and progestin (synthetic progesterone) to keep your body from getting pregnant, but other birth control uses can include treating acne and easing polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) symptoms. Your reason for starting contraception in the first place will likely impact the changes you see when you stop.

While you may have little to no symptoms when you stop hormonal birth control, you might also struggle as your body adapts to life without it. Your symptoms should get better soon, and there are things you can do to manage them in the meantime, says reproductive endocrinologist Jamie M. Knopman, MD. Here's everything you need to know about post-birth control syndrome, the symptoms associated with it, and how to treat them.

Meet the experts: Jessica Shepherd, MD, is an ob-gyn and Women’s Health advisory board member. Jamie M. Knopman, MD, is a reproductive endocrinologist and the Director of Fertility Preservation at CCRM Fertility of New York.

What is post-birth control syndrome?

Post-birth control syndrome encompasses any number of symptoms that occur after you stop taking hormonal birth control, including irregular periods, acne, and mood swings. While post-birth control syndrome usually refers to what happens when you stop taking oral birth control pills, other hormonal options like the patch or the ring could also have similar effects, but an IUD shouldn't, says Dr. Knopman.

The reason for post-birth control syndrome is quite simple. Hormonal birth control options like the pill use estrogen and progestin to regulate hormone fluctuations that come with a typical menstrual cycle. As long as you’re taking the pill, symptoms that come with those fluctuations are masked—but once you’re off birth control, they can start right back up again. “I think in many ways it's just a sharp, jarring return to reality,” Dr. Knopman says.

Generally speaking, post-birth control hormonal changes can cause cramps, bloating, acne, breast tenderness, headaches, transient weight gain, mood swings, and changes in libido. While these symptoms can feel overwhelming, they are likely due to your body readjusting to the lack of steady hormones provided from your birth control.

Signs Of Post-Birth Control Syndrome

Potential side effects of stopping birth control include:

  • Irregular periods, including heavier or lighter periods and spotting

  • Cramps

  • Bloating

  • Water retention

  • Weight gain

  • Acne

  • Breast tenderness

  • Headaches

  • Mood swings

  • Changes in libido

How To Manage Post-Birth Control Syndrome

Treating the symptoms directly can help. Staying hydrated, eating green leafy vegetables, and exercise can help you adapt to hormone fluctuations and address things like bloating, headaches, and mood swings, says Dr. Shepherd. For physical symptoms like cramps, you can take pain relievers like Advil, says Dr. Knopman. And if you are struggling with acne after coming off birth control, you can try topical treatments and even talk to a dermatologist about prescription-strength options.

If you stopped taking birth control so that you can get pregnant, make sure whatever you use to treat your symptoms is safe for pregnancy, too, says Dr. Knopman.

When To See A Doctor

It never hurts to consult your doctor when stopping hormonal birth control (or any med, for that matter) to get a better understanding of potential side effects and how you might manage them. Most of the symptoms associated with going off birth control should even out over time and aren't a major cause for concern, both Dr. Shepherd and Dr. Knopman agree. However, if your symptoms are extreme, like debilitating cramps, heavy periods, or severe acne, talk to your doctor to figure out the best next steps and treatment options. You’ll also want to talk to your doctor if you haven’t seen significant improvement in your symptoms within three to six months of stopping hormonal birth control.

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