First of all, you could get pregnant. “Duh!” you say? You should know that the Pill’s effect on your body will vanish as soon as you stop taking it. From one day to the next, your hormones will kick back into action. So if you aren’t planning to get pregnant, you’ll need another means of contraception immediately, even before you have your first period.
In fact, your first ovulation typically takes place around two weeks after you go off the Pill. If your period doesn’t return and you’ve had unprotected sex, you should go buy a pregnancy test. But don’t worry: if you are pregnant, the hormones in the contraceptive pills won’t stay in your system and so won’t affect your pregnancy or increase your odds of miscarrying. In terms of figures: 96% of women get pregnant within a year of going off the Pill and, according to another study, more than half do within six months.
Nine physical and psychological changes when you go off the Pill
In 50% of women, their cycle returns to normal in around three months. For the other 50%, their body takes longer to get back to its normal hormone production. This leads to a lack of menstruation, known as “post-Pill amenorrhea,” which can last anywhere from several months to a year.
Other than possibly getting pregnant, you’re likely to experience a few other physical and psychological changes.
- Whether your cycle was regular or not before you started taking the Pill, it will go back to the way it was for you. If your cycle was irregular or longer than average before, once it’s no longer controlled by the Pill, your body will have no reason to adopt a 28-day cycle.
- Heavy periods and cramps. The Pill significantly or completely stops menstrual bleeding and cramps. You can expect heavier bleeding and the return of cramps, pain and discomfort. If you take the Pill to allay these symptoms, expect them to return. If you’ve happily been on the Pill since you were a teenager and are now in your 30s or 40s, there’s good news: with age, period pains and menstrual flow decline naturally, so chances are the agonizing pain you had as a teen won’t be an issue for you anymore.
- PMS returns with a vengeance. Get ready for irritability, mood swings, cravings, hyper-acute emotionality and the full litany of warning signs that your cycle is coming back. Watch your diet to minimize their impact. The first bout of PMS after many years kept in check is likely to have your loved ones hiding under the couch. But armed with this knowledge, you can control your reactions and prevent collateral damage.
- Given that the Pill keeps you from ovulating, you may actually feel your ovulation when it starts again. Look for a pinching sensation or slight cramp in the left or right ovary, depending on your cycle, two weeks before your period. In a normal ovulation cycle, vaginal discharge is also more abundant.
- Pimples! Yay! If you used to have an acne problem or were a teen when you started taking the Pill, pimples may make an unwelcome comeback. The skin is an organ like any other—liver, kidneys and so on—and is one of the ways your body purifies itself in reaction to the hormonal maelstrom.
- Unsightly hairs. If you used to have hair growth in inconvenient places, it’s safe to say that it will soon reappear on your chin or in other spots. Time to get out your tweezers or head to the salon!
- Weight loss. While not the result of a miracle diet, it’s not unusual to lose a kilo or two. That’s because some weight gain is a typical side-effect of progestin-only oral contraceptives. So that subsequent weight loss is just the pendulum swinging back the other way.
- Greasy hair. At some points in your cycle, because of the hormonal hurricane going on, sebum production skyrockets and your hair gets greasier than usual. If you need proof, check out the local grade 7 class and their shiny manes. During the teen and tween years, hair gets greasy, a phenomenon that usually subsides when balance is restored—in teens, it typically takes a little longer.
- Increased libido. Oh, baby! With its tendency toward reproduction, the body pushes us to copulate during fertile periods. The bright light at the end of the PMS tunnel!
If you aren’t planning on getting pregnant, you can safely take Vitex, which can help calm some symptoms, especially PMS-related ones, and minimize your bouts of hormone-related acne. Hormonal imbalance causes the symptoms, and Vitex has long been recognized as a plant that restores balance in reproductive hormones. However, to reap its full benefit, you need to take it throughout your cycle and for several cycles in a row.
This whole hodgepodge of upheavals may seem kind of scary at first glance, but the transition is usually quite mild. Whatever you do, don’t imagine that the next year is going to be 12 hot and sweaty months with a goatee, pimples, greasy hair and irritability. But if a few of these symptoms do crop up, at least you’ll be ready for them.