I’ve been taking some form of hormonal birth control for the last eight years. While I have no intention of stopping anytime soon (no babies for me just yet!), I’ve started to wonder what will happen to my body when I do. Lots of my friends have ceased taking birth control, either because they want to get pregnant or because they want their bodies to return to a natural cycle. I talked to a few doctors for a refresher course in the science of birth control, and learned what really happens to your body once the hormones leave.
How Birth Control Works
In case you need a little refresher, Dr. Sherry Thomas, an OB/GYN surgeon from Mission Community Hospital in Panorama City, CA explains how birth control pills work:
Birth control pills work by doing three things: Stopping the ovary from releasing an egg (ovulation); preventing the uterus from allowing the fertilized egg to implant; and preventing passage of the sperm through the opening to the uterus (the cervix). Birth control pills contain small amounts of estrogen and progesterone which cause the body, specifically the brain, to register it has already released sufficient hormones. This artificial level of hormones prevents the ovary from releasing an egg.
Deciding To Go Off Birth Control
Women decide to stop using hormonal birth control for many different reasons: Various life changes, the desire to conceive and the desire to try barrier methods of birth control (condoms, diaphragms, etc) are just a few. Whatever your reason, it’s a good idea to talk over your decision with your sexual partner(s) and your medical care provider, to avoid surprises down the road.
So What Actually Happens?
When you decide to stop taking the pill, wearing the patch, ring or hormonal IUD, or receiving injections, the hormones should be out of your body within a few days. If you’re a pill user, you’ve likely experienced the affects of this before, if you accidentally forget a pill and experience some breakthrough bleeding. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been using hormonal birth control; whether it’s been decades or weeks, the hormones will still be out of your body in a few days.
Your body will ready itself to begin the process of natural ovulation again. For some women, this will happen quite soon; for others, it might take a few months. When you begin to ovulate again, your ovaries will release a mature egg roughly once a month. That egg will travel down the fallopian tubes and enter your uterus, which will have prepared a thick lining for the egg. If the egg doesn’t become fertilized, your uterus will shed both the lining and the egg, giving you a period.