If your concern is less about stopping birth control and starting and more about long-term birth control use in general, that’s something to bring up with your doctor. They can help you find a birth control method that makes sense for your situation and your general health, taking into consideration any other risk factors you may have.
But remember: The birth control pill does a lot more than just prevent pregnancy.
My contemplation of whether or not to stop taking birth control while quarantined really came down to knowing I wouldn’t need it for pregnancy prevention. But there are plenty of other reasons people take birth control, and that’s something to keep in mind before you ditch it. Even if you didn’t initially start taking it for these reasons, you may be unintentionally reaping some benefits that you kind of want to stick around (especially while in a pandemic). On the other hand, you may just be curious about what your body feels like without birth control, which is valid, too.
For many women, myself included, it’s easy to forget what life was like back when we first started using contraception. Remember hormonal acne and intense cramps? The pill may be the reason you don’t experience those things anymore, and those symptoms could very well return if you decide to ditch it, says Dr. Dweck.
In most cases, when you stop taking birth control pills, your period will go back to whatever it was like before you started. But that’s not necessarily the case, especially if you’ve been on birth control for a long time. Factors like age or other health conditions (for example, thyroid abnormalities or disordered eating) can play a part in how your cycle shows up month after month. “We consider menstruation and gynecology to be almost like another vital sign,” says Dr. Dweck. “Oftentimes it’s sort of a window into somebody’s health. If your period is off, it really may suggest that there’s another issue.”
“Women with PCOS oftentimes will present with irregular periods,” Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., clinical professor in the department of obstetrics gynecology and reproductive services at Yale Medical School, tells SELF. “So when these individuals get a period, it’s often heavy since they’re not ovulating on a regular basis. Birth control can help get that under control.”
Oftentimes, people go on birth control to manage these conditions. Because of this, there isn’t much research on the possibility of developing these conditions while you’re on birth control—then not realizing it until you’re off of it. But it’s a possibility. If you experience persistent complications upon going off of the pill, including symptoms of endometriosis like painful periods, pain with intercourse, or heavy bleeding, Dr. Dweck recommends touching base with a physician.
Birth control can also lower your risk of ovarian cysts and mittelschmerz, both of which could be super uncomfortable to deal with on top of everything going on. If you’re prone to either of these conditions, certainly take that into consideration before going off birth control. In addition, acne is something that’s often managed by birth control, so you might find your skin a little less agreeable when you say goodbye to it.
Here’s what you can expect when stopping birth control.
Heads up: When you come off birth control, your period could be irregular for some time, says Dr. Minkin, adding that it could take one to two cycles—or even a few months—for things to level out. If three months go by and nothing returns, certainly reach out to a physician. Dr. Minkin also advises to give your ob/gyn a call if you have any intense pain. “It’s better to be cautious,” she says.