Your guide to coming off the pill: How to make the transition easier

What to expect when stopping the pill.
Written by
Julia Hammond
Reviewed by
Last updated on
May 16, 2024
10
min read
11
citations
Your Guide to Coming Off the Contraceptive Pill | Kin Fertility
Jump to:
Arrow Down

For many women, the pill is an absolute hero. It gives you control over your menstrual cycle, can help minimise symptoms of hormonal conditions, and lets you decide when you want to fall pregnant.

Even if you've enjoyed using hormonal contraception, you might one day decide to come off the pill. A bit like when you started taking it, side effects are expected. Here's everything you should know about coming off the pill.

Let’s talk about the pill

Before we dive in on coming off the pill, let’s talk about what we mean when we say ‘the pill’. The pill is a hormonal contraceptive that has been available to women since the 1960s [1].

There are 2 main types of contraceptive pills that women use; the combined pill and the progestogen-only pill (or mini pill). Both of these meds give you a daily dose of synthetic hormones to stop your body from releasing an egg [2].

Some women are worried that taking synthetic hormones for a long time is bad for their health. They might think about coming off the pill for a break and resetting their natural hormones.

Don’t stress — a break isn’t necessary. Unless there are changes in your health that cause you concern, there is no need to take a break. You can also rest assured that when you do choose to come off the pill, your natural fertility should return quickly [3].

So, if taking the pill for a long time is safe, then why might you think about coming off the pill?

Reasons to come off the pill

Everyone’s health journey is different and what is right for some, may not be right for others. We can’t possibly list all the reasons for coming off the pill, but we can share 5 common ones.

Mood changes and side effects

When you first started the pill, your doctor probably mentioned there might be side effects. For some women, these impact their daily life — to the point where coming off the pill is required. 

Some of the top-reported symptoms include headaches, moodiness, weight gain, and changes in sexual desire. One study even investigated how likely these side effects were to mean a woman decided to stop taking the pill [4].

Researchers found that headaches and moodiness made it more likely to stop using the pill in the first 3 months, while weight gain was a big factor in the first 6 months. This study didn’t find any strong link between sexual satisfaction and coming off the pill [4].

There's also a small number of women who are worried that the pill, and other hormonal contraceptives, may cause depression. A few studies have come out that support this link, but they’re pretty small and the evidence is weak. A lot of other studies have found the opposite — that being on the pill can help improve your mental health [5].

If you become concerned about side effects or mood changes at any time, it’s best to talk with your doctor about options. One of those may be coming off the pill.

Changing contraception methods

Ultimately, the pill won't work for everyone but luckily, there are many other contraceptive methods you can try.

A lot of women find that even though there are many contraception methods available, doctors tend to prescribe the pill first. It remains the most common form of hormonal contraception — even with other forms like the vaginal ring, injections, implants, and IUDs available [6].

When women find out about these other types of contraception, they may decide that coming off the pill is the right choice for their bodies.

Finding it hard to use

Believe it or not, one of the most frequent reasons women stop taking the pill is because they find it hard to use it consistently [4][6]. Between running out, finding the right one with a doctor, and finding time to update your scripts — it’s not exactly a walk in the park.

For some women, swapping to a different method like injections or an implant is simply easier.

Then again, if access is your only issue — you can fix it with Kin’s pill subscription. There are over 50,000 Australian women who already trust Kin with their contraception.

The process couldn’t be simpler. It starts with an online consultation with a qualified Australian GP who will prescribe a pill for you. That prescription gets filled every cycle and is shipped to your door — never missing a beat. Plus, you have access to unlimited follow-ups with real practitioners, to answer any questions or concerns you may have about your experience.

For health reasons

It’s not that common, but some women come off the pill for health reasons. There are certain conditions like high blood pressure, migraines or a heavy body weight which mean they are advised against using a method containing oestrogen [3].

In this case, they might swap to non-hormonal options such as a copper coil or diaphragm [3]. It’s important to assess any health conditions or risks with your doctor who can offer personalised advice for your situation.

To fall pregnant

There’s one really big reason that most women choose to stop the pill — because they decide to start or grow their family [7]. If trying to conceive is in your near future, we want to say a big congratulations and we hope it’s a beautiful time for both you and your partner.

You might want to prepare early with Kin’s Conceiving Essentials, containing everything a couple needs for a healthy and simple conception journey including Kin's Prenatal and Male Prenatal as well as a box of Kin's Ovulation Tests and Kin's Pregnancy Tests.

Is it OK to stop the pill suddenly?

When you’ve been taking a contraceptive pill like clockwork each day, you might wonder if stopping suddenly is safe. Absolutely, it is. You can stop the pill at any time — whether it’s at the end or the middle of a pack [8].

Many doctors recommend stopping at the end of a pack because it makes your next period a bit more predictable. The hormones from the pill clear your body pretty fast, which means a period should follow soon after you stop taking the pill [1][8].

What should I expect when coming off the pill? 

It’s hard to say for every woman what to expect, but we’ll do our best to share a few common symptoms.

Heavier periods

One of the benefits of using the pill is your periods become lighter and less of a monster each month. If you were on the progestogen-only pill, you might not have had a period at all [1].

Of course, when you stop taking birth control, your natural period will return. This might include heavier, longer or even more painful periods [1]. If your period starts impacting your daily life, make sure to talk to your doctor.

Vaginal discharge

Another side effect of stopping the pill is changes to your vaginal discharge. While on the pill, it’s usually thick, sticky and white in colour.

When you stop taking the pill, this discharge might become more slippery and egg white at the time of ovulation [1]. 

Your fertility

Hormonal contraception does not affect your long-term fertility. It will return to normal when you stop taking the pill [3].

But, even though the pill doesn’t cause fertility problems, it could be masking underlying issues. Some women take the pill for things like irregular periods, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) or endometriosis — all of which may affect fertility [9].

Give yourself time to adjust when you stop using the pill. Your fertility should return to normal, but it does take a few months for your body to settle into its natural menstrual cycle [10].

How long after stopping the pill will I get a period?

If you were skipping your period while on birth control, you might wonder how soon your monthly bleed will return.

Your period should come back within 4 weeks of stopping the pill. The first bleed you have is actually known as a withdrawal bleed — and it happens soon after coming off the pill. The next bleed after this is your natural period [9].

It can take up to 3 months for your periods to become predictable and consistent again. It’s like when you started the pill but in reverse. This time, your body is adjusting to the natural hormones [7][9].

Factors like weight, physical health, stress levels, exercise and conditions such as PCOS can all influence your natural cycle [9]. These might affect how quickly your period returns or how regular it is. If you haven’t had a period for a few months after stopping the pill, it’s worth checking in with your doctor [1].

What are the side effects of coming off the pill?

There's good, bad and ugly when you come off any medication since your body will be adjusting to the new norm. Here are some potential side effects of coming off the pill.

PMS symptoms might return

We would call this the bad and the ugly of coming off the pill. If you started the pill for hormonal issues (like acne, painful periods or mood swings) then these could return [1].

You might also find that your PMS symptoms either reappear or become worse than they were while on the pill. Common symptoms include [7]:

  • Bloating
  • Cramps
  • Nausea
  • Tender breasts
  • Mood changes
  • Menstrual migraines

If any of these side effects are severe or they interrupt your daily life, make sure you talk to your doctor about it. You don't have to suffer in silence.

Your sex drive might increase

Here’s the good news (potentially). Some women find that birth control lowers their libido, so when they come off the pill, their sex drive increases [7].

It's a small difference, but it might be really useful if you plan to become pregnant.

How long does withdrawal from the pill last?

It doesn’t matter if you’ve been on the pill for a short time or a whole decade; the synthetic hormones clear from your body very quickly [1].

But, the full process of regaining your natural rhythm can take a while. You might experience spotting between periods or have irregular periods in the first few months [8].

In one study, it took between 6 and 9 months for women to fully withdraw from the pill and go back to their natural menstrual cycle. This study looked at factors like cycle length, period length, menstrual flow, and changes to cervical mucus [10].

For example, being on the contraceptive pill thins the endometrium lining, which means up to 60% lighter periods. In this study, women coming off the pill had up to 6 months of lighter periods before their endometrium lining thickened up and changed their menstrual flow [10].

This may not be the case for everyone as we all adjust differently. But, we did want to flag it as a possibility, since it may take a while for your cycle to be predictable again. If at any time your symptoms are concerning, have a chat with your doctor.

How to come off the pill

So, you’ve decided that coming off the pill is the right decision for you. How do you do it? It’s not so complicated. But, we do recommend speaking with your doctor about the change as they can help you be fully prepared.

Coming off the combined pill

The recommended way to stop taking the combined oral contraceptive pill is to finish the packet you are on. You then do not begin a new packet [2].

The first bleed you experience after this is your withdrawal bleed, much like the ones you might have had while taking birth control. The next bleed will be your first natural period [2].

Coming off the progestogen-only pill

You can stop taking the progestogen-only pill at any time. There’s no need to finish a packet [2].

Similar to the combined pill, you will experience a withdrawal bleed before returning to a natural cycle.

Is there a difference coming off the mini pill vs the combined pill?

The mini pill and the combined pill are similar types of birth control. The main difference is that the combined pill has both oestrogen and progesterone, while the mini pill uses only progesterone [11].

This means the main difference in coming off the pill is the number of hormones that your body will stop having. So, for the combined pill that is 2 hormones while the progestogen-only pill is one.

You might experience different side effects depending on which type of birth control you’ve been taking. The best person to ask about this process is your doctor or a women’s health specialist.

All of the tools you need to take your reproductive health into your own hands.