What Happens if I Stop Taking Birth Control Pills?

Birth control pills marked a milestone in women's sense of freedom to choose their fertility and sexuality. However, it isn't the ideal method for everyone and some prefer to discontinue its use.
What Happens if I Stop Taking Birth Control Pills?
Maryel Alvarado Nieto

Written and verified by the doctor Maryel Alvarado Nieto.

Last update: 04 June, 2023

Since the advent of birth control pills, women feel free to choose the ideal time to start a family without giving up their sexuality. However, even though hormonal contraception has evolved since its inception, adverse effects are still a common cause for abandoning the method. For this reason, it’s logical that you may have wondered “what happens if I stop taking birth control pills?”

The goal of starting a contraceptive method is to use it with continuity. For this reason, adequate counseling provides accurate information about the different options available, clarifying any doubts.

This accompaniment helps the choice of method. A health professional should take into account the needs and desires of the patient, thus reducing abandonment and resolving questions such as “what happens if I stop taking the birth control pills?”

Causes for discontinuing contraceptive pills

Although there are various reasons why a woman may stop taking birth control pills, it’s important not to stop taking them due to adverse effects of the pills.

This is why it’s necessary to have realistic counseling. Current pharmacological compositions tend to have better safety ratings. Many of the side effects that were common in previous pills have diminished.

It’s also important to provide guidance on the actions that can be taken when a problem arises. This is to ensure that the woman can feel confident with the use of birth control pills from the very beginning.

Counseling should also emphasize that the most common side effects are usually temporary, so they may improve over time. These include the following:

  • Headaches
  • Alteration of sexual function
  • Changes in bleeding pattern
  • Changes in skin pigmentation (melasma)
  • Increased breast tenderness during the first few months
  • Changes in body weight, although it isn’t clear that this is dependent on the contraceptive itself
A woman with a sore breast.
Breast tenderness is a relatively common adverse effect that disappears with continued use of contraceptives.

Risk of pregnancy

The main effect when you stop taking birth control pills is the possibility of becoming pregnant again. Stopping the method leads to the reappearance of ovulation, so fertility is restored.

In fact, the chance of pregnancy in the first year after discontinuation of the method can be as high as 96%.

However, the variability shown among women who used an oral contraceptive in relation to fertility has made it difficult to establish a safety period. This depends as much on the hormonal concentration of the method as on the continuity and time of use.

It’s accepted that some factors specific to each woman also play an important role. It’s therefore advisable to use a barrier method to avoid unwanted pregnancies if oral contraception is discontinued.

Changes in the menstrual cycle: a frequent effect

Ovulation inhibition is considered the main contraceptive mechanism of the pills. However, other effects, such as decreased endometrial proliferation, prevent the uterus from preparing for possible implantation, aiding contraception. This mechanism has the additional advantage of causing fewer and more regular periods.

Abrupt discontinuation of birth control pills leads to the occurrence of hormonal changes sufficient to trigger irregular bleeding. Similarly, the protective effect of oral contraceptives on the intensity of pain that appears in some patients during menstruation disappears, triggering varying degrees of dysmenorrhea.

Birth control pills and skin problems

Another additional benefit of combined hormonal contraception is the antiandrogenic effect it produces. This is very useful in women who have acne or hirsutism problems.

The discontinuation of contraceptive pills is related to the reappearance of the symptoms and the consequent impact they have on the woman.

Although oral contraceptives have been used as a method of birth control, they aren’t used for this exclusively. Therefore, if they were prescribed for something other than birth control, it’s essential to seek advice before discontinuing them.

A person with acne.
Some patients are prescribed oral contraceptives to treat their acne. Upon discontinuation, the skin symptoms reappear.

Changes in mood and libido

It’s assumed that the anti-androgenic effect causes a decrease in free testosterone levels in the body. Therefore, a decrease in sexual desire would appear with the use of oral contraceptives.

This evidence is not clear.

Sexuality involves complex processes, from hormonal, biochemical, and psychosocial points of view. The simple fact that a woman resorts to the use of contraceptive pills is a clear indication of her desire to maintain an active sexual life.

Because of this complexity, it’s difficult to establish the real relationship between contraceptives and sexual function. However, the decision to discontinue may highlight an emotional component that would otherwise go unnoticed.

What happens to my behavior if I stop taking birth control pills?

Finally, the same impact on the sexual and emotional sphere can be extrapolated to women’s behavior. Generally speaking, birth control pills are a viable option for people who maintain a conscientious and responsible sex life, i.e. a woman who has an exclusive partner.

Birth control represents only part of the risks inherent in human sexuality.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) remain a possibility. Prevention of STIs requires the use of barrier methods, such as condoms, which is one of the options available to women who abandon birth control pills.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Barrera, L.; Olvera, V.; Castelo, C.; Cancelo, M.; Causas de Desapego a los Métodos Anticonceptivos; Ginecología y Obstetricia de México; Suplemento 1: S128 – S135; 2019.
  • Vásquez, D.; Ospino, A.; Anticonceptivos Orales Combinados; Revista de Ginecología y Obstetricia de México; 88 (Suplemento 1): S13 -S31; 2020.
  • Niño, C.; Vargas, L.; González, N.; Abandono, Cambio o Falla de los Anticonceptivos Hormonales en Población Universitaria; Revista de Ginecología y Obstetricia de México; 87 (8): 499 – 505; 2019.
  • Bucheli, R.; Noboa, E.; Anticoncepción Hormonal; Segunda Edición; Capítulo 28: Anticoncepción Hormonal y Sexualidad; 455 – 464; 2021.
  • Febres, F.; Febres, C.; Efectos beneficiosos no Anticonceptivo a Corto y Largo Plazo de los Anticonceptivos Orales; Celsam;
  • Figueroa, J.; Aparicio, R.; El Abandono de la Anticoncepción; Revistas UNAM; Anticoncepción: 13 – 14.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.