When I talk to other women about their experiences going off birth control, I often hear different stories. Some women complain about irregular periods, painful cramps, or mood swings, and others say the transition was relatively easy. Studies have shown that 80 percent of women regain hormonal balance no less than three months after stopping the pill, but for some, it can take even longer. Our bodies are all unique, and birth control affects us differently. After experiencing my own side effects and speaking with other women about theirs, I realized that a lot of women are looking to stop hormonal birth control (for a variety of reasons) and want to make the transition off it easier. So I looked to the experts to share their best tips.
I spoke with Dr. Trevor Cates, a naturopathic practitioner, as well as Jade Mesquita, a holistic nutrition practitioner and clinical herbalist. Before we get to the tips, both experts agreed that the first step should be remembering why you went on birth control in the first place. “When someone goes on birth control, it’s usually either for birth control or they’re trying to manage some symptoms,” shared Dr. Cates. If you originally started birth control for symptom management, there’s a good chance that “whatever was being suppressed hormonally is going to come back,” so work with your doctor to identify and heal the root cause of the symptoms. But no matter your reason for going on and going off birth control, read on for some expert tips to make the process easier.
1. Eat nutritionally-dense meals
The body is an interconnected organism, so it’s no surprise that what we eat can affect our hormones and help to balance them. Mesquita shared that the number one focus should be balancing blood sugar by making sure every meal or snack has a source of protein, fat, and nutrient-dense carbohydrates. “Instead of just eating a banana, pair it with greek yogurt for protein and almond butter for some healthy fats,” she suggested. She also explained the importance of never skipping meals (especially breakfast) and eating when you’re hungry.
Dr. Cates explained that B vitamins, such as B-12 and B-6, and certain minerals like magnesium, selenium, and zinc, are common vitamins and minerals that can get depleted by taking the Pill, so you may be low or deficient in them if you’ve been on hormonal birth control for a while. These deficiencies can cause symptoms to become worse, so Dr. Cates recommended boosting your intake of foods like dark leafy greens, healthy fats, and protein, and talking to your doctor about testing and/or supplementing these nutrients.
2. Boost your gut health
The gut is the control center for the rest of the body. It affects so many areas, from detoxification to brain health, so it’s no wonder that ensuring good gut health during this transition is important for your hormonal health. “You want to start boosting your gut health by eating lots of fiber-rich foods, like chia seeds and cruciferous vegetables, or taking a probiotic,” Dr. Cates suggested. Jade agreed, recommending you get enough fiber to ensure you’re having at least one bowel movement a day so your body is able to properly detoxify. You should always listen to your gut (pun intended), and if you are having any gut issues such as bloating and constipation, talk to your doctor about ways to increase your gut health.
3. Reduce stress levels
Stress can have a huge impact on the body, especially our hormones, which is why it’s helpful to prioritize practices that can manage stress levels. “If we’re really stressed out and we’re not getting a good night’s sleep, it can impact adrenal function, cortisol, and nervous system balance,” Dr. Cates said. She suggested getting at least 6-8 hours of sleep a night and going to bed at the same time every night so your body is able to get an optimal amount of high-quality shut-eye. Aside from sleep, practicing other methods of stress management, such as meditation, breathing exercises, journaling, or physical activity, is also a good idea.
4. Opt for low-impact workouts
While it’s fun to switch up the type of workouts you do every now and then, many experts recommend sticking with low-impact workouts during this period as your body is adjusting to a new hormonal balance. “High-intensity workouts can raise cortisol in the body, so during this period, reducing cortisol as much as possible can help to make the transition off birth control easier,” Jade explained. Luckily, there are so many low-impact workouts to choose from such as pilates, yoga, and—my personal favorite—walking. We want to make this process as easy for the body as possible, and if a low-impact workout helps, then a hot girl walk it is.
5. Have a reproductive health plan
If you’ve decided to go off birth control, it’s a good idea to have a plan in place. If an unplanned pregnancy is a concern for you, Dr. Cates emphasized the importance of having an alternative form of birth control to put into practice immediately after (yes, you can get pregnant even soon after getting off the Pill). “Whether it be a non-hormonal IUD or fertility awareness methods, tracking your ovulation is a really powerful thing, and it’s something we don’t have access to when on birth control pills,” she shared.
While this transition can sometimes feel scary, it can also be an empowering time to better understand your body. And building a plan around your body’s natural cycle can make the process even smoother. If you’re going off birth control for the purpose of family planning, work with your doctor to balance hormones to improve fertility as much as possible. No matter your current goals, having a reproductive health plan is always important, and transitioning off hormonal birth control provides a good opportunity to rethink what’s best for your body, goals, and lifestyle.