The Side Effects of Birth Control
Many of us started taking the birth control pill when we were teenagers. And many of us have stayed on the pill for years, or in some cases decades. Of course, the pill is incredibly effective at preventing pregnancy, but doctors also routinely prescribe the pill to help with a variety of period-related issues like severe cramps, mood swings, irregular periods and acne. While the pill is incredibly safe, most doctors downplay or disregard the side effects. In fact, many women have told us that they believed the pill had no side effects at all. This is simply not true.
We wrote this post to help shed some light on the realities of the pill. This is not a post to scare you into not using hormonal birth control. The pill is an incredible invention! It is, perhaps, one of the single biggest and most important inventions in women’s health in the last century! However, there are things that all women should know about the pill so you can decide for yourself whether it is right for you.
Don’t be in the dark about your body and what you’re putting in it. Read this post and educate yourself so you can make an informed choice about your reproductive health and overall wellbeing.
Who Created The Pill?
Let’s start with a little history lesson, shall we? Introduced in May 1950, the oral contraceptive pill was discovered by Chemist Dr Carl Djerassi. In his experiments in the 1940s, he was able to synthesize progestin from an extract of Mexican wild yam root which effectively stopped women from ovulating. Initially marketed as “cycle control,” the pill became a medical innovation that transformed women’s health and many generations that followed. For the first time, women gained incredible freedom and control over their reproductive health. Previously, women had very little choice about the direction of their life. Even if they made it to university, most women’s primary career was as a mother, staying home and taking care of children. Of course, the early days of the pill were met with controversy, especially among religious groups who believed it was “sinful.”
The pill rose in popularity in the 1970s when the women’s movement was in full swing. Educated and empowered women wanted to take charge of their own health and demanded family planning. Protests helped to improve the pill (dropping estrogen levels and improving package labeling) and a generation of women began delaying having children to focus on education and careers. It was a game changer.
However, with questionable test practices in the early days to more recent reports suggesting that the pill is responsible for the deaths of 300-400 women per year, the history of the pill is not all rainbows and celebration. To learn more about it, we would recommend watching the documentary called The Business of Birth Control.
Why Do Women Take Birth Control?
To state the obvious, many women start taking the birth control pill to prevent getting pregnant. Many well-meaning mothers also put their young daughters on the pill as a preventative measure when they start having sex. When taken correctly, it is incredibly effective at preventing pregnancy.
However, the pill is also routinely prescribed to teenage girls and women for a variety of other reasons including:
- It helps with irregular periods
- It can reduce severe cramps
- It reduces acne and excessive body hair growth
- It can help treat symptoms of PCOS and PMS
In many instances, the pill is the go-to remedy for any menstrual issue. It is effective, but it is often prescribed without giving women the full picture.
How Does the Pill Work?
Put simply, the birth control pill contains artificial hormones that stop your body from ovulating. If you don’t ovulate, you can’t get pregnant. There are many varieties of birth control pills with varying levels of hormones. Some involve taking a hormone pill for 21 days, followed by what is called a “placebo” pill (which is just a tablet made of sugar) for 7 days. During those 7 days, you will have your period. Some varieties only include 4 days of placebo pills. Others don’t have any.
You need to take the pill every day at the same time for it to work its magic. If you forget (because let’s face it: we’ve all forgotten!) you should use a form of backup birth control for the following 7 days, to ensure you don’t accidentally get pregnant. Of course, the pill prevents pregnancy, but remember: it does not provide any protection against diseases, so you should still use a condom to avoid an STI.
Want to know more about how birth control works? Read this blog post.
What are The Side Effects of the Pill?
The freedom of the pill does come with a few side effects. The trouble is that they are not universal. Some women will experience significant side effects, while others will be minor or non-existent. Some may initially experience side effects that will stop after a few months and others will have side effects that continue for as long as they take the pill. Either way, it’s important to understand what’s happening in your body so you’re aware of the things the pill may be causing.
For all the benefits of the pill, the list of possible side effects is a long one. There’s hormones involved after all, and hormones control… well, everything! So brace yourself. Here are some possible side effects of the pill:
- Bleeding or spotting between periods
- Depression, low mood or mood swings
- Acne or skin changes
- Bloating and fluid retention
- Increased appetite
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Sore breasts
- Insomnia and other sleep problems
- Weight gain
Also, the pill robs your body of important vitamins and minerals so it’s important that you know how to combat this. Your best defence? Supplements to help you prevent deficiencies and keep your hormonal health on track. We have a whole blog post on this topic so check it out: Why You Need a Supplement if You’re On the Pill.
What About Health Risks Associated with the Pill?
When starting the pill for the first time, most women are told about the increased risk of blood clotting especially for those who smoke or are over 35. However, there are a few other potential health risks you should know about. These risks are serious but they are not common (so don’t freak out!)
- Blood clots
- High blood pressure
- Liver cancer
- Issues with gallbladder
- Heart attack
The pill is generally safe to take for long periods of time, which is why doctors recommend it. You would be right to be a bit confused though. There are many conflicting reports out there. While there is some research to suggest that it might raise your risks of developing certain types of cancers, other research shows that it actually reduces the risk of ovarian and endometrial cancers.
What Other Options Exist?
For menstrual issues, the pill is not the only solution. While it can help with a variety of problems, it does not tackle the root cause. It simply masks it. At Guud Woman, we firmly believe in the power of lifestyle changes to make a big impact on your menstrual and hormonal health. Good nutrition, regular exercise and high quality supplements can often alleviate most menstrual issues. We really encourage women to start making changes to the way they eat and move first, before relying on the pill to solve your problems.
- Regulating sleep
- Providing mood-enhancing and anti-depressant effects (especially in the ovulation phase of your cycle!)
- It supports bone health
- It boosts your metabolism
Do you want some practical advice on how to live according to your cycle? Check out this blog post for everything you need to know.
What is Post-Birth Control Syndrome?
If you’ve decided that the pill is right for you, there may come a time when you want to stop taking it, either because you’re thinking about having a baby, or because you simply want to return to a natural cycle.
When it comes time to stop taking the pill, most women are left on their own. Doctors often don’t provide a lot of detail about how to stop taking it, or what to expect when you do. For many women, the side effects when they stop taking the pill can be profound and scary, especially if you weren’t expecting it! There’s a name for it too: it’s called Post-Birth Control Syndrome (PBCS). PBCS is a term used to describe a collection of symptoms that can happen when a person stops taking the pill (or any type of hormonal contraception).
The collection of symptoms varies but it can include:
- Hair loss (we have a whole blog post on How to Deal with Hair Loss)
- Heavy periods
- No period
- No sex drive
- Sore breasts
For many women, symptoms of PBCS disappear within a few weeks, but others may experience them for months.
So why have you never heard of PBCS before? Guud question. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that women experience these side effects when they stop taking the pill (literally ask any of your friends and everyone will have a story!) but regrettably, there are no scientific studies to confirm the syndrome is a real medical condition (cue: eye roll). And as a result, it is barely mentioned by health care professionals leaving women completely in the dark.
But don’t worry. At Guud Woman, we’ve got your back.
One of the best ways to alleviate symptoms of PBCS is to start taking a supplement like Guud Flow. The pill depletes certain vitamins and minerals in your body so taking a supplement can help get your natural cycle back to normal.
Read about our ambassador Trix and her experience when she stopped taking the pill. And if you’re about to quit the pill, read our blog post called Quitting the Pill: How to Get Your Body Back on Track. It will tell you how to do it so you can minimise symptoms of PBCS as much as possible and get back to a natural cycle as quickly as possible.
How Can I Learn More?
Talk to us. If you’ve already talked to your doctor and you’re feeling confused about your options, tell us. We have a team of experts who can help answer any questions you may have whether you’re thinking about the pill, unsure about it or quitting it after many years.
Remember: the pill is fabulous, but it’s not your only option. It’s important to understand the side effects and the risks before you start taking it. Knowledge is empowering so make sure you understand your options so you can make an informed choice about what is right for you and your menstrual health.