Featured Illustration Credit: Special thanks to Magda Azab Illustrator
As of April, I decided to go off birth control for a number of reasons. One of the obvious reasons being, we want to get pregnant and the other was that I wanted to stop pumping myself with hormone controlled meds. We aren’t in any rush or anything, but let’s face it, I’m 31 and these eggs have been dying off every year since 28 and I heard through the grapevine (because that’s always the most reliable source *wink, wink*) that it’s a lot harder to get pregnant after being on birth control for years. After surfing the net, I found I had more questions than answers, there just isn’t a whole lot of information out there from a Holistic or Naturopathic standpoint. Naturopaths work from the angle of mind, body & spirit towards wellness, so I thought it would be helpful to share what I learnt from Maddison Leigh. By the way, if you’re still wondering what the heck is a Naturopath you can read more about it here.
This blog post is dedicated to the women out there who are not only thinking about conceiving but also for women who want to learn and educate themselves about what to expect when going off birth control.
If you’re interested to learn about which supplements to take in order to help with hormonal balance and other natural methods of contraception read Part 2 in a separate blog post.
The following is an interview style blog post with Maddison aka “Maddi”.
Hope you enjoy it!
Hey Maddison, tell us a little bit about yourself?
Maddi: Hi there! I am a Naturopath, Medical Herbalist and very period proud! My mission is to help women fall back in love with their menstrual cycles! I teach women’s health workshops, mainly revolving around the Natural Fertility Method for those wanting a natural contraception option. I also work in a clinic setting supporting women with endometriosis, PCOS, premenstrual syndrome, anxiety, bowel issues and more! Other than that, you will find me drinking strong cups of herbal tea, laughing, gardening and/or wearing my grey fat pants with my grey jumper.
So, let’s jump right into the topic! When we get off birth control, do our bodies react differently depending on age?
Every women’s experience of birth control and especially coming off birth control is very different no matter what age. Some women may have health conditions involved, so when they come off their birth control it is likely those symptoms will arise again (unless you have worked with a holistic practitioner to prevent this from re-occurring). There are also many different hormonal contraceptive options (pills, intrauterine devices, inserts) that will affect people in different ways.
Will our period symptoms change? How will they change?
If you are on a combined contraception (containing synthetic forms of estrogen and progesterone), the bleed you are having is not a “period” as a period is defined by a bleed following ovulation. The combined contraceptives block ovulation to prevent pregnancy, and as a result, the bleeding you experience on the pill is solely a withdrawal bleed from the synthetic hormones, not a period. So yes, your natural symptoms premenstrually and your period may be completely different to what you experience whilst on hormonal contraception. On the other hand, synthetically based progesterone contraceptions (Intrauterine devices; some oral contraceptives), do not block ovulation – therefore you have a period because you still most likely ovulate regularly. However, when you come off these contraceptions you may also find a change in symptoms in a positive or negative way depending on your situation (most notably pain; menstrual flow). You may also notice a positive change in symptoms off any type of contraception (as often women don’t realize how much hormonal contraception affects their body negatively until they come off it). For example, synthetic progesterone (progestin) increases the risk of blood clots, hair loss, anxiety, depression, and breast cancer. Whilst naturally produced progesterone does the complete opposite (beneficial to hair growth, sleep, mood, cardiovascular health and cancer prevention)!
As if this topic wasn’t already delicate, let’s go another step further. Will our discharge change as well? How so?
Your discharge is likely to change when you come off hormonal contraception – but in a good way! Most hormonal contraception options change your cervical mucus production to prevent sperm from entering through the cervix. But when you come off the hormonal contraception, your body starts to have it’s natural ebbing and flowing of hormones again. With this, you will notice changes with your mucus (notably from sticky dry mucus to more wet as you approach ovulation and back to sticky dry mucus after ovulation). It does take a couple months to recover from hormonal contraception so you may not notice mucus changes straight away.
Do our bodies generally show the same withdrawal symptoms when we’re going off contraceptives or do they differ depending on the type of contraception (the Nuvaring, the pill, Depo-Provera or hormone implants)?
As for question one – they differ depending on the type of contraception. Some contraceptives are synthetic progesterone based (which still allows you to ovulate and have a period), versus others that are combined with synthetic estrogen and synthetic progesterone (which blocks ovulation). I would assume it would take longer for your period to come back after being on a combined contraceptive as your body needs to learn how to ovulate again. But in saying that, everyone is VERY different and some may find they have very little to no symptoms coming off hormonal contraceptives, while others will struggle.
Does birth control negatively affect our reproductive health? In other words, does it take longer or is it harder to get pregnant after being on birth control for long periods of time?
Everyone is completely different. Women who have been on birth control may have trouble getting pregnant, whilst others will have no trouble at all. It depends on the type of birth control you have been on; whether you are predisposed to a health condition (for example endometriosis or polycystic ovarian syndrome) and how healthy you are (dietary and lifestyle wise). Hormonal contraceptives (particularly combined hormonal contraceptives) deplete many nutrients within a women’s body including B vitamins, selenium, zinc, and magnesium. Therefore it is very important that we give our body the best chance of having a regular healthy cycle by preparing our body to come off hormonal contraceptives.
*Sign up to Maddi’s newsletter and receive 10 ways to balance your hormones for free – perfect for before and after you come off any type of contraception.*
Are there any risks to going off BC cold turkey?
I do suggest talking about your situation to either a holistic practitioner or holistic doctor before taking yourself off hormonal contraception or any type of medication. Every woman has different circumstances, and it’s important you get professional advice.
Is there any validity to the notion that it’s necessary or a good idea for our bodies to take breaks from birth control or is this a myth?
If you consider what your body has to undergo when coming off hormonal contraception (withdrawal of hormones and the need to manufacture it’s own), hypothetically speaking I would say it would be more stressful for the body going on and off hormonal contraception. This, however, would be my personal opinion and not something I have explored very much!
Can you share some of your top tips on the best ways to boost and maintain a healthy mind & balanced body from the inside out?
1. TRUST YOUR BODY
Our bodies are ALWAYS doing its best for us to heal, so it is important we listen to what our body needs.
2. APPRECIATE THE FUNCTIONS OF YOUR BODY
The functioning of a women’s body is mind-blowing. I suggest next time you look in the mirror, think of something you love about the functioning of your body (I love that my arms can hug my family; I love how my heart pumps all the blood around my body; I love that my legs allow me to walk to get my favourite chocolate!!). Too often women focus on the “looks” of their body – when really we should be appreciating the healthy functioning of it.
3. GET TO KNOW YOUR MENSTRUAL CYCLE
The rhythm of the menstrual cycle is the beauty of being a female and you can learn to love and support your body at each different phase! During menstruation, you are greater at using your intuition. Following menstruation, your productivity and energy are heightened. Around ovulation, your expression of self and communication is peaking, and by the premenstrual phase, you are ready to surrender and communicate with your heart through journaling and meditation before the beginning of a new cycle. This way you can optimize your life, develop your self-love, as well as truly get to know yourself!
Here is a blog post about the premenstrual phase if you wish to know more.
If you’ve stayed to the end of the post, I hope you’re feeling super empowered and that you’re also thinking about how bloody cool Maddi is (haha pun intended)!!!! I really love her vibe and the message she promotes about loving your body, learning about it and finding concrete ways to heal from the inside out. One of the messages that rang clear and stood out for me the most is that our bodies are all unique. There isn’t only one solution, we just need to find the best solution that fits our lifestyle.
Did you like this post? If so, let me know in the comments below.
Also, please don’t forget to keep an eye out for Part 2! Maddi and I will be focusing on supplements to take in order to keep your insides healthy, in addition to new and effective methods of birth control!