Pill Recovery 101, restoring balance when coming off of hormonal birth control

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“Just as we shake our heads now when we look on the barbaric medical procedures of previous centuries, the day will come when we look back and see the pill for the crude instrument it was.” –Lara Briden, ND

Recovering from birth control pill - how to help the body adjust

The pill has become a cure-all; a sure-fire way to regulate the monthly cycle of all those with a uterus and ovaries. It’s also used to treat acne and moodiness. We’ve come to understand that it does so by regulating our hormones. Unfortunately, the cycle one might obtain from a pill isn’t a true cycle at all.

One of the most important things to grasp about the pill is that the hormones they provide aren’t true hormones. They’re synthetic, not natural or bio-identical. And when you’re having a pill-induced period, you’re not having a biological period.

Naturopathic Doctor Lara Briden refers to these periods as pill-withdraws, because the bleeding is happening because your body is withdrawing from the synthetics and bleeding. You’re not actually having a rhythmic shedding.
Additionally, the pill carries with it many side effects.

  • Elevating blood pressure
  • affecting cholesterol levels
  • Hair loss
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Low libido
  • Blood clots
  • Increased risk for breast cancer (2014 research demonstrated an increased risk for women aged 20-49)
  • Weight gain
  • Post-pill amenorrhea (lack of period)/Infertility after getting off the pill
  • Vitamin/mineral depletion
  • Abnormal pap-smears

If you experience any of these side effects… or even if you don’t… getting off “the pill” is an important step to healing.

But… how?

Quitting the pill is as easy as that. You quit. But your body needs to recover and heal from the pill. And, if you’re one of the many women that were put on the pill for reasons other than to prevent pregnancy, you’ll need to address the underlying causes of your illness/disease that prompted your doctor to recommend the pill as medication. Coming off of the pill, then can look vastly different between any particular group of women. Let’s focus on just a few that will be helpful to everyone.

Supplement

Because oral contraceptive is known to deplete the body of zinc and b-vitamins, one of the first things to do, even BEFORE coming off the pill is to supplement these. Remember, supplements that are food/herb based are the best source of supplementation, beyond your diet.  Supplements that are whole-foods/herb based are the most bio-available to your body. Meaning, your body recognizes the nutrition in them and is able to absorb and utilize that nutrition.

As always, but ESPECIALLY when coming off of the pill, focus on nutrient dense foods like bone broths, coconut oil, nuts and seeds, nuts, and avocado. Not only do empty calories have no nutrition, but highly processed foods with lots of sugar will rob your body of nutrition it vitally needs!

Be patient

I know this is going to feel impossible, and you probably are scowling at me through the computer screen, but your reproductive and glandular systems have been repressed for so long! You MAY cycle right away, or you may not. Or you may and it will feel something like death. Give them a chance to kick back in and get back in the swing of things before you panic. It can take 9 months to a year for the body to find its rhythm again. While you’re “waiting” keep building up your body with solid nutrition, good supplements, and learn some stress reduction techniques. This is exceptionally important if you are seeking to achieve pregnancy.

Pay attention to your periods

I like what ND Briden says about your monthly cycles. They are your monthly report card that let you know how your body is doing. If they’re terribly miserable and completely derailing, something is off within your body that needs your attention. It would be helpful for you to seek out the support of a like-minded, holistic practitioner who can help you navigate what those symptoms mean for your internal health

Track your cycles

I am a huge fan of the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility. I recommend it to every single female client that comes to me with reproductive/menstrual concerns. I believe woman are not taught enough about how their bodies function! In this book you will learn more than you ever thought possible about your menstrual cycle, and it does a great job of explaining exactly how to chart. and what you can learn from all of it.

When you are tracking your cycles you can better understand how your cycles are doing. You’ll learn how long each of your phases are, and if you are ovulating (or not). This can be a great tool when coming off of the pill, whether you’re simply seeking to understand your health, trying to conceive, or trying to avoid pregnancy.

Tea

A simple tea of red raspberry and chaste berry (vitex) can go a long, long way to helping you restore a healthy hormone balance and healthy cycles. While there are many, many other herbs that may be indicated for you based on who you are, these are two that should be easy to find and help.

You’re Not Alone

And remember, no one should have to walk a healing journey alone. Find a practitioner that is educated and a good fit for you that will help you navigate getting off the pill and help you recover from the reasons you were taking the pill in the first place. If you’re in the Grand Rapids area, I’m happy to help.

Resources

Period Repair Manual (available on Amazon)- I’ve referenced the book several times throughout this post, and I highly recommend it to anyone who has period and fertility concerns. There are lots of great, straightforward information about how the pill damages our bodies, and how we can restore balance to them.

Naturally Knocked Up (available on Amazon)- I’ve referred several clients to this book and everyone has found it to be very helpful in understanding how so many things in our every day life can be so disruptive to our  health, and specifically, matters of cycles and fertility.

Taking Charge of Your Fertility (available on Amazon)- If you have a uterus you need to read this book! Even if you’re not seeking to achieve pregnancy, you will gain oodles of information and wisdom about how and why women cycle.

Asher Thayer
Asher lives in Grand Rapids, MI where she serves her community as Naturopath. She is passionate about helping her clients find health and wholeness naturally, and believes that in order to be truly well we must learn to honor all of ourselves; mind, body, emotions. Lover of good food, trees and people, when she isn't working you'll find her cooking, mentoring kiddos, and spending time in the woods. Learn more about her practice by visiting her website, facebook, or by tossing her an email!
Asher Thayer
Asher Thayer
Asher Thayer
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  • Ellen says:

    Hi Donielle,

    I wonder if you can help me with a synthetic progesterone question. Since I was 13 and just falling into anorexia/overexercise for the first time, I have not had a natural period except for three weird, wonderful months in Spring 2014. The rest of the time, I was pretty much getting it via some kind of hormonal replacement. From age 13 to 34, I wandered from oral estrogen to oral estrogen, with a stint on Nuva-Ring too.
    Now, after bouncing back (weight-wise) from a recent relapse, I still had no period (my BMI is now around 19 or 20) and my FNP has had me complete a 10-day cycle of Medroxyprogesterone 10M. It was awful! Irritability, worse insomnia/bloating/water retention than usual, and I started bingeing every night to deal with it. Yet, all I’ve had to show for it is the faintest stain for one day, then nothing. No flow. Nada.

    Can you suggest why it didn’t initiate any flow?

    Thanks,
    Ellen

    • Not being a medical professional myself, I’m a bit limited in advice, but I’d highly suggest reading the book that Asher mentions in this article (Period Repair Manual by Dr. Briden). It’s fantastic!

      That being said, it’s not uncommon for women to not have a withdrawal bleed after only progesterone, at least for the many women that have contacted me with that issue. One theory I might have is that estrogen may have been so low that not much of a lining was produced…? It’s tricky trying to force and fool the body – it can react in many different ways.

      Recovering from an ED relapse can take a while before the body starts to produce the proper hormones again and the time frame will be different for each woman depending on her overall health.

  • Abby says:

    Hi,
    I’m 17 and went on birth control to help my cramps. It made me feel super nauseous all the time so I went off of it after a month. I was only on it for one month. Four months later, I can’t drink caffeine or a lot of different drinks(I got a job at a coffee shop around the time I started the pill and I go to this coffee shop everyday for online college classes as there’s no where else I can go….) Stuff will randomly make me feel sick- it’s always like some sort of wild card. My anxiety sky-rocketed and I get terrible motion sickness along with random nausea. I have trouble sleeping and sometimes wake up unable to swallow. My period is totally normal and I took acupuncture for the cramps which helped a bit. I’ve seen doctors and therapists (for the anxiety) but all the tests say nothing is wrong with me. I’m trying to target different foods (right now lactose foods) but in general I’m really paranoid about foods and especially medicine and even vitamins. I have a lot of digestion issues (usually at the same time each night) and I feel like birth control ruined my life and I don’t know what to do.

    • Asher says:

      First: Major kudos to you on all the work you’ve done up to this point! I absolutely applaud your efforts! You have done remarkably well!

      Second: You feel overwhelmed right now and that is completely okay! We’re not meant to do this work alone, and when we’ve sought help and then the help doesn’t help, it can feel overwheming and, at times, hopeless.

      I can’t really give you specific advice via the internet, but I’d love to help! There is absolutely hope and healing for you, Abby! Feel free to email me and we can put our heads together. 🙂

      Blessings and heath to you,
      Asher
      [email protected]

      • Mary velarde says:

        I feel the same way I got off my nexplanon birth control implant and since then I been felling horrible I feel nauseous the whole day every morning and trow up I have tension headaches and I been in the ER 5 time for panic attack it just feel horrible

    • Angela says:

      Hi Abby, I don’t know if you have gotten some answers on this since your post, but I would recommend looking into the GAPS diet. Birth control wreaks havoc on your gut bacteria, which impacts almost everything. I’ve been doing GAPS for 11 months, and it’s amazing the healing I’ve seen. I did intro through, which is extremely difficult, but I feel like it’s pretty important. This video is very informative, if you want to start there to get an idea what it is:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cONYR7vAD-A

    • Amanda says:

      Hey, you and I literally have the SAME exact symptoms. It’s awful…you posted this in March, I’m wondering how you are now? I’m currently struggling.

      [email protected] if you want to email me about it!

  • Mikayla says:

    Hey, I was on the pill for about 5 months so I wouldn’t have my period for my wedding and I ended up gaining 40+ lbs in those 5 months. I then went off the pill right after on August 15th 2015 and since then I haven’t been able to lose my weight and I am feeling depressed and I don’t know how long I am supposed to wait or what I am supposed to do. As I write this, I am still waiting for my period. My last period was in January. I have always struggled with irregular periods but I have never gone a few months without my period so I am a little worried. What do I do?! Is there anything I should do? Thanks.

    • Asher says:

      Hi, Mikayla!

      Oh, I am so sorry to hear about your experience! Talk about frustrating! “The Pill” is notorious for throwing off hormones, even in those that didn’t previously have struggles. Since there are a lot of variables and I’d need a lot more information to guide you, I would recommend seeking help from qualified natural health practitioner for help figuring out what EXACTLY is going on in your body, specifically, so that you can work on restoring your body (and hormones’) balance.

      I’d love to help you. You’re welcome to connect with me at [email protected]
      You can also check out my website to learn more about what I do.

  • Carly says:

    I’ve been off the patch for two weeks and now. The first week was AWFUL. Major depression and anxiety. I went to my gyno about it and she gave me anti anxiety and antidepressant medication. However, I couldn’t bring myself to take them! A week later now I’m feeling tons better except I’m having trouble sleeping. My only main concern is since I quit the patch my feelings toward my bf of two years are seeming more confusing. I was wondering if it has something to do with my hormones trying to regulate back out? I love him so much and I’m not ready to give up on us!! I got with him before I got on the patch ( I was on the patch for 6 months) I’m only 18 and it’s so hard to enjoy life like this 🙁

  • Lovelies says:

    Hey.
    I am happy to find this site. I need some help and I have consulted with doctors but no help.
    I started the pill in 2010 and decided to take a break in January 2014. March 2014 I fell pregnant. I had my baby and started the paraguard IUD right after to prevent pregnancy. I began the IUD because I wanted to breastfeed and it was no hormonal. It eventually fell out on its own In February 2016. Since I didn’t really like it and felt a tremendous hormonal imbalance I decided to start the nuvaring. I have been on the nuvaring and still breastfed. My son is 20 months old now and I just weaned him off completely and now I am started to feel normal again. However I want get off the birth control because my sex drive is very low, my skin has been badly affected by the hormones and I am starting to realize how badly I want to not be medicated at all. I realize the risk of falling pregnant again and I am okay with it.
    Will getting off nuvaring help my body produce its own hormones and start to feel normal? Please let me know I am desperate to feel normal again.

  • Ariana S. says:

    Hello! I am hoping that someone can help me out. I was on birth control for about 1.5 years, and just stopped taking it. After about 6 months, I noticed A LOT of hair loss as well as a host of other side effects: lack of motivation, foggy memory, low libido, irritability and so forth. It was especially bad considering that I was a newly wed when all of this started, and I have no interest in having sex. It has been almost a year since I noticed these symptoms, and I believe that my kineseoligist has narrowed it down to my hormones being imbalanced but we have been unable to to figure out how to balance them. Since she is not covered by insurance, I don’t have the money to keep making appointment with her to figure out what supplements I need to take to balance my hormones. I have talked to my doctor about this since it started, and they have done blood tests. I am 20 years old, and my estrogen is so low that I am in “perimenopose” according to them. I really need help balancing my hormones, and getting my life back to normal. Can anyone please help me?????

    • Oh Ariana, I’m so sorry you’re having these issues!

      Based on your symptoms, I’d check to make sure they’ve done a FULL thyroid panel for you to make sure your thyroid is functioning properly.

      Besides that, nutrition is really the best way to help your hormones balance out. http://naturalfertilityandwellness.com/fertility-diet/

      Charting your cycle can also help you figure out what part of your cycle needs support.

      I’d also recommend the book The Period Repair Manual for some helpful advice.

  • Gabryelle Quiggle says:

    Hi,
    I am 19 years old and I just went on a hormonal rollercoaster. When I was 16 my periods became very painful and very overwhelming. So I was first prescribed the pill, I went on it for a few months but it didn’t help much with my period symptoms and I became very nauseous all the time. About a year later I talked to my doctor about depo-provera because she said it would stop my period all together with no cramps and only a shot once every three months. At first, I thought this was great! My periods stopped and I didn’t have any cramping and I was living the life. The summer after however, I lost all self confidence in myself because I started to get very harsh underground pimples on my chin and around my mouth and now I know it was from the birth control. So, since I didn’t understand the acne was caused by BC at first, I went to an acne specialist and he had me switch to a pill that was said to help my acne all disappear….. wrong. Now, after consulting with an all natural skin product professional I am off birth control completely. Also, I am now looking for guidance on how I should stabilize my hormones naturally. – and hopefully have my skin return to how it was.. although I know I’m scarred from it.

    I guess the moral of this story DO YOUR RESEARCH BEFORE you start messing your delicate hormones.

  • vanessa says:

    I was on birth control for 15 years. Between pill or depo injections. I stopped taking the injections, and now am experiencing anxiety, depressions, and severe neuropathic pain. An obgyn has put me on a progesterone pill, however the symptoms are not letting up. This happened a few years ago and I ended up going on antidepressants and back on the depo shot. Hormone labs show I’m not producing any progesterone. I’d like to know how long, or will my body ever go back to normal? I’m 29 and would prefer not to be on synthetic hormones but the current symptoms are unbearable.

    • The best thing to do is to find a practitioner well versed in looking for the root cause of your hormone imbalance. I’m so sorry this has been a problem for you and really hope you’re able to find someone help you get back to feeling well, both physically and mentally.

      I really like the book The Period Repair Manual for hormone balance and A Mind of Her Own for depression/anxiety.

  • Jenna says:

    Hello,

    I was on birth control for 6 years straight and have been off of the pill for about 4 or 5 months now (yay!). I went off of it because it was doing major damage to my gut and liver and it was/still is giving me terrible terrible acne… It has never ever been this bad. I had perfect skin in high school and then starting college it went to complete hell. I started to see a naturopathic doctor (thank God for naturopathic doctors!!) and I have been taking supplements for my gut and liver for about 4 or 5 months now, and it has definitely helped my skin, but it still has a long ways to go. My question is will be skin ever go back to it’s healthy self? Will my gut flora and liver heal after the 6 years on birth control? I don’t care if it takes another 2 or so years to heal, I just need to know there is a light at the end of the tunnel for my skin! I can only pray this acne goes away, I’ve never hated looking at myself in the mirror as much as I do now!

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