Life after 2 decades on birth control pills
April 8, 2019 8:27 PM   Subscribe

I decided last month to stop taking my birth control pill for various health reasons (ie not trying to get pregnant). I had been on it pretty much nonstop for 20 years - started at 18 and now off it at 38. Has anyone else gone off the pill after a decade or more of use? What was your experience like? What kind of rollercoaster I am in for?

I'm really looking for experiences of people who were on the pill for at least a decade minimum, but preferably 15+ years. I wonder what the shift is like for the body after being on it for so long and then just going off cold-turkey. Bonus points for people who took the pill continuously (no placebo week, no period) for a large portion of their time on the pill; this is not a hard requirement though.

I'm interested in all perspectives, but I guess the key things I would like to know are:
- If you were low-libido on the pill, did you notice an increase in libido off the pill? If so, how long did that take?
- Did you develop acne? If so, what has helped aside from going back on the pill?
- Did your weight change over the long-haul after the pill?
- How long until your periods came back and what have your periods been like since?
- Anything else you think I should know about this journey?
posted by joan_holloway to Health & Fitness (30 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I went off the pill after 12 years at age 28. I found that everything was just wonky with my period after that. It was like my body had forgotten how to period. That being said, I did not develop acne, my weight did not change (nor did my appetite), and I didn't have any really weird side effects. But, I did experience mittelschmerz for the first time (which was a real shocker). I don't remember how long it took for the ship to right itself cycle wise but I don't think it was that long.
posted by tafetta, darling! at 8:30 PM on April 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

I did it. I was on the pill since age 18 to age 37 (two years ago). I replaced it with a copper IUD.

My weight didn't change noticeably.

My migraines disappeared (which was the reason for the switch in the first place)

I got HORRIBLE acne. Like, worse than when I was a teenager. It gradually improved somewhat over the first year, until after 12 months it was only as bad as the average teenagers (like, always at least three breakouts on my face, more on my back, worse during my period). I finally saw a doctor about it a couple of months ago and they put me on doxycycline and it's cleared it up completely, but they warned it might not be a permanent fix.

My periods came back the very next month but were irregular for the first year (sometimes a 50 day cycle, sometimes 28 days, sometimes 30-something). They have stabilised now. They are heavier than I remember them ever being, but that is probably at least partially because of the copper IUD. They are less painful than they were as a teenager, but more than they were on the pill. On the other hand, I used to take the pill right through for three or four months at a time, so maybe I just forgot what normal periods are like.

My libido ramped up a lot more than I expected. I hadn't noticed the pill suppressing my libido, but now I feel like a teenager again in that respect.

One weird thing - I swear my dreams have become more vivid, particularly around the time of the month when I'm ovulating. In fact, in general, all kinds of things about my body change on a monthly cycle now, that didn't happen during my pill years. I kind of like it.
posted by lollusc at 8:40 PM on April 8, 2019 [4 favorites]

Reverting back to my own hormones controlling my menstruation, the biggest change for me was having a 7-day bleeding period, instead of just 5 while on the pill. I also want to point out that going off hormones is not quite going "cold turkey," your hormones are taking over from the synthetic ones. [Cold turkey = menopause.]

I had no issues with libido, acne, or weight change before or after. But remember that as you age, you will have changes in these areas, also, especially 20 years worth of changes.

And before you know it, you'll be changing again (perimenopause.)
posted by honey badger at 8:49 PM on April 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

I went off of 20 continuous years on hormonal birth control in November and I love it! Started with the Pill in my teens, switched to NuvaRing in my twenties and thirties, had the implant (Nexplanon) for the last few years and finally said goodbye to hormones and got a copper IUD (Paragard) four months ago.

I was really concerned about many of the things you note, but have found that my overall energy as well as libido have increased, and my skin actually improved; now I only get one or two pimples right before my period as opposed to kind of chronic, low-level hormonal acne. I have not noticed weight fluctuation in the last four months since I quit hormonal BC.

My periods have been longer and heavier since switching, and I have cramps now where I didn’t before, but I attribute that to having the Paragard rather than going off hormones and am heartened by the fact that, while worse than before, they’re not bad, and they seem to get better/shorter every cycle. I got into a normal cycle almost immediately.

Happy to answer any questions over memail; it’s seriously one of the best things I’ve ever done and I wish I’d been able to do it sooner.
posted by stellaluna at 9:11 PM on April 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

It was a long time ago now that I went off the pill (like 14 years ago..!) but I remember it very well. I had been on it for easily 20 years, approximately age 18 to about 38ish. No acne to report, somewhat heavier periods, but holy smokes did my libido go from idle to zoom! That was a challenge... not a bad one, but a real challenge. I remember being absolutely furious about it. I'd never once been warned by any doctor that the pill could lower libido, and I was just enraged, thinking about how things might have been different if I had known. I have a Paraguard now, and love it (despite bleeding like a horror movie for the first three months).
posted by pleasant_confusion at 9:43 PM on April 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

I went from progesterone only pill to nothing after about 18 years. Acne got much worse and only getting pregnant helped. Weight and libido unchanged. Took a few months for periods to come back but they have been horrendous after that. I'm breastfeeding for as long as possible partly to avoid periods (currently no periods for over 3 years!) By horrendous I mean very heavy, painful and 2-2 days a month of a feeling of impending dread and helplessness, which is PMS for me.
posted by kadia_a at 10:22 PM on April 8, 2019

I did after being on it mostly continuous use from ~16-29. No changes in libido or acne. Got super depressed, especially during my period which was basically 3 days a month of sobbing. Went on anti-anxiety pills which helped a lot. Had 2 babies and then an IUD which I hated (I stopped bleeding but the horrible mood changes every month didn't go away). Happily back on the pill now.
posted by brainmouse at 10:37 PM on April 8, 2019

I went off after 20 years on the pill with skipping most of my periods for the last 10 or so. I didn't have a period for more than a month after that, but since then it's been every 2 to 3 weeks (seems to have stabilized around 3 weeks) for five days and I'd forgotten how horrid this is. I haven't noticed many other changes though.
posted by kbuxton at 11:06 PM on April 8, 2019

I actually got hot flashes for a few weeks. Definitely not menopause - I was 30!
posted by Toddles at 11:52 PM on April 8, 2019

I stopped taking the Pill at age 32 after about 14 years of continuous use.

- If you were low-libido on the pill, did you notice an increase in libido off the pill? If so, how long did that take?

One of the reasons I stopped taking the Pill was that I suspected it was suppressing my sex drive, and it seems I was correct. Fairly soon after I stopped I noticed both a significant increase in overall libido and more variation over the monthly cycle—highest around ovulation and just before the menstrual period, lower at other times.

- Did you develop acne? If so, what has helped aside from going back on the pill?

No significant changes. I get a few pimples every once in a while.

- Did your weight change over the long-haul after the pill?

No significant changes. My weight dropped a little around that time, but I had also made a couple of other lifestyle changes that could be responsible.

- How long until your periods came back and what have your periods been like since?

My periods came back with no interruption. However, the thing I miss the most about being on the Pill is how much easier it was to deal with menstruation. I was able to space out my periods to one every quarter, know exactly when the relatively short menstruation would start and end, and have minimal problems with cramping and mood changes. That's not the case any more. I have to deal with it every single month, there is enough variation in cycle length that I can only make a general assumption about timing, cramps are painful the first day, and bleeding lasts longer.

It's not exactly debilitating but it's a real drag. I hate feeling like I am bound to the whims of my menstrual cycle and I've considered going back on the Pill because of this issue.

- Anything else you think I should know about this journey?

I find the stereotype of women as unstable and "hormonal" loathsome. That said, it was interesting to observe the way the monthly cycle does end up affecting mood and outlook. My sex drive spikes around ovulation. I'm a little less tolerant of people's BS the week before my period, and sometimes the couple of days right before it starts bring an overwhelming sense of anxiety and dread.

At the same time I am still fundamentally myself, on or off the Pill. Being off it doesn't make me feel closer to nature or womanhood or whatever, neither does it make me feel unstable or out of control.
posted by 4rtemis at 3:49 AM on April 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

I was on the pill (non-continuous, I took the placebos) from 19-42, then had to stop because of high blood pressure. My libido increased after about 1 cycle post-pill. No weight change due to stopping the pill (perimenopause is a different story). My period actually came the next month after I stopped, which surprised me - I thought I'd be more irregular. The periods were definitely heavier and crampier, so I exercised more to make them less clotty and painful; this might have helped with any weight gain. I also had a lot of spotting so I used liners a lot. The worst part was the cystic acne, it wasn't a daily thing but was ridiculously painful. I found using this spot treatment helps only if I apply it as soon as I feel one growing...if it gets too far along, the treatment doesn't work at all. One unexpected thing I developed after stopping the pill was fibroids. I do cry a lot more often. But no more migraines!
posted by wheek wheek wheek at 3:59 AM on April 9, 2019

My circumstances were different so can't answer most of your questions, but one thing I've found extremely useful after stopping the pill is using a period tracking app, since you won't be looking at a pill packet to know when to expect your period. I use the My Calendar iPhone app but there are many alternatives.
posted by ellieBOA at 4:08 AM on April 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

I has on hormonal birth control (pill, then Mirena iud) for about a decade. It's been almost two years, and my periods are still a little weird. They're really drawn out, but not nearly as heavy as when I was a teen (pre-bc). I also have terrible acne, as others have mentioned. My libido really kicks in when I'm ovulating now, too. And I have some moody PMS-y days before my period, which I don't think I had when I was birth control.

Definitely recommend a period tracking app, as someone already suggested. I use Flo, which tracks a lot of other symptoms and events that may be interesting to look back on.

Editing to add my weight didn't noticeably change / I didn't find it easier or harder to lose/gain weight.
posted by rawralphadawg at 5:07 AM on April 9, 2019

I was on the Pill for about 12 years and then went off to see if it would help get rid of a skin condition. It didn't, but zomg. My energy level went from, let's say out of 10, 1 to 8 or 9 in about a month, and I gathered the motivation to lose 50 pounds over about 6 months. My libido went up. I began to find my husband not, let's say, for me and eventually left him. I no longer cared about the skin condition, well, not exactly but it didn't matter as much. My period came right back and my cycle was quite regular for about 7 years after that (until recent perimenopause), despite a PCOS diagnosis that put me on the Pill in the first place. I did not get acne, but then, I didn't really have much as a teen either, so.

(I use Clue to track my periods, have for years. Don't love it, but it's functional.)
posted by wellred at 5:08 AM on April 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

I was on the pill - all different kinds - for over 15 years. Got off it in my early forties and it was wonderful. My libido went through the roof, my skin, hair and nails got noticeably better, my periods became easy and regular, and overall I just felt more like myself (no weight change but I've always been at my ideal weight). The only bad thing was that I started getting the occasional chin pimple around that time of the month. There was no "rollercoaster", my libido and my periods improved almost right away, and my skin, hair and nails gradually improved over a period of months.
posted by rada at 6:27 AM on April 9, 2019

I did it; was on the pill (same one) from age 20 to 35, when my gynecologist cut me off because "women over 35 aren't supposed to be on the pill." I had been skipping placebos for about 12 of those years and hadn't had a period since. I was livid, but kind of busy at the time, so my monogamous partner and I switched to barrier method and figured we'd deal with it later. My period sort of came back but was super duper wonky, with spotting all the time, and no cycle - just random bleeding whenever, for however long, until it stopped. My libido was unchanged. I got some significant acne but my hair seemed nicer. I felt unwell, largely because I had been skipping periods to minimize anemia and now I was basically low-level losing blood more often than not; I had to go on iron supplements.

Ten months after quitting the pill, I got pregnant. I wouldn't trade this baby for anything, but boy gee howdy, I was pissed as shit. If you plan to use barrier methods to avoid pregnancy... you might be a little out of practice, is all I'm saying.
posted by juniperesque at 6:58 AM on April 9, 2019 [4 favorites]

I’m nearing 51 and stopped taking the pill a year and a half ago after about 30 years. I was having some tests done in hopes that something requiring an ablation was causing my uncharacteristically much heavier and more uncomfortable periods the last few years (no such luck). (note, I really just had a couple of days of spotting for years until the past five years or so, when I started having week-long heavy periods with cramps, etc.) A blood test (I’m vague on what exactly got tested) showed that, according to a new gynecologist who I liked a lot, I was in menopause and “might as well stop the pill and see what happens.” I’m also getting divorced, sad and overweight (meaning, not really planning on getting laid anytime soon), and extremely unlikely to be at risk for getting pregnant regardless.

What happened was, really, not much. My periods seem a tad less awful – like, a couple of days of deluge instead of several – and less strictly predictable, usually coming at around four weeks but sometimes skipping one entirely. So really there hasn’t been a big, noticeable difference. I have lost nearly 20 pounds, but due to a lifestyle change I had gained about that much before undoing the lifestyle change and starting to work out more, so I chalk it up to that rather than the pill.
posted by Occula at 8:35 AM on April 9, 2019

Just wanted to add a counter example, as often this kind of discussion mainly attracts people who've had negative experiences.

I was on the pill from 18 till my mid 30s, stopped for a year to have a baby, went back on afterwards, stopped for another year to try to conceive again, then went back on for another few years. I have always run the packs together rather than have a placebo bleed.

I never noticed any difference, either physically or psychologically, between being on or off it. The single difference for me between taking the pill or not taking it is the annoyance of having periods. Given I've never had any bad reactions at all, avoiding periods is a big enough incentive to make me want to keep taking the pill until menopause.
posted by EllaEm at 8:36 AM on April 9, 2019

I went off of the pill (various generics of Ortho Tri-Cyclen over the years) six months ago after sixteen years of consistent use. My libido and skin remain unchanged, however, my weight and periods changed.

I gained an average of one pound per year the entire time I was on hormonal birth control, and couldn't lose it despite a healthy diet and consistent exercise. I started dropping pounds as soon as I went off the pill (no change to diet or exercise) and was back to my pre-pill weight in just over a month. My periods continued with regularity beginning the next month. I've found moodiness and cramps to be less intense, and my period is shorter but heavier (3 days vs 7, Ultra absorbency vs Super).

All in all, coming off of the pill was a positive experience for me.
posted by kayzie at 8:36 AM on April 9, 2019

my gynecologist cut me off because "women over 35 aren't supposed to be on the pill."
whaaaaaat???? O.M.G. That is shocking. And that you then got pregnant!
posted by EllaEm at 8:38 AM on April 9, 2019

I don't think I answered your specific questions very well! I think because of my impending divorce (read, sudden heartbreak) I haven't noticed libido really being affected because so much other stuff is at play. I have noticed that the sorrow and weeping seem more intense and less avoidable for a couple of days before the period starts now. I had never had cramping, pms, anything, for years and years.
posted by Occula at 8:42 AM on April 9, 2019

I went off a few years ago after having been on it from age 16 to 30.

- If you were low-libido on the pill, did you notice an increase in libido off the pill? If so, how long did that take?

The change to my sex life really made me regret being on the pill so long. My libido was never super-low on the pill, and I always thought the change was just a result of going from crazy teenage hormones to a more normal adult (let's be real: female) level of desire. But nope. I went back to the high libido and short refractory period of my mid-teenage years within three months of going off the pill.

- Did you develop acne? If so, what has helped aside from going back on the pill?

One of the major reasons I first went on the pill was to help control cystic acne. I'm naturally pretty high in testosterone, and when I first went off I started getting a little jawline acne again. I've been able to keep this under control by washing with a gentle facial cleanser (Cetaphil), using witch hazel afterwards, and not putting on anything that might clog the pores there.

- Did your weight change over the long-haul after the pill?

Not really. I found I'm more likely to retain water around my period if I'm not hydrating a lot, but my weight hasn't otherwise shifted.

- How long until your periods came back and what have your periods been like since?

I think my period came back after a month. My periods were always regularly irregular before going on the pill and now they're back to that. I generally menstruate every two and a half months. They're slightly heavy by my old standards, but I've always been lucky in terms of flow and PMS - very few symptoms.

- Anything else you think I should know about this journey?

The biggest thing that surprised me was how intensely I wanted to get pregnant for about three months after going off the pill. This also happened the other time I had to go off briefly for about six weeks due to a prescription error in my twenties. I've never wanted to have children, have always found the idea of pregnancy deeply off-putting and downright scary, and I'm gay, so the pill was never firmly attached to the thought of contraception in my mind. But both times I went off the pill, I was suddenly struck by a deep physical craving to conceive. I suddenly started feeling twinges in my chest and abdomen and rushes of emotion when I saw babies, and even though I knew it was crazy, I started crunching numbers to try to justify getting pregnant and being a single mother.

Then, around the three month mark, after going through a full cycle, my hormones calmed down and I immediately went back to my previous mindset of being gently baffled by children and privately disturbed by the thought of pregnancy. It was a wild ride, and I found it a little terrifying in retrospect how much hormones could change the way I thought.
posted by northernish at 8:51 AM on April 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

After about 15 years on the pill, I stopped a few years ago.

My mood and libido almost immediately went way up. I didn't know I was depressed when I was on it, but once off, it became very clear.

Periods were a little heavier and longer, but regular.

But over the course of a couple years, they gradually got heavier and more painful, finally leading me to discover that I have endometriosis, which had been accidentally kept under control by the pill all those years.

I'm not really sure about weight or acne. Both have had their ups and downs over the years, but if the pill or lack thereof had an effect, it was overshadowed by the above.
posted by lampoil at 9:24 AM on April 9, 2019

This question has interested me greatly... particularly the libido side of things.

Minor question within this question, if you want to come off the pill for any particular reason, but you don't want to get pregnant... what are the best Birth Control options?
posted by JenThePro at 9:25 AM on April 9, 2019

I went off the pill after about 20 or so years and very soon remembered why I went on the pill in the first place. Very heavy periods that lasted about six days, terrible cramps the first day, headaches, general crappy feeling. Again, this is what it was like for me before going the pill. So after about 6 months I went back on. When I was forty I went off the pill again to get pregnant and fortunately did so after just a couple of months so that was good. I didn't go back on the pill after the baby came. My body just muddled through all the various changes until my periods stopped altogether at 49.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 12:23 PM on April 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

Oh hey. I just did this. I was on the pill for nearly 15 years. The combo kind first but I switched to progestin only when I started getting migraines and that one is continuous use, so I never had real periods and only experienced spotting on occasion. It's normal and ok to just stop taking it entirely to end being on it and that's what I did.

- If you were low-libido on the pill, did you notice an increase in libido off the pill? If so, how long did that take?
Haven't really noticed much of a change aside from what someone else said about feeling much more in the mood about halfway through a menstrual cycle.

- Did you develop acne? If so, what has helped aside from going back on the pill?
Nope. The odd pimple or two right before a period but nothing serious. My skin was fairly clear in my teens though so ymmv.

- Did your weight change over the long-haul after the pill?
Too early to establish the long haul. It hasn't yet.

- How long until your periods came back and what have your periods been like since?
According to my doc it takes 3 months to get fully back on a regular cycle. I found this about accurate. First period off the pill SUCKED SO MUCH. Killer cramps, heavier flow, bad depression two days prior. The second one was a lot more manageable because I was prepared, and also because the cramps only really were bad-beyond-painkillers for only one day instead of two and I could make it work with a heating pad. I also had stashed up chocolate and remembered to take it easy when I got off of work. Third was about like the second. The timing is also pretty predictable by now.

- Anything else you think I should know about this journey?
I definitely feel like my depression has visited me in weird ways since I went off the pill. I realize in contrast that when I was on the pill I sort of just regularly had this underlying very low level depression. Most days sort of felt cloudy emotionally. Off the pill that seems to have lifted, but I also have experienced brief moments of the more debilitating negative self thought that hit me as a teen attempt to sneak back in. The good news is that I can recognize it, it passes within a day, I have a support system, and it only swings by rarely. It has just been kind of surprising to have that in my life again.

Also, once you get back into a regular cycle, you'll notice that you look awesome about halfway through your cycle. Hair will be robust, skin will be clear, you'll just feel super good looking.
posted by donut_princess at 6:53 PM on April 9, 2019

Minor question within this question, if you want to come off the pill for any particular reason, but you don't want to get pregnant... what are the best Birth Control options?

Regarding the efficacy of birth control methods, Planned Parenthood has a really useful page on that.

Small note: Condoms, if used correctly every time, will prevent 98% of pregnancies. The figure planned parenthood gives on their infographic of 85% describes the "average person" reporting use of condoms, as the average person may not use them correctly every time. But really, they are not that hard to use, people (Planned Parenthood even has instructions for their proper use). Also note that a 98% efficacy rate does not mean if you use condoms perfectly every time then if you have sex 100 times you would definitely get pregnant two of those times. It's more like how when you flip a coin you have a fifty-fifty chance of getting tails each time but each individual flip is not affected by the flips before.
posted by donut_princess at 7:08 PM on April 9, 2019

I was on the pill from about 21-35. I usually took the placebo week, unless there was some sort of scheduling reason to skip it that month. I went off for two reasons -- I had a couple of scary migraines and I wanted to get pregnant anyway. I had been somewhat irregular when I started taking it (I'd usually either have a light period or no period every other month). My period came back regularly immediately, and I was pregnant within 3 months. Granted I only had 3 months of no pill, but I didn't really notice any major changes.
posted by natabat at 10:16 AM on April 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

Thanks everyone! I am 3 weeks off the pill now so it's interesting to hear what may or may not be in store for me.

So far I have noticed ZERO change in libido, which is a bummer. My boobs have deflated quite a bit, which is a win for me. I have one cystic zit on my chin which is annoying. My mood and energy are still all over the place like they were on the pill. So, it sounds like I have to wait a few more months to see what happens, which is what I was expecting.
posted by joan_holloway at 10:24 AM on April 10, 2019

I went off the pill after 20 years on it. I did have a “period week” during those years.
My periods did get longer, heavier, and less predictable (a big bummer after so many years of knowing exactly which days i’d Need tampons).
Some acne flare ups.
I did gain wait, but also passed 40, so ymmv.
posted by natasha_k at 6:49 PM on April 12, 2019

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