Your Guide to Going Off of Birth Control

If you’re considering stopping yours, here’s what to know
Woman lying a couch and looking at a packet of pills atop a laptop

Maybe you’re ready to try to get pregnant, or maybe you want to switch to another kind of birth control. Whatever the reason, you’re ready to stop using your current form of birth control — and you want to do it safely. 

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Ob/Gyn Ashley Brant, DO, talks about how to go off of your birth control and what to expect afterward.

Why do you want to go off of birth control?

Before you stop using your birth control, think through your reasoning, which will help determine when to stop using it.

If you want to try to conceive

In most instances, fertility returns very quickly after stopping birth control — within a few days of starting your period. That means you could become pregnant soon after stopping your birth control, so make sure you’re ready.

“The most common misconception is that you need to go off birth control months in advance of trying to get pregnant, and that’s just not true,” Dr. Brant says. “The last thing you want to do is stop using your birth control before you’re ready to get pregnant but then end up getting pregnant right away.”

If you want to switch to a different form of birth control

Tired of taking the pill every day and want to try something else? No matter the form of birth control, you’re currently using, it’s safe to transition to a different method without taking a break between them. “You can go right from one method to another,” Dr. Brant says.

That means you don’t need to go through a birth control-free interval in order to make the switch — and you could become pregnant if you choose to do so.

If you’re experiencing negative side effects

Although it’s safe to quit your birth control mid-cycle, Dr. Brant suggests finishing out your current round so long as your side effects are not significantly impacting your quality of life.

“I generally encourage people to stay on it until they get in to a doctor to talk about other methods,” Dr. Brant says. Your healthcare provider can troubleshoot side effects and help you identify a better form of birth control for your body’s needs.

How to go off your birth control

Once you’ve identified your reasons for stopping birth control, the way you go about stopping it will be dependent on the form of birth control you use. Here’s how to safely stop using birth control and what’s likely to happen when you do.

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If you’re on the pill, the patch or the ring

If you’re using oral contraceptives (“the pill”), a birth control patch or a vaginal ring, you can actually stop cold turkey.

“If you’re on a form of birth control that you control yourself, there’s no harm in stopping whenever you want to stop,” Dr. Brant says.

Still, she suggests finishing out your current cycle, rather than stopping in the middle of it, because you can usually expect to have your period within a few days of stopping.

“In order to not screw up your period, just finish your current round of birth control and then switch to your new form of birth control or stop using it entirely,” she says. If you need to stop it sooner — for example, in case of negative side effects — try to consult with your healthcare provider first, just to be safe.

If you’re using an IUD or a hormonal implant

If you have a hormonal implant or an intrauterine device, you’ll have to make an appointment with your healthcare provider to get it taken out.

Tempted to try to remove your IUD on your own? Although one study found that 1 in 5 women is able to successfully take out her own IUD, Dr. Brant doesn’t recommend it.

“It’s unlikely to be seriously harmful, but the main risk is that you pull on the IUD string and it dislodges but doesn’t come out, which can be crampy and painful,” Dr. Brant says. “Now you need to have a healthcare provider to remove it, and you’ve turned a non-urgent issue into something much more time-sensitive.”

It’s hard to tell say how soon your period will return after having an IUD or hormonal implant removed. It depends on whether you used a hormonal or non-hormonal IUD, where you are in your current menstrual cycle, how long it takes the hormones to leave your body, etc.

“Expect your period to come any time between the day you have it removed and four weeks from then,” Dr. Brant says. Your healthcare provider may be able to give you a more accurate estimate based on exactly what kind of birth control you’ve been using and whether you had regular cycles before starting birth control.

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Regardless, you can probably expect some light spotting and cramping in the meantime.

If you’re getting birth control shots

Pregnancy prevention shots like Depo-Provera® essentially provide your body with a hefty dose of birth control intended to stay in your system for three months — which makes going off this type of birth control a bit more nebulous than the rest.

To go off of this form of birth control, just don’t get your next shot. But be aware that your periods and fertility may take more than the initial three months to return.

“In some people, it takes more than three months for the hormones to wear off,” Dr. Brant says, “and it could take even longer for your period to come back.”

Side effects of stopping birth control

Your body may experience some changes when you go off of your birth control — but they’re not exactly side effects.

“Some birth control methods have non-contraceptive benefits, including lighter, shorter periods, clearer skin, and less hair growth on the face,” Dr. Brant says. “All those things may come back when you go off of birth control because your body is going back to its baseline.”

If you want to go off or switch your birth control method but have questions about how to do it or concerns about what to expect, touch base with your healthcare provider to talk it out.

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