Maybe you’ve just started on birth control, and have started noticing some unsavory side effects. Maybe you’ve been on it for years and have suspected that it could be the culprit behind a cadre of symptoms you (or your doctor) can’t seem to get to the bottom of. Or maybe you need a method of family planning, and it seems that when you compare the laundry list of potential side effects for all of the hormonal options, there’s just no winning choice.
What’s worse, women’s very real, and sometimes very serious complaints on birth control are often downplayed by the medical and pharmaceutical establishment. The unfortunate truth is, as with any medication, there are risks for side effects, and birth control is no different. We often forget that these drugs contain significant doses of hormones that impact multiple functions and organs in our bodies, not just ovulation and ovaries. Here are 10 of the most common side effects reported by women on hormonal birth control.
1. Weight gain or bloating
While early versions of the birth control pill were much more likely to cause water retention and increased appetite leading to weight gain, modern methods of the birth control pill are much less likely to cause weight gain. And while data is mixed about the connection between weight gain and birth control, some women may experience weight gain when they go on the pill, and especially if they get the Depo-Provera shot.
2. Mood changes and/or mood swings
Many women report changes in mood or an increase in mood swing frequency or severity. For some women, these issues can range from making PMS symptoms a little worse to potentially contributing to the development of anxiety, depression, and suicidal risk.
3. Lowered libido
Some women on birth control report a lowered libido. This could have something to do with the fact that hormonal birth control suppresses testosterone levels in women, the hormone that is responsible for sexual arousal in women (as well as men). Therefore women on the birth control pill may have a more difficult time “getting in the mood,” and/or experiencing arousal and/or orgasm.
4. Light bleeding or spotting between “periods”
This one is fairly common, and even considered “normal,” especially for women who have recently begun taking birth control, or who have recently had an IUD insertion. But why the quotation marks? Because for the majority (although not all) of a woman’s cycles, her birth control pill will prevent her from ovulating. For bleeding to be considered a true menstrual period, it must be preceded by ovulation.
5. Breast swelling, soreness, or tenderness
While cyclical breast tenderness is common for women who are not on hormonal birth control, some women may experience an increase in breast swelling, soreness, and/or tenderness from hormonal birth control.
6. Headaches and migraines
It’s not all in your head: If you’ve notice an increase in headaches after beginning hormonal birth control, there might be a link. In fact, if a woman has a history of migraines, that is a contraindication for the prescription of birth control, as there is an association between a history of migraines and an increased risk for stroke while on birth control.
7. Heightened risk for blood clots
This is certainly one of the scarier potential side effects associated with hormonal birth control, as blood clots may potentially lead to heart attack and/or stroke, especially if you smoke, are overweight, and/or are over 35 years old. While hormonal birth control does not cause blood clots, it does significantly increase an otherwise healthy young woman’s risk for developing blood clots.
8. Acne and other skin changes
While young women are sometimes encouraged to begin hormonal birth control as a way to manage acne, some women may actually experience an increase in acne on birth control, and/or skin discoloration.
9. Worsened PMS symptoms, and more painful and heavy periods
Again, while many young women are encouraged to begin hormonal birth control to “regulate” cycles and decrease the heaviness and painfulness of menstrual periods, some women may experience the opposite while on hormonal birth control.
10. Nausea, upset stomach, and vomiting
Nausea, upset stomach, and/or vomiting are another side effect reported by women on hormonal birth control, and particularly those formulations that are higher in estrogen. Stomach issues are most likely to occur with the use of emergency contraception, which contains high doses of estrogen.
There is no guarantee that a woman will (or will not) experience any of these potential side effects while on hormonal birth control; these are simply some of the most statistically common side effects reported by women on hormonal birth control. You may also experience other less immediate side effects that we have reported on this blog before, such as gut health issues, lasting changes in your cervical functions, or even mutual attraction mechanisms.
If you’d rather not play Russian Roulette trying every artificial birth control method under the sun to plan your family without losing your mind or health, then maybe it’s time to consider a Fertility-Awareness Based Method (FABM) or Natural Family Planning (NFP). These methods are 100% side-effect free, because you are working with the knowledge of your cycle, rather than trying to artificially “control” or suppress it. And if you make the time investment of learning an official method of FABM (which involves being taught by a certified teacher of your chosen method), it can be as effective as pharmaceutical birth control.