Spend just a few minutes reading the leaflet that comes with birth control pills, and there’s a pretty good chance you’ll come away with the impression that birth control is a little bit risky to the say the least.
First, there are the common side effects, which can range from weight gain and nausea to breast tenderness and decreased sex drive. Then, there are the less common side effects, which are often more serious side effects ranging from sleep issues and high blood pressure to serious, life-threatening medical events like blood clots.
However, the reality of hormonal birth control is that while frustrating side effects can happen, oral contraceptive pills are generally very safe for most healthy women.
They can also safely help women with irregular periods, endometriosis, or polycystic ovarian syndrome to have more regular periods. Obviously they also serve as an effective family planning tool for any woman that isn’t a fan of the other types of birth control like IUDs or vaginal rings.
Detrimental side effects from the pill are rare. The majority of women will only experience minor side effects, if any at all.
Thinking about starting on the pill? Here is the ultimate guide to birth control side effects.
Some General Info About Birth Control Side Effects
Not all birth control companies use the same formula. That means there is no one-size-fits-all formula that applies to side effects.
Most pills contain a mix of estrogen and a progestin hormone, and are considered hormonal contraceptives/hormonal contraception.
There are also low-dose formulas available, as well as progestin-only birth control pills, known as “mini pills.” These pills only use the progestin hormone and don’t contain any estrogen.
Because of these different birth control formulas side effects can vary depending on which pill you take. Despite this, there are many side effects that can occur with all birth control pills.
The Birth Control Side Effects You Should Know About
Bleeding between menstruation – commonly referred to as spotting or breakthrough bleeding – is one of the most common if not the most common side effects of the birth control pill. It usually happens within the first few months of using birth control and tends to resolve on its own.
Most of the time, spotting dissipates within two to three days, but if your non-menstrual bleeding feels unusually heavy and continues for 3 or more days or is mild but continues for more than 5 days – it’s best to contact your primary care provider. They can help you switch to a form of contraceptive that doesn’t cause this side effect.
Another side effect commonly associated with this birth control option is breast tenderness.
The hormones used in both progestin-only and combination pills can stimulate the tissue in your breasts. This can cause some swelling and discomfort.
Similar to spotting, your risk of experiencing breast tenderness is highest during the first few months of taking birth control. During this period of time, your body is still adjusting to the hormones used in the pill and tends to be the most sensitive to potential side effects.
Have you ever panicked when you stepped onto the scale after starting birth control? One of the most common complaints when starting on the pill is weight gain.
The hormones used in birth control can cause a mild increase in your weight – especially during the first few weeks of taking the new contraceptive as your body adjusts to it.
This doesn’t affect everyone, though. In fact, studies show that most ladies who use birth control don’t see any change in their weight or body composition.
In most cases, any weight gain from birth control is caused by your body retaining more water than it normally would.
This weight gain can happen fairly quickly, but rest assured, it is usually just a temporary side effect that will go away over time.
Light or Missed Periods
Missed your period after starting birth control? Don’t panic! This is perfectly normal as many women tend to occasionally miss a period or two after they start using hormonal birth control. This side effect is usually due to the extra hormones and how they affect your menstrual cycle.
Because birth control stops your ovaries from releasing eggs, your uterus no longer needs to produce a protective lining. This gives you a much lighter and often very mild period that might not even come at all.
Birth control can also speed up or delay your period. Some ladies get theirs a little early after starting on the pill, while others experience a period that’s much shorter or longer than normal.
Have you ever noticed an upset stomach after you started your birth control? The hormones used in this popular contraceptive can sometimes contribute to feelings of nausea.
This uncomfortable feeling can occur temporarily after you take each pill or persist throughout the day as a general side effect. The good news is that like other birth control side effects, nausea is usually temporary.
There are, however, a few ways to make nausea from birth control pills easier to tolerate.
The first is to only take the pill with food. This means your body will have something to digest at the same time as it is metabolizing the hormones.
The second way to reduce experiencing nausea after taking your birth control is by taking it at night. Many ladies notice that taking the pill at nighttime makes nausea much easier to deal with – especially since you are less likely to be awake as the symptoms peak.
If you choose to take your birth control before going to bed, it’s important to stick to a consistent schedule. Most birth control pills are only 99% effective when taken within three hours of the same time every day.
Any time you introduce hormones into your body via birth control, it can cause mood changes.
Not seeing the joy in life, having crying spells, and having difficulty getting out of bed are all signs of depression.
If you happen to be experiencing any of these symptoms or have thoughts of harming yourself, experiencing difficulty functioning at work, or your personal relationships are starting to become affected, you should have a conversation with your doctor. They’ll be able to help you figure out how to handle it.
Another unfavorable side effect that many ladies tend to experience when taking hormones includes vaginal changes.
Taking hormones can disrupt the body’s natural hormonal balance and the pH of your vagina. This, unfortunately, can cause many uncomfortable issues in the vagina like bacterial vaginosis (BV), yeast infections, and urinary tract infections.
Thankfully, there are options to treat these types of things at home. If you’re familiar with your body and it’s not the first time you’ve had a yeast infection (or BV) then you can use something like VeeCleanse. The Boric Acid in VeeCleanse clears up both BV and yeast infections. It’s even so effective that doctors agree it’s a great option.
When Should Birth Control Side Effects Be Concerning?
As long as the side effects from your birth control are just annoying – like spotting or bloating – it’s best to give your body a little bit of time to adjust. Hormones override your natural cycle, but it doesn’t happen immediately.
However, if symptoms persist or are more severe, don’t wait it out. Some ladies actually get high blood pressure, severe headaches or migraines that are out of control. Some other signs that may be a signal that you need to consult your doc are chest pain or intense abdominal pain,
There are also women who are at higher risk for more serious adverse effects such as risk of blood clots, cardiovascular issues like coronary heart disease and heart attack.
At the end of the day, you know your body the best. If you feel that you are unstable taking your birth control, talk with your doctor, and see about trying a different kind of contraceptive.
Keep in mind that everyone is different, and what may work great for your bestie may not exactly work well for you. When taking hormones, communication is key.
A Final Word
While the pill won’t prevent you from getting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) it is an effective form of birth control. In most cases the pill is also completely safe to use. However, in some cases, it can cause quite a few side effects that are less than desirable.
If you are experiencing mild side effects like vaginal changes due to the hormones, it’s likely you won’t have to deal with those for very long. But if you are experiencing severe side effects like changes in your blood pressure or sad thoughts – contact your healthcare provider.
Sarah Nelson is a nurse with 15 years of experience working with a variety of patients. She has a Masters of Science in Nursing and has spent a large portion of her career working exclusively with women in an OB/GYN setting.
Nursing is a passion for Sarah but she also enjoys writing and sharing her expertise online with people who need helpful information. Treating patients well and helping them learn more about their own bodies is a key essential to a healthy lifestyle that Sarah truly believes in.