A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

6 common birth control symptoms

Contraception pills in hand woman holding / Birth control contraceptive means prevent pregnancy

When choosing the right kind of birth control for you, one thing to factor into your decision is the possible effects of different birth control methods on your body.

When choosing the right kind of birth control for you, one thing to factor into your decision is the possible effects of different birth control methods on your body. Birth control symptoms can vary from woman to woman – you may not experience any symptoms, or they may clear up after you’ve been using birth control for a few months.

While the benefits of birth control often outweigh the symptoms, it’s still important to stay in touch with your women’s health care provider about your individual experiences so they can recommend a change if needed.

Depending on what contraceptive method you choose, you may be more likely to experience certain symptoms when you first start out. Here are some common effects of birth control on your body to be aware of:

  1. Mood changes
  2. Breast tenderness
  3. Headaches and fatigue
  4. Missed periods (hormonal birth control)
  5. Heavier bleeding (copper IUD)
  6. Appetite changes

Let’s dive into what these birth control symptoms can look like and how common they are.

Mood changes

Many of us associate hormones with mood swings, so it makes sense that hormonal birth control could affect our emotions. Some women have reported experiencing depression or anxiety, having crying spells for no discernible reason, or feeling irritable as their body adjusts to a new birth control method. Today’s birth control pills have lower doses of hormones than in the past to try to level out these impacts.

Breast tenderness

Our breasts are also sensitive to hormones, so even without birth control, women often have breast tenderness and pain around their periods. The hormones in birth control can make this symptom worse for some women, although it’s usually not serious and will likely fade after continued birth control use.

Headaches and fatigue

Headaches are a common birth control symptom women may experience when they’re first starting out on a certain method of birth control, especially during the placebo week if they’re taking the pill. These headaches happen due to the sudden drop in hormones you experience during that time. Fatigue is a less common symptom, and the relationship still isn’t fully understood, but if you’re feeling more tired than normal you should make a note of it and ask your doctor whether it could be birth control or something else (e.g. iron deficiency).

Missed periods (hormonal birth control)

Some women may consider this side effect to be more of a perk—periods probably aren’t your favorite time of the month, after all! However, missing periods could also make you feel unsure about whether your birth control is working or if it failed.

Here’s what to know about periods and hormonal birth control:

  • On the pill, you can take a week of placebo pills to simulate a period (typical prescriptions come with 21 days of active pills and seven placeboes).
  • Hormonal IUDs often make periods much lighter and can eliminate them entirely for some women.
  • Some hormonal pill, patch, and ring options allow for a longer duration of time between periods.

Ultimately, when it comes to periods and birth control, you have many choices about your preferences – be sure to talk to your health care provider if you have any questions or concerns.

Heavier bleeding (copper IUD)

While most birth control methods use hormones, the copper IUD is one of the few that differ. Because it uses copper rather than hormones to prevent pregnancy, it has different side effects than the pill or other forms of hormonal contraception. One of the most notable side effects of the copper IUD is that many women find it makes their periods worse or that they start bleeding between periods. These effects should start leveling out at around the six-month mark; make sure to consult your doctor if they don’t.

Appetite changes

Occasionally, women may start gaining weight after changing their method of birth control. Research mainly attributes this to high estrogen levels increasing appetite and water retention, so it can be a double whammy of making you hungrier and more bloated. However, if you’re cautious about maintaining the same diet and exercise habits you had before, you should be able to avoid any actual weight gain. As with other birth control symptoms, increased appetite and water retention should level out as your system gets used to your birth control.

While the majority of birth control symptoms are not serious and will fade over time, it’s important to tell your women’s health professional if you’re experiencing any symptoms that are negatively impacting your quality of life. Your provider may recommend trying a new method of birth control, or conduct tests to determine if your symptoms are caused by something else entirely.

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