Birth Control Side Effects: Birth Control and Your Body

Birth control has revolutionized the way individuals manage their reproductive health. It offers the freedom to plan families, manage menstrual cycles, and even address certain medical conditions. However, like any medication, birth control can come with a range of side effects. Understanding birth control side effects is crucial for anyone considering or currently using birth control. This blog delves into the various side effects associated with different types of birth control methods, providing a comprehensive guide to help you make informed decisions about your reproductive health.

Types of Birth Control

Before diving into the side effects, it’s essential to understand the different types of birth control available. Birth control methods can be broadly categorized into hormonal and non-hormonal methods.

Hormonal Birth Control

Hormonal birth control methods use hormones to prevent pregnancy. They include:

  1. Oral Contraceptives (Pills)
  2. Hormonal Injections
  3. Hormonal Implants
  4. Transdermal Patches
  5. Vaginal Rings
  6. Intrauterine Devices (IUDs)

Non-Hormonal Birth Control

Non-hormonal birth control methods do not use hormones and include:

  1. Barrier Methods (Condoms, Diaphragms, Cervical Caps)
  2. Copper IUDs
  3. Natural Family Planning
  4. Sterilization (Tubal Ligation, Vasectomy)

Each method has its own set of potential side effects, which we will explore in detail.

Side Effects of Hormonal Birth Control

Hormonal birth control methods are popular for their effectiveness, but they can cause a range of side effects due to the hormones they release into the body.


Nausea is a common side effect, especially when starting hormonal birth control. This typically subsides after a few months as the body adjusts. Taking the pill with food or at bedtime can help alleviate this symptom.

Weight Gain

Some individuals report weight gain while using hormonal birth control. While studies have shown mixed results, the concern often relates to fluid retention rather than actual fat gain. Monitoring diet and exercise can help manage this side effect.

Mood Changes

Hormonal fluctuations can lead to mood swings, anxiety, and depression in some users. It’s important to discuss any significant mood changes with a healthcare provider to determine the best course of action.

Breast Tenderness

Breast tenderness is another common side effect, particularly with higher-dose hormonal contraceptives. This tenderness usually decreases over time as the body adjusts to the hormones.

Headaches and Migraines

Hormonal birth control can trigger headaches and migraines in some users. Those with a history of migraines should consult with their doctor to find a method that minimizes this risk.

Spotting Between Periods

Spotting or breakthrough bleeding between periods can occur, especially during the first few months of using hormonal birth control. This typically resolves itself, but persistent spotting should be discussed with a healthcare provider.

Decreased Libido

Some individuals experience a decreased sex drive while on hormonal birth control. This can be due to hormonal changes and may improve over time or with a change in birth control method.

Blood Clots

While rare, blood clots are a serious side effect associated with hormonal birth control, particularly those containing estrogen. Symptoms of a blood clot include severe leg pain, chest pain, and difficulty breathing. Immediate medical attention is necessary if these symptoms occur.

Birth Control Pills Side Effects

Birth Control Pills Side Effects

The most frequent side effects include spotting or bleeding between periods (more common with progestin-only pills), breast tenderness, nausea, or headaches. Typically, these symptoms diminish within 2 or 3 months and do not affect everyone using the pill. Birth control should not cause ongoing discomfort or illness.

Most females can safely use birth control pills long-term or indefinitely. However, prolonged use may increase the risk of certain health issues, which will be discussed in the following sections.

Cardiovascular problems

Combination pills may slightly raise the risk of serious cardiovascular issues like heart attacks, strokes, and blood clots. Certain pills carry a higher risk, and it’s advisable to consult a healthcare provider for guidance on suitable options.


Natural female sex hormones (estrogen and progesterone) influence the risk of certain cancers. Hormonal birth control methods can either increase or decrease the likelihood of developing different types of cancer.

According to the National Cancer Institute, using birth control pills can affect cancer risk as follows:

  • Breast cancer: There is a slightly higher risk of breast cancer in individuals who use hormonal birth control pills compared to those who have never used them.
  • Ovarian and endometrial cancer: The risk of these cancers appears to be lower in individuals who take the pill.
  • Cervical cancer: Long-term use of the pill (more than 5 years) is associated with an increased risk of cervical cancer, although most cases of cervical cancer are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV).
  • Colorectal cancer: Taking the pill is linked to a reduced risk of colorectal cancer.

Specific Side Effects of Non-Hormonal Birth Control

Non-hormonal birth control methods are often chosen for their minimal side effects, but they are not entirely without risks.

Allergic Reactions

Barrier methods like condoms can cause allergic reactions in some individuals, especially if they are latex-based. Non-latex alternatives are available for those with allergies.

Increased Menstrual Bleeding

Copper IUDs can lead to heavier menstrual bleeding and more painful periods, particularly in the first few months after insertion. This side effect often diminishes over time.

Discomfort During Insertion

Methods like IUDs and diaphragms may cause discomfort during insertion. It’s important to have these procedures done by a trained healthcare provider to minimize discomfort and reduce the risk of complications.

Risk of Infection

Improper use of barrier methods like diaphragms can increase the risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs) and other infections. Ensuring proper hygiene and usage can mitigate this risk.

Failure Rates

Natural family planning and barrier methods typically have higher failure rates compared to hormonal methods. Consistent and correct use is crucial for maximizing effectiveness.

Long-Term Side Effects and Health Considerations

Understanding the long-term side effects and health considerations of birth control is important for making an informed choice.

Bone Density Loss

Long-term use of Depo-Provera (a hormonal injection) has been linked to decreased bone density. It’s recommended to use this method for no more than two years and to take calcium and vitamin D supplements to support bone health.

Fertility After Discontinuation

Most birth control methods do not affect long-term fertility. However, it may take some time for menstrual cycles to normalize after stopping hormonal birth control.

Cancer Risks

Studies have shown mixed results regarding birth control and cancer risk. Some research suggests a reduced risk of ovarian and endometrial cancers with hormonal birth control use, while there may be a slight increase in the risk of breast and cervical cancers. Regular screenings and consultations with a healthcare provider are essential.

Managing Birth Control Side Effects

While side effects can be daunting, there are ways to manage them effectively.

Communicate with Your Healthcare Provider

Regular communication with your healthcare provider is key to managing side effects. They can help you find the method that best suits your needs and adjust dosages or switch methods if necessary.

Lifestyle Adjustments

Making lifestyle adjustments such as improving diet, exercising regularly, and managing stress can help alleviate some side effects like weight gain and mood changes.

Trial and Error

Finding the right birth control method often involves some trial and error. What works well for one person may not be suitable for another. Patience and perseverance are important in this process.

Education and Support

Educating yourself about the different birth control methods and their side effects empowers you to make informed decisions. Support groups and forums can also provide valuable insights and shared experiences.

Alternative Birth Control Methods

If traditional birth control methods cause intolerable side effects, there are alternative methods to consider.

Fertility Awareness

Fertility awareness methods (FAMs) involve tracking menstrual cycles to determine fertile days. While not as effective as other methods, they have no physical side effects and can be a good option for those who prefer natural methods.

Withdrawal Method

The withdrawal method (pulling out) is another option, though it has a higher failure rate. It requires a high level of self-control and timing, making it less reliable but worth considering for those looking for non-hormonal options.

Permanent Solutions

Sterilization is a permanent solution for those who are sure they do not want children in the future. It’s a highly effective method with minimal long-term side effects.


Choosing the right birth control method is a personal decision that requires careful consideration of the potential side effects and how they align with your lifestyle and health needs. While side effects are a reality for many birth control methods, they can often be managed with the help of healthcare providers and lifestyle adjustments. By understanding the different types of birth control and their associated side effects, you can make an informed decision that best suits your reproductive health goals. Always consult with a healthcare professional to discuss your options and find the method that works best for you.


Q1. How does birth control affect a woman’s body?
Oral contraceptives not only prevent pregnancy but also lower the chances of developing endometrial and ovarian cancer, and protect against acute pelvic inflammatory disease and ectopic pregnancies. However, they do increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Q2. Is it safe to take birth control?
The birth control pill is a safe and effective contraceptive method. Most users experience minimal or no side effects, though irregular menstrual bleeding may occur in some cases.

Q3. Does birth control stop periods?
Some birth control pill regimens are structured to suppress bleeding for three months or even up to a year. Continuous use of monophasic birth control pills, which maintain a consistent hormone dose throughout the active pill weeks, can also prevent menstruation.

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