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I’m no stranger to hormonal birth control. Before I decided to stop using it, I’d tried almost everything – the pill, the patch (turns out, I’m allergic to adhesives of all kinds), the ring, the mini pill and even a new (at the time) injectable method. I only did that one once, though, as I’m not fond of shots. I chose that in lieu of Depo because I had a few friends who had gotten pregnant while using it and knew still more who lamented their uncontrollable weight gain since starting the shot. Not worth it, I decided.

Later, after my 2nd child was born, I decided that I was done with using medication to prevent pregnancy. Shortly after her birth, I had already begun taking the mini pill at my doctor’s recommendation. This form of birth control is often prescribed for nursing mothers because it only contains progestin, which shouldn’t interfere with lactation. It shouldn’t, but it did for me. That was one reason why I stopped taking hormonal birth control. There were a few others:

  • Headaches
  • Mood Swings
  • Irregular Periods
  • Weight Gain

The decrease in my milk supply made me think more about the negative side effects of birth control that I had learned about in a pharmacology class in college. It didn’t make sense to me that it was so highly praised with many side effects being overlooked.

Now, after several years of researching natural health care, especially after learning about women who struggle with hormone imbalance, I question whether or not hormonal birth control is really safe.

Why use hormonal birth control?

The most obvious reason is to prevent pregnancy (our first child was conceived while I was on the pill, so I’m a bit skeptical of its effectiveness). However, doctors also prescribe it to help regulate periods.

Today, several methods of hormonal birth control are available on the market. From pills to patches to implants, women have a wide variety to choose from. One visit to the CDC page on contraception will spell out all of your options, along with the glowing benefits of each one.

Strangely, though, something is missing – the negative side effects. After more searching, I was able to find side effects for the different kinds of hormonal birth control available:

The Pill

  • Nausea and/or spotting
  • Missed periods or very light periods
  • Headaches, depression or decreased enjoyment of sex
  • Blood clots
  • Higher risk of developing cervical dysplasia. Pills users with dysplasia who also have HPV (human papillomavirus) have a three- to four-fold higher risk of developing cervical cancer.
  • Pill users who smoke or have hypertension are at significantly higher risk of suffering a stroke, compared to other pill users. Pill users who smoke are also at significantly higher risk of a heart attack, compared to pill users who do not smoke and to other women

Mini Pill

  • Menstrual irregularity – either with missed periods, scanty periods or spotting between periods
  • Weight gain
  • Increased symptoms of depression

Implants

  • Irregular periods
  • Weight gain, hair loss, headaches and/or darkening of skin over implant
  • Arm discomfort (at site of implant)
  • Depression and premenstrual symptoms may become worse

Injections

  • Very irregular periods
  • Weight gain
  • Premenstrual symptoms and depression may become worse
  • It may be a number of months before a woman’s periods return to normal after her last shot (This will interfere with fertility if you want to get pregnant soon)
  • Bone loss, especially in smokers
  • Allergic reaction to injectables

IUD

  • Cramping, pain or spotting after insertion
  • Increased menstrual cramping and longer blood flow
  • Allergic reaction to the IUD

The Patch

  • Increased risk of heart attack and stroke (women who smoke should not use the patch)
  • Skin irritation, redness, or rash
  • Breast tenderness, vaginal spotting, and/or stopped periods

The Ring

  • Spotting, breast tenderness, nausea and vomiting, and mood swings
  • Vaginal irritation or infection and increased vaginal discharge
  • Increases your risk of blood clots, especially if you are 35 or older and smoke. (I have a friend in her mid-twenties who was hospitalized for several days due to a blood clot caused by the ring).

(Source)

The risks exist, that’s for sure. Any medication you get comes with a laundry list of side effects to look out for, and hormonal birth control is no exception. So why are the risks rarely discussed?

Perhaps women would be less likely to buy these medications if they were more aware of the risks. Perhaps their healthcare providers don’t know much about alternative methods, so they stick with recommending hormonal birth control. Perhaps most women just don’t know that there are other options. I don’t know what the answer is.

I just know that as I became more aware of my body and those things typically touted as safe that really aren’t, it made me think twice about everything – food, cleaners, medications. 

While my opinion is that it’s best to know your body and thus use a contraceptive method like natural family planning, to avoid serious complications and hormone imbalance, I don’t like to tell people what they should or shouldn’t do.

I do, however, want women to think about this if they do use hormonal birth control. Do you think it’s safe? Is this something that you really feel comfortable taking? Is there another option that makes more sense? Do you feel that the benefits outweigh the risks? Were you told about the risks?

Do you think hormonal birth control is safe? Why or why not? Do you know what your other options are?

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Nina is a writer, student midwife, and mama of four. She blogs regularly at Shalom Mama and loves helping others create wellness through simple living. Check out her website for more simple wellness tips and connect with Nina Nelson via Facebook.

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7 Comments

  1. I’ve never used hormonal bc, for many of the reasons you mentioned here. Natural Family Planning has worked well for us, since I have a very regular cycle.

    Reply

  2. I completely agree that hormonal birth control side effects are too widely overlooked. In my western and Chinese medicine studies (I am an acupuncturist) I also found out that hormonal b.c., especially the pill, is linked very clearly to breast cancer. The longer you’re on it, the higher your risk. That was my main motivation to stop doing the hormonal route, and I FAR prefer my copper IUD for pregnancy prevention. I have had no problems whatsoever, aside from some early periods at the beginning, which I can only imagine was my body trying to figure itself out again. It was easy and safe to get at Planned Parenthood, since I have no health insurance, and at low-cost due to their assistance program. I highly recommend it. I was told about the risks you mentioned — heavier bleeding and cramping — but that has not been a problem for me.

    Thanks for starting the discussion! Also there are many herbal remedies, using phytoestrogens from plants, that can resolve other hormonal imbalances like menstrual irregularities. Women do not have to get on the pill to regulate their cycles!

    Reply

  3. I took orthotri-lo for a year or so, also tried the patch. I was 24, nonsmoker and started showing signs that something was off. My doctor basically called it “pre-stroke” symptoms. So then I decided to stop taking any form of hormonal BC. I started using the Fertility Awareness Method and havent looked back. I learned so much about myself and my body.
    My best friend is attending classes to become an RN and at her hospital, she asked the MRI tech if they really have seen an increase in stroke in young women who take hormonal BC, she said “do you really want to hear what I have to say” and my friend said she did…the techs answer “absolutely, yes, we have”….

    Reply

  4. I agree. I had many negative side effects just on the ring shortly after I got married. The first one being that my husband had no idea who he had married! Even though it is “low dose” I had horrible mood swings. When I went to my nurse practitioner and asked her for something that didn’t have these side effects she couldn’t tell me which ones didn’t have them. After grilling her it basically came down to “it’s a crap shoot.” I was not satisfied with that answer whatsoever. This is probably the beginning of my interest in doing things in a more natural way (although I am still so far from achieving this it is a little sad!). I decided to use a diapraghm instead and it worked perfectly for us.

    Here is one thing I’m wondering about. My grandmother died of ovarian cancer. I saw an article on Dr. Oz a while back stating that the number one way to prevent it is to be on pill. Basically for the rest of your life. It doesn’t sit right with me, but I am kind of terrified of getting this cancer. How can I reconcile that suggestion?

    Reply

  5. I was on the ring when I got married and within 6 months I was a wreck! I didn’t know what happened to me. I was basically in a constant panic attack (never had anxiety issues before) and was depressed constantly. Seriously, I didn’t actually consider suicide as an option, but I didn’t want to live anymore. It took me a year or more to get back to feeling normal after going off of hormonal birth control. I won’t come near it again! It was the scariest time of my life and I would highly encourage women to be very careful about even considering messing with their natural hormones.

    Reply

  6. I had similar mood problems and just horrible bouts of depression while on the patch while we were first married. I didn’t realize what was causing it for nearly two years. For four year after, we did NFP but since have had three children and now since I’ve spent so long nursing haven’t had a period for three years. Not sure how to plan and I don’t want to go back onto any bcp.

    Reply

  7. I went on BC pills prior to getting married and it was my first time on BC ever. The pill was considered normal as far as I knew. I felt sick for 3 months, which I read was normal as my body adjusted. That did go away, but it wasn’t until my husband said something a couple months after that, that I realized my mood had changed. I was irritable and more angry. So, i went off the pill, which we were open to getting pregnant at that time, and of course I got pregnant right away (little one is 5 wks old tomorrow-on Christmas!). Now it’s about time to start another form of birth control as I’m 5 weeks post partum and I have no idea what to do. I like the ease of hormonal BC’s, but don’t like what they do to me and I’m concerned about putting a piece of copper inside me (copper IUD). The barrier options (condoms, diaphragm, etc.) seem like a hassle, as does using FAM and having to track temperature, etc. I know it’s a trade off either way-do more work to not get pregnant and be sure my body doesn’t have short and/or long term negative affects, or go the easy route but force my body into an unnatural state. grrrrrrrr, a tough choice!

    Reply

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