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Hormonal Birth Control Side Effects Explained

All of our bodies are different so we will react to changes differently. Birth control is no exception. While some of us will experience absolutely no birth control side effects, others may notice signs and symptoms associated with taking hormonal, or in some cases, non-hormonal contraception. In this post we’ll look at the most popular methods of preventing pregnancy out there and the different side effects of these birth control methods….

Different birth control side effects

Please keep in mind that we’re all different and it’s always a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional if you have concerns or questions regarding your birth control. Below is a breakdown of the different side effects associated with birth control: 

Side effects of the birth control pill

Containing the hormones progesterone and estrogen, the contraceptive pill or combined pill works by thickening cervical mucus and preventing ovulation. The pill is manufactured by several brands and comes in many different dosages. Not everyone will experience side effects when taking the birth control pill, but some common ones include:

  • Decreased sex drive
  • Changes in menstrual bleeding or spotting
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Breast tenderness
  • Changes in mood

Side effects of the progesterone-only pill or minipill

The progesterone-only pill, or minipill, doesn’t contain the hormone estrogen which is found in the combined pill. It’s often a hormonal birth control option for those who face risks taking the combined pill, e.g. those with a family history of blood clots. Side effects of the progesterone-only pill include: 

  • Acne
  • Breast tenderness
  • Changes to mood
  • Migraines or headaches
  • Nausea
  • Small ovarian cysts

IUD side effects

The IUD is a small t-shaped device that is inserted into the uterus. It’s a long-acting reversible contraception with a high efficacy rate. The IUD requires fitting by a healthcare professional, but once fitted, the IUD can be used as birth control for many years. Common IUD side effects are:

Side effects of the birth control injection

Administered every 3 months, the contraceptive injection is another hormonal option of birth control that doesn’t contain estrogen. Some reported side effects of the birth control injection include:

  • Headaches
  • Hair loss
  • Changes in menstrual bleeding (or this may stop completely)
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Weight gain
  • Mood swings

Side effects of the NuvaRing

The NuvaRing or birth control ring is a small device inserted into the vagina, releasing hormones to prevent pregnancy. Once inserted, the ring has enough hormones to last for up to 5 weeks, after which it should be removed and changed. The side effects of the NuvaRing include:

  • Headaches
  • Breast tenderness
  • Spotting and changes to menstrual bleeding
  • Decreased sex drive

Serious birth control side effects

Although extremely rare, some more serious side effects of hormonal birth control include:

  • Risk of blood clots (can lead to stroke, heart attack, deep vein thrombosis, or pulmonary embolism) 
  • Increased risk of breast cancer or cervical cancer

Side effects and non-hormonal birth control

Historically, there haven’t been many contraceptive options for women who want to avoid hormones due to their side effects, but two common options are the copper IUD and condoms.  While the copper IUD is non-hormonal, women choosing this method can still experience cramping and heavier periods, as with the hormonal IUD. Condoms are great for protecting against sexually transmitted diseases, but cause irritation for people with latex allergies or sensitivities

Fertility awareness-based methods such as the rhythm method (or calendar method), offer non-hormonal protection, but are notoriously laborious. While withdrawal, or the pull-out method, is hard to time and is less effective than hormonal options. Check out more details on non-hormonal birth control methods and their effectiveness here

At Natural Cycles we are proud to bring to market the first birth control app. Our non-hormonal birth control uses the science behind the basal body temperature method, paired with a smart algorithm that learns your unique cycle in order to predict the fertile window so you know exactly when you are fertile. With a global community of users, Natural Cycles is a growing hormone-free birth control option. And the only known side effect? Learning more about your body.

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Written By

Jennifer Gray

Jennifer Gray is an award-winning writer with more than five years’ experience covering reproductive topics ranging from birth control to planning pregnancy. She is passionate about providing women with accurate information grounded in science they can use to take charge of their own health - while also dispelling myths that exist within the field of women’s health. She holds a Master of Science from the University of Edinburgh and currently lives in Ireland.

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Scientifically Reviewed

Jack Pearson

Dr. Jack Pearson is a previously HCPC registered Embryologist with a PhD in reproductive medicine. Prior to joining Natural Cycles leading Medical Affairs, he worked for more than 10 years in a clinical setting working at some of the busiest fertility clinics in the UK. Today he spends most of his time working with experts at the world’s leading institutions to carry out important research with the vision to further the field of female health. He earned his PhD from the University of Sheffield specializing in Sperm Metabolism and currently lives in London.

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