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Does Birth Control Make You Moody?

It’s widely reported that hormonal birth control can have a negative effect on our emotions, causing depression, lethargy, and mood swings, but is there any truth in this claim? In this post we’re going to take a look at the emotional impact of hormonal birth control, we’ll unpack some of the research on this topic and also highlight the benefits of choice when it comes to finding the right birth control for you. Read on to find out more…

Is there a link between birth control and emotions?

First of all, it’s important to say that there is a link between our hormones and our moods, and this isn’t controversial. It’s basic biology that what’s going on in our bodies has a knock-on effect on our brains or how we’re feeling. But what about when we introduce synthetic hormones into the mix? Well, there is scientific evidence to suggest that yes, there is a link between hormonal birth control and our emotions. 

Unfortunately, understanding our birth control’s link to how we’re feeling is a bit more complicated than asking ‘does the pill make you moody?’. There are other elements at play, such as our own pre-existing mental health, family history, and environmental and physical changes that can impact our moods too. Before we dig any deeper, let’s first take a closer look at how hormonal birth control works as this reveals something as to why mood changes exist or are perceived to exist. 

How do hormonal contraceptives work?

This has to do with (yes, you guessed it) our hormones! Our menstrual cycles are tightly regulated by our naturally occurring sex hormones. If you’re a nerd like me, you’ll know that the main ones are progesterone and estrogen, but testosterone also has a role to play in our reproductive health. 

Hormonal birth control uses synthetic versions of the hormones estrogen and/or progesterone in order to disrupt the natural levels of our sex hormones, thus inhibiting ovulation (the release of an egg cell). With no egg cell, there’s nothing for sperm to fertilize and so we can’t get pregnant. But this also means we don’t experience the same predictable hormonal shifts that we do while experiencing a natural cycle. 

Can birth control cause mood swings?

There are mood changes linked to the natural cycle as those who experience premenstrual syndrome will testify, but on hormonal birth control, this looks a bit different. The hormone estrogen takes a back seat, it’s responsible for the good mood parts of our cycle and is linked to other sexy stuff like libido levels! Instead, progestogen (a synthetic form of progesterone) dominates, this is the hormone that often causes negative side effects during the cycle such as loss of libido or bloating.

While we may come to expect negative side effects at certain points during a natural menstrual cycle, on hormonal birth control this balance is disrupted, so it’s not surprising that side effects can look a little different. 

While premenstrual syndrome (PMS) can cause mood changes and other unwanted symptoms, it’s not to be mistaken with PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder). PMDD is more severe and causes extremely low mood and even suicidal thoughts in some cases. 

What you may have heard about birth control side effects

There are plenty of reports of negative side effects when it comes to hormonal contraception. Whether it’s weight gain from the birth control shot or breast tenderness caused by oral contraceptives (aka the pill). Hormonal birth control varies in its composition both by the levels and types of hormones used. Therefore, you may experience different symptoms depending on the method. 

There are also rarer but higher risk side effects associated with taking some birth control methods such as the combined pill, namely blood clots, and pulmonary embolisms. For this reason, if you’re in certain risk groups you may be advised to use a progestogen-based birth control method instead (such as the mini pill or implant). These don’t contain any synthetic estrogen and are known as progestogen-only methods in contrast to combined hormonal birth control such as the pill. There are also pills available that contain lower estrogen levels, for those who want to use both hormones but in reduced amounts.

It’s important to remember that everyone’s experience is different and despite what you may have heard about birth control side effects, the best place to find out about the specific risks you may face while taking birth control is in the doctor’s office. You can also check the individual side effects of each method on the Planned Parenthood website to find out more. 

Research into how hormonal birth control affects your mental health

Let’s take a look now at some of the scientific research that’s been done into the link between birth control and mood. A study from 2001 found that from a small sample of 79 women more than half stopped using the birth control pill within a year, citing emotional and sexual side effects as the main reasons for quitting. 

Another study found a link between mood and brain activity changes in sexually active women who’d already had a negative experience using birth control pills. It used both placebo pills and combined birth control pills and found that during the final week of the trial, those taking an oral contraceptive had higher reports of depressed mood, mood swings, and fatigue than those taking the placebo pills. 

A third study from 2016 looked more broadly at hormonal contraceptives and their association with depression. This Denmark-based study looked at a group of 1,061,997 women ranging in age between 15 and 34. The study looked at referral rates to antidepressants after the use of a wide range of birth control methods, including the vaginal ring, the IUD, and oral contraceptives, and found that there was an association between the use of these methods and the subsequent use of antidepressants and a diagnosis of depression. The study showed this to be especially high in young women.

Why hormonal impact on mood is hard to measure

While the evidence above may suggest hormonal contraceptives can not only cause mood swings but can have a wider impact on our mental health more generally, it is all a bit more nuanced than that. How we feel on any given day is influenced by so many factors, not just our hormone levels. Keep in mind that diet, stress, whether or not we’ve worked out, how we slept last night, etcetera can all play a part in our mental well-being.

A good way to spot patterns and keep track of the factors that could be impacting mood is to keep a journal or use an app to document your moods. Here you can note down if you experience mood swings on any given day and the potential factors that could be influencing your mood, including your birth control. 

What if you already have depression?

Depression is a serious condition and is different from experiencing mood swings. First and foremost, if you have any pre-existing conditions it’s a good idea to talk to a healthcare professional before switching up any medication, birth control included. That said, there’s no restriction on people with depression taking hormonal birth control, and one study even found that taking the combined pill may actually help with symptoms of depression. If you suffer from premenstrual dysphoric disorder you may find hormonal contraception also reduces mood changes.

Why birth control choice is important

Of course, the pill and other hormonal contraceptive methods are a great option for so many. Easy access to effective birth control has truly changed the world, so we’re not knocking the availability of the pill by any means. However, we also know that there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to contraception and that there are a slew of nasty side effects that can make the use of hormonal contraceptives debilitating. 

We believe it’s important to have access to a range of birth contraceptive options, as well as education on the facts and information about these methods so you can make an informed choice that’s best for you and your body. 

Say goodbye to side effects and go hormone-free

Thanks for reading ‘Does birth control make you moody?’. Do you struggle with side effects such as mood swings on your current contraception? If you’re thinking about switching to a new birth control and want to try something hormone-free, why not find out if Natural Cycles could work for you? Learn how we can help you prevent pregnancy with zero side effects.

Did you enjoy reading this article?

Are you ready to go hormone-free with Natural Cycles?

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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.

Jack in a suit and tie holding a microphone and giving a presentation.

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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