My Story About Post-Pill Amenorrhea
Today on the blog, I share the journey it took to regulate my hormones after getting off birth control. I know many women experience issues getting their cycle to return (post pill amenorrhea), so I share my own story in hopes that it helps someone else. Let's begin with a quick definition of what post-pill amenorrhea is. Amenorrhea is the absence of a period which can occur for a variety of reasons including lack of period after stopping birth control. Personally, I know far too many people who have struggled with regulating their cycle or getting a cycle to begin after stopping birth control. While I believe just giving my body time to regulate itself was part of the equation, I also believe I made action oriented steps to get my cycle back. What worked for my body may not work for yours, but I hope in sharing my story that it helps someone else.
Alright, to the story!
In November of 2015, I made the decision to get off birth control. For me, this was not to get pregnant but because it no longer aligned with my beliefs about what we should put in our bodies. I know this is not possible for every woman to do, but I personally felt comfortable making this decision despite the fact that I'm not quiteeeeee ready to start a family yet.
I truly believe medications have their purpose, but should be the last line of therapy, not the first as we typically see in Western medicine. I originally started taking birth control 12 years prior, when I was fifteen and experiencing TERRIBLE periods. My periods were so heavy I would have to bring multiple changes of clothing with me (TMI, but truth). So I got on birth control (which controlled the heavy periods) and never once got off of it for twelve years straight.
So November of last year, I made the decision that I couldn't keep doing something that I knew was affecting my body. I believe a healthy hormonal cycle is vital for women and a wonderful sign that your body is functioning optimally. Since I had been on birth control since I was 15, I didn't know anything about my body or my own cycle. I couldn't even tell you what a sign of ovulation was because I had never really experienced it. While I was not looking to start a family quite yet, I knew that was something Nick and I eventually wanted and had a suspicion that it would take quite awhile to regulate my body from being on birth control for such a long time.
So I stopped taking it.
For eight months straight, nothing happened. Literally, nothing. No period, no signs/symptoms of my body in reproductive mode, no weight gain or loss, no acne, nothing. It was like my body had no idea what to do when it was no longer taking external sources of hormones.
Thankfully, eight months later I got my first period. Hooray!
But things slowly started to get a little weird.
I got a tonnnnn of acne. I've never had pimples in my life and for the first time I was covered with them! My digestion also went to hell. After years of my IBS being under control there was little I could do to control the symptoms I was experiencing. I wrote about this experience here, and just now feel like I have healed from the issues I was experiencing. (Edited to add: This is actually quite a normal phenomenon post birth control, getting acne 3-6 months after getting off of it is normal, and to be expected. It does and will get better, but you need to anticipate it will get worse before it gets better.)
I also gained weight. Not sure how much because I don't weigh myself, but I could tell. A lot of this was purposeful gaining of muscle from strength training, but also some actual fat gain too that started once I got my cycle back. To be honest with you... I chose to not give a damn about this because no matter my size, I will always love my body. I knew I was managing my stress, getting good sleep, eating nourishing foods and moving my body. I knew my body would regulate and figure itself out once my cycle normalized. I knew that dieting would only make things worse and knew my hormones needed time to regulate. Once my cycle and therefore hormones (which are the biggest indicator of your ability to gain or lose weight, not calories) regulated, the weight gain that occurred simply fell right off. With eating MORE fat and not restricting my intake AT ALL. That's the power of hormones, guys.
About a month or so after getting my first cycle without birth control (and after 8 months of nothing) I decided to start acupuncture. I was hopeful that it would speed up the process, and I am truly so thankful I made that decision. I went once a week for 12 weeks, and on that final week I got my cycle again for the second time.
And from that point on it slowly became more and more regular. An 8 month cycle became a 4 month cycle became a 2 month cycle became a 38 day cycle became a 36 day cycle became a 32 day cycle and now I am officially on a 28 day cycle!
It took about 14 months to get my cycle back to normal, and while the journey was long, annoying and frustrating at times (hello, stupid digestion issues), it was so completely worth it. It feels good to know my body and know signs of what is going on inside it. Things are improving with the side effects of getting off of it, and was honestly a great reminder for me as a person and also a practitioner that sometimes you don't have control over what happens to your body or how it reacts. You just have to listen to it, and the rest will work itself out. I promise.
Three intentional things I did to get my cycle back:
1. Acupuncture. I went once a week for 12 weeks straight. 2. Consume maca powder daily. I still continue to take this daily in my version of bulletproof coffee (recipe here). 3. Eat more fat in my diet. I had been CRAVING it so much and while I am a big believer in a high fat diet, it was a transition for me eating the amount I truly needed. Conventional nutrition that I was taught in school was to eat fat "but in small portions". Because of the role consumption of fat plays in regulating your hormones, I personally feel this was a huge part of healing my reproductive cycle. I consume so much more fat in my diet now, and my hormones, digestion, skin and overall energy levels are vastly improved.
I was going to begin seed cycling when I finally started to get a normal cycle. If it had not yet begun I would have likely started this.
I use the Fertility Awareness Method now for birth control. I check my basal temperature every morning, and track this along with my cervical fluid and position and track everything on a calendar. If you are interested in learning more about this I recommend reading this book. And if you are looking to get pregnant, that book is also helpful for that as well!
Tell me: Have you ever experienced issues with getting your period back or regulating it?
If you have experienced amenorrhea (because of birth control or without it) it could be a possible sign that you are not eating enough. I would love to work with you and if you are interested in learning more contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Edited to add: Now that I know more about how birth control effects nutritional status, I would have likely supplemented with certain vitamins that get depleted from birth control. I also recommend getting lab work to check thyroid, nutrition and hormonal status if your cycle hasn't returned by the 6 month mark.