Oral birth control prescriptions are handed out to teenagers and young adults for a variety of reasons, from hormonal acne and painful periods to preventing pregnancy. Years pass and these same individuals start thinking about having kids, or maybe just want to know how their bodies will feel without the constant influx of synthetic hormones. so, they stop taking the pill and are surprised to find that their period doesn’t come back right away, sometimes for months.
This isn’t everyone’s story, of course. Some bounce right back and begin ovulating again immediately, or within a few months. But as more and more individuals who have been on the pill for upwards of 10 years start to come off of it, they’re caught off guard by what is technically called secondary amenorrhea, or not getting a period for three months or more after having had one previously.
Because secondary amenorrhea is such a common problem, there’s quite a bit of advice floating around social media on “getting your period back,” particularly among wellness influencers. Supplements seem to work for some, while others end up seeking the help of doctors to trigger a period for them.
If this is something you’re struggling with, a conversation with your doctor is always a good first step. We asked the experts how to navigate getting your period back on schedule.
Meet the Expert
- Stephanie McClellan, MD, is. a board-certified OBGYN and the chief medical officer and director of well-being at the Tia Clinic.
- Alyssa Dweck, MD, FACOG, is a practicing gynecologist and is the co-host of the business of the V podcast.
Keep scrolling to learn how to deal with late periods after going off birth control.
How Does Going Off the Pill Affect Your Period?
When you’ve been on the pill for years and years, your body understandably needs time to adjust to a new normal. So if you don’t get your period back immediately after quitting hormonal birth control, try not to worry. But if pregnancy isn’t your goal, make sure you’re still taking steps to prevent it.
"In many cases, menstrual habits revert to what they were before starting the pill. In addition, many of the symptoms being treated by the pill i.e. cramps, PMS, acne, heavy or irregular bleeding may also return," says Dweck.
“If your period does not return immediately, you have no way of knowing when you are ovulating,” explains McClellan. “Some women get pregnant after stopping the pill without experiencing a menstrual period because of unrecognized ovulation and inadequate or no contraception. Make sure to take a pregnancy test if you have any symptoms or think you might be pregnant.”
Is Having a Late Period After Stopping the Pill Normal?
While a late period going off the pill isn't unusual, Dweck says to always consider pregnancy if there is a delay in the return of menses. "Typically, it is reasonable to wait three months for the return of menses prior to intervening," she says.
Dweck also notes that the absence of menses can be accompanied by other symptoms such as acne, appetite change, breast leakage, headache or visual change, or other symptoms suggestive of pregnancy, thyroid disorder, PCOS, or other hormone imbalance.
When Will Regular Periods Resume?
According to Dweck, regular periods should return within two to three months tops but usually occur sooner. If you have an irregular cycle, this time window may not be suitable. There are instances where progesterone may be needed to induce a period, but always check for pregnancy first, says Dweck.
How to Get Your Period Back After Stopping the Pill
If your period doesn’t come back after three months, it’s important to let your doctor know. They can run a few tests to see if you have any underlying medical conditions that birth control may have been masking. “Chronic stress, thyroid disorders, profound and chronic Vitamin D deficiency, PCOS, rapid weight loss, length of time of pill use, menstrual history prior to starting the pill and female athlete triad are just a few things that need to be considered when secondary amenorrhea occurs after stopping oral contraceptive use,” McClellan says. If an underlying health issue is discovered, your doctor can walk you through steps for treating it, which could be as minor as taking a supplement or working on a higher daily caloric intake.
If everything comes back negative, though, McClellan recommends taking an integrative approach to getting your period back. While everyone is different, trying a combination of lifestyle adjustments can do the trick: “This involves strong gut health, adequate sleep, acupuncture, some form of mindfulness, and—particularly important—regular and high-quality social interactions.”
According to McClellan, these interventions in combination reduce the inflammatory and metabolic burdens that our minds and bodies experience from the demands of our daily lives. “The result is balanced communication throughout our entire brain and body, including the pathways that can lead to ovulation and regular periods.”
When to See a Doctor
If menses are absent for three months or any other symptoms mentioned above occur, worsen or persist, it is best to check in with your gynecologist. Again, check for pregnancy if indicated.
The Final Takeaway
If you’re struggling to get your period back, it’s important to remember that you are not alone, but do watch out for some lifestyle factors that can make ovulation and menstruation more difficult for the body to achieve: “Chronic stress, inadequate caloric intake, excessive exercise, and social isolation are just a few,” McClellan says. And with a little help from your doctor, you can come up with a plan to get the ovulation process started again sooner rather than later.
National Health Service. When will my periods come back after I stop taking the pill? Updated March 1, 2022.
Klein, David A et al. Amenorrhea: A Systematic Approach to Diagnosis and Management. American family physician vol. 100,1 (2019): 39-48.