Oral birth control prescriptions are handed out to teenage and young adult women for a variety of reasons, from hormonal acne and painful periods to preventing pregnancy. Years pass and these same women start thinking about having kids, or maybe just want to know how their bodies will feel without the constant influx of synthetic hormones. They stop taking the pill and are surprised to find that their period doesn’t come back for months or sometimes years.
This isn’t everyone’s story, of course. Some women bounce right back and begin ovulating again immediately, or within a few months. But as more and more women 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. Below, find some other actionable things you can do.
Start by giving it a little time.
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.
“If your period does not return immediately, you have no way of knowing when you are ovulating,” explains Dr. Stephanie McClellan, chief medical officer and director of well being at the Tia Clinic. “Some women actually 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!”
Investigate any underlying medical conditions.
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.”
She explains that 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.”
Anti-period culprits to watch out for.
If you’re struggling to get your period back after birth control, be careful not to put too much blame or pressure on yourself—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.
If you’re struggling to your period back, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone—plenty of women go through a similar struggle in this day and age. 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.