9 Birth Control Side Effects (& What to Do)

Updated in December 2023

Birth control side effects include abdominal pain, nausea, headaches, pimples, mood swings, libido changes to menstrual flow, especially in the first few weeks of use.

The birth control pill is the method most often used by women to prevent pregnancy, as it is easy to use and highly effective against unwanted pregnancies when used as prescribed.

If you are experiencing intense side effects from your birth control, especially when they take a long time to improve, it's important to consult your gynecologist for an evaluation. The doctor may recommend changing the contraceptive and/or altering the dose.

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Main side effects

The main side effects of contraceptives are:

1. Abdominal pain and nausea

PMS symptoms, such as headaches, abdominal pain and nausea, are common in the first few weeks of taking the contraceptive pill due to the significant hormonal changes associated with its use.

What to do: Consult your gynecologist if these symptoms prevent you from carrying out daily activities or take a long time to disappear, as it may be necessary to change the type of contraceptive pill.

2. Change in menstrual flow

It is common for contraceptives to cause changes in the amount, duration and expected date of menstrual bleeding. In addition, there may also be small amounts of bleeding between each cycle, called breakthrough bleeding. 

What to do: Changes in menstrual flow tend to improve and become more consistent over time as you continue using the contraceptive. In addition, it's important to always take oral birth control at the same time, as prescribed, to prevent mid-cycle bleeding.

Learn more about what can cause spotting before a period and when to worry.

However, especially when these changes last for more than 3 months, you should consult your gynecologist, as a higher dose or change in contraceptive may be needed.

3. Weight gain

Weight gain can occur in some women and is believed to occur due to other changes like increased appetite, fluid retention in the body and/or altered fat metabolism.

What to do: Maintain a healthy, balanced diet and exercise regularly to prevent weight gain and fluid retention. Check-out some natural diuretics that you can incorporate into your diet to reduce fluid retention.

4. Pimple formation

Although the birth control pill can sometimes be prescribed to treat teenage acne, some women may actually experience an increase in the number of pimples.

What to do: When moderate amounts of acne appear or if acne worsens after starting birth control, inform your gynecologist and consult a dermatologist to adjust the treatment or to consider using other topical agents to treat the acne.

5. Mood swings

The use of contraceptives can cause mood swings due to the effects of estrogen and progesterone on brain function. In some cases, it may even contribute to the development of depression.

What to do: Consult your gynecologist if you experience severe mood swings, as the doctor may need to change the type of birth control to an IUD or diaphragm, for example..

6. Decreased libido

The birth control pill can cause a decrease in libido due to a reduction in testosterone production in the body. This effect is more common in women with high levels of anxiety.

What to do: consult your gynecologist to adjust the dose of the contraceptive or switch to another contraceptive method. 

7. Headaches

Some women may experience a headache as a result of using birth control, especially within the first few weeks of use. However, this pain tends to subside with continued use of the contraceptive.

What to do: If the headache takes a long time to go away or is very intense in the first month, it is recommended that you consult your gynecologist to change the dose of the contraceptive or change the medication.

8. Increased breast tenderness

The hormones in contraceptive pills can cause increased breast sensitivity, which can be painful upon palpation or contact with clothing. However, this discomfort is more common when starting birth control.

What to do: You can wear a supportive sports bra and looser clothing to avoid pain and discomfort. If the pain doesn't improve or other symptoms appear, such as redness, swelling or fluid leaking from the nipples, it's important to consult a gynecologist, who may recommend changing the contraceptive and, in some cases, order breast testing to rule out other diseases.

9. Increased risk of thrombosis

The contraceptive pill can increase the risk of deep vein thrombosis, especially in women with a history of high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol.

What to do: Maintain a healthy diet and exercise regularly. If you take birth control, be sure to see your doctor for regular visits to blood pressure, blood sugar levels and cholesterol levels to reduce your risk for blood clots

Does birth control lead to muscle loss?

Birth control does not usually lead to muscle loss. Although some studies suggest that contraceptives do not affect physical performance or muscle mass gain, more studies are needed to prove these effects, or lack thereof.

When to change your birth control

You are advised to consult your gynecologist and assess the possibility of using another method if you experience intense side effects that interfere with your ability to carry out activities of daily living, or if any mild symptoms take longer than 3 months to disappear.