Transferring from the pill to natural contraception

This is a topic which is quite personal, but I feel I just have to share because there is so little information about it and it is rarely talked about.

Interestingly, the oral contraceptive pill (I will just refer to it for the remainder of this article as ‘the pill’ for ease of reading) is the number one prescribed drug worldwide. People are starting to talk and write about why you should stop the pill if you are using it to ‘treat’ problems such as heavy periods, acne, PMS. These symptoms should be addressed rather than just covered up with a bandaid. I get that and fully agree. But, I would always think to myself with frustration, ‘I can’t just stop the pill! My husband and I aren’t ready to have a baby right now!’

As I became more aware of the negative affects of the oral contraceptive pill and was desperately looking for an alternative, I was incredibly frustrated and confused about what to do. I was quite scared and anxious about coming off the pill because a) it was an unknown experience (What would happen to me? Would my body react weirdly? Would I get acne, gain weight or be moody?) and b) I didn’t know if natural contraception would actually work. This is not something you want to get wrong. It’s a HUGE deal getting pregnant when you’re not planning on it.

If there’s one thing completing any University degree equips you with, it’s how to research and sort through information proficiently. I may not be a doctor, but I am good at reading and collating information from reputable sources. I hope this collection of information from my research as well as sharing my personal experiences will help many girls who may be as confused and frustrated as I once was.

Part 1: What the pill actually does to your body

The pill is a synthetic form of two hormones: progesterone and oestrogen. The pill causes you to not get pregnant by:

  • Stopping the production/secretion of cervical mucus from your cervix (this is what transports the sperm to your egg). Another source said it thickens cervical mucus so the sperm cannot reach the egg. Either way it affects your cervical mucus so it can’t do what it was designed to do.
  • Preventing ovulation by maintaining more consistent hormone levels. (When your are on the pill, there is no peak in oestrogen, so the ovary never gets the signal to release an egg.)
  • Making the lining of the uterus unreceptive to the implantation of a fertilised egg.

The bleed you have each month is not actually your period. A period is the shedding of the thickened uterus lining. When you’re on the pill that doesn’t happen! The blood you see is caused by withdrawal from the hormones when you’re taking the sugar pills.

Part 2: Why I wanted to stop the pill

Here are the reasons I was becoming incredibly uncomfortable with being on the pill and eventually made the decision to stop taking it:

  • The pill can have a similar effect on your gut as antibiotics do and damage your gut flora. Compromised gut health has huge consequences on your health.
  • When on the pill, your ability to absorb nutrients from your food is compromised. Your existing stores of vitamins and minerals are also depleted. I place such a high priority on good quality food, so it was very frustrating to know I may be putting a good variety of nutrients into my mouth but they weren’t necessarily being absorbed into my body where they can actually do me any good.
  • The pill risks difficulty falling pregnant when you do want to start a family. While on the pill, your body is doing many things to make sure you can’t fall pregnant. It can take years for your body to be functioning normally again so you can successfully conceive a baby.
  • The pill can lower your libido. Sex is extremely important and beneficial for a thriving intimate relationship between husband and wife so I don’t want anything affecting my libido, thank you!
  • The pill is a level one carcinogen, which is the same level as asbestos! (If you aren’t aware, a carcinogen is a substance which increases your risk of developing cancer.)

Part 3: What to do immediately when you stop the pill

Commence operation: Get my body optimally healthy and normal again!

  • Start to rebuild your gut health. I took a probiotic every day and aimed to eat at least one gut-happy food each day: usually bone broth, fermented foods, full fat greek yoghurt, kefir or kombucha.
  • Increase your body’s depleted vitamin and mineral levels. Do this by prioritising a healthy, unprocessed, high-in-variety diet. Personally, I didn’t eat very differently to how I was eating before I stopped the pill since I was already eating very healthy. I did, however, start taking a women’s multivitamin and continued taking my two fish oil tablets. If you are planning on trying for a baby soon, choose a pregnancy-specific multivitamin that provides at least 400mcg of folic acid.
  • Support the liver with its detox from excess oestrogen. Eat heaps of crucificious vegetables to do this e.g broccoli, cauliflower. I made up a smoothie which contains many ingredients which are beneficial for the liver here.
  • Focus on overall health and wellness. Sleep and stress, for example, have a huge effect on your hormones. If you’re not sure where to start with improving your health, have a look at my health philosophy and choose one area you are really going to focus on this week. When you have nailed it, focus on another aspect of health.
  • Be aware that you may have an excess of oestrogen or a lack of oestrogen when you stop the pill. This can cause irregular things to happen with your cycle. For example if your oestrogen levels are really high (known as oestrogen dominance) you may have a long follicular phase or may not even get your period. Be patient, don’t stress and focus on what you can control – your health. Exercise, reducing toxins and managing stress can all lower oestrogen levels in the body. If you don’t get your period after six weeks, seek professional help from a health professional.
  • Do not have unprotected sex during this time. When you get your period celebrate (I remember thinking ‘yay I’m normal again!’) and start menstrual charting (explained in the next part).

Part 4: How to practice natural contraception

If you understand your menstrual cycle, you can know which days you are fertile and which days you are not. This is known as the ‘fertility awareness method’.

The fertility awareness method involves you charting sign and symptoms. I started charting on paper after learning how to do it from Dr Nat Kringoudis’s Debunking Ovulation online course. She teaches you everything you wish you’d learnt in health class at school! After a while I switched to recording my menstrual cycles on an app. There are heaps of apps for this but I use and LOVE is ‘Clue: Period, PMS, fertility & ovulation tracker’. You can even get it to give you a reminder the day before you are due to ovulate and get your period.

The basis of the fertility awareness method is learning how to know when you are fertile, and then simply abstaining from intercourse on those days. To learn this, I would recommend you do Dr Nat’s Debunking Ovulation course. A few key points I learnt were:

  • The best indicator of fertility, is the absence or appearance of cervical mucus. Remember a sperm CANNOT reach your egg without cervical mucus.  To check this, just before going to toilet, pop your finger into the mouth of your vagina, you don’t have to go as far as a tampon would go.
  • A typical menstrual cycle starts with a period that lasts for five days, however it’s okay if yours varies from this by a day or two. Then you should be dry. You are completely infertile here. It’s impossible for the sperm to meet the egg without cervical mucus. Then you are moist as your body is preparing to ovulate. It’s unlikely you can get pregnant on these moist days, but it is recommended to refrain from unprotected sex just to be on the safe side. Then your cervical mucus becomes wet. On your last wet day, you ovulate. For a lot of women this is day fourteen of their cycle, but definitely not everyone. You won’t know it’s your last wet day until it has been and gone, that is why you need to treat every wet day with caution. The sperm can survive for a little while inside of your cervix so it is possible you can be fertile for the three days after you ovulate. After three dry days have passed, you are infertile again. Then, until you get your period, you have no cervical mucus so you’re infertile for the second time in that cycle. A healthy menstrual cycle is twenty six to twenty eight days long.
  • It’s really important to have regular sex  to have a healthy reproductive system, so make the most of those two infertile patches each cycle.
  • Track your signs and symptoms in your blank chart or app. Only have sex on the days which you are infertile. Even then, I still used barrier protection too, for extra peace of mind. I didn’t feel like I knew my body well enough to 100% trust that I knew when I was fertile and when I was not, so it was good to have the extra protection.

Ta da! There you have it. Very low risk of getting pregnant and your body is not being flooded with synthetic hormones and being made to not operate the way it was designed to.

Part 5: Further reading

These are all the resources that helped me gain an understanding of this topic:

  • The Natural Nutritionist
    I found her article on the pill a nice summary of the issues surrounding its use.
  • Dr Nat Kringoudis
    I did her debunking ovulation course which I found very informative and helpful. I also really enjoyed her blog posts.
  • The Holistic Nutritionist
  • American Cancer Society

I wrote this article to help women who want to stop taking the pill but don’t want to fall pregnant right now in their lives. If you are interested in stopping the pill and do want to fall pregnant, have a read of this article. Sign up to my fortnightly newsletter so you’ll be notified of my latest posts.

Yours in health,

Holly xx