Before we dive into how to come off the pill it’s important that we understand exactly what the pill is and what it does. To put it simply, the oral contraceptive pill (OCP) is a pill that women can take daily that contains synthetic versions of oestrogen and progesterone. These two hormones are found naturally in the human body.
By modulating the levels of these hormones, the pill is able to stop ovulation – the process where the ovaries release an ovum (egg) each month. So no, in case you were wondering whether women still ovulate on the pill, they don’t. Your body essentially sits in a state whereby it believes it’s pregnant and therefore hormones do not fluctuate, there’s no peak in oestrogen and the ovary doesn’t get the signal to release an egg.
The pill isn’t exactly what we’ve been sold, For many it’s been administered as a cure-all for all kinds of issues (PCOS, endometriosis, fertility, skin, thyroid conditions). Often it’s done far more harm than good. I am not against contraception AT ALL. In fact I admire women for taking control of their lives and making a choice that works for them. All I ask is that they are completely informed when they make these decisions. Sadly, through no fault of their own - they end up taking something without really understanding how it affects them in the long term.
WHY WE NEED TO RECONSIDER THE PILL
#1 The pill is not a cure.
For symptoms like insulin resistant PCOS, acne, endometriosis, mood swings and much more the pill is merely a bandaid. It does not treat the root cause of the issue. As soon as you come off the pill you’ll need to monitor your condition and treat.
#2 The pill causes a whole host of physical symptoms.
Each cycle of the pill that passes without ovulation (a bleed) can increase estrogen dominance as progesterone stores are depleted. Think back to your time on the pill, how often have you felt some or all of these symptoms and thought perhaps you were just being dramatic or going crazy? I’m here to tell you, you weren’t.
Oestrogen dominance is linked to:
#3 The pill depletes your nutrient stores.
The pill causes a number of nutritional deficiencies as it affects vitamin and mineral metabolism. These deficiencies then contribute to a number of side effects – some minor and some more concerning. Of greatest concern are the loss of Zinc and B vitamins both of which are needed for immune function, energy and reproductive health.
#4 The pill can make you sad.
Studies that have come out of the woodwork have determined that the pill does affect quality of life, mood and levels of depression in women. A recent study of over a million Danish women over age 14 strongly suggests that there is an increased risk of depression associated with all types of hormonal contraception.
#5 The pill is linked to increase risk in breast cancer.
I know - what isn’t these days, right? But there is evidence to suggest that the pill is directly correlated with breast cancer for up to five years after a woman ceases using it! Don’t be alarmed though... There’s lots of things we can do to reduce the impact of the pill on our bodies.
While you're here, it'w worth checking out my post 'Three Myths About the Pill Every Woman Needs to Know'.
SAFE ALTERNATIVES TO THE PILL
A lot of people turn there noses up at the thought of condoms. Here’s the thing... you need to decide what is more important to you. If you’re in a long term/serious relationship and you’re comfortable with your sexual partner then you need to have a frank conversation. This is YOUR body. Sustain Natural make natural condoms as a great option. If you really don't want to use condoms then you can take a look at other options below.
A copper IUD (intrauterine device) is a small plastic device which has copper wire wrapped around its stem. At present there are two types of copper IUDs available in Australia. The first lasts up to five years and the second which lasts up to ten years. The IUD is inserted into the uterus by a doctor.
The IUD has a fine nylon string attached to it. When the IUD is in place, the string comes out through the cervix (the neck of the uterus) into the top end of the vagina. The string also makes it easy for a doctor to remove the IUD. The string also allows the patient to check if the IUD is still in place as it can be felt when fingers are inserted into the vagina.
The copper IUD works by inhibiting sperm and repelling it from the egg so that it can't be fertilised. It also changes the lining of the womb, making it less suitable for a pregnancy. So while not nearly as invasive and detrimental to hormonal health as the pill, it still does a few funky things to the body. Anecdotally I have also had clients who have had issues the IUD as their body has rejected the copper and plastic. This rejection can look like bacterial infection, thrush, and other concerns.
A CAVEAT: Insertion of the IUD is very painful for some people but discuss this further with your GP.
When to avoid the copper IUD:
If you're potentially pregnant
If you have pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
If you have abnormal bleeding from the vagina outside of menstruation
If you have cervical cancer
To read about possible symptom with the copper IUD : go here for all the information.
Natural fertility tracking methods
1. Cervical Mucous Test: yep this is exactly as it sounds - not for the squeamish and one i'm yet to try BUT I digress, it's actually incredibly accurate when done correctly. This test is basically about observing the changes in texture and colour of your vaginal mucous over the month. The idea is that you will have the most mucous right before ovulation as this is what is needed to protect and support the sperm as it travels towards an unfertilised egg. Nature hey. Incredible. The easiest way to track this is by inserting your fingers into your vagina each day and observing it - but for many this is not a realistic exercise. Alternatively, you can observe it externally on your underwear.
Phases to look out for:
During your period: the blood flow covers your mucus, so you won’t notice any. Days when you’re on your period are not safe days to have unprotected sex.
After your period: there are generally a few days without mucus and discharge in your underwear. These are “dry days,” and are generally safe days to have unprotected sex.
Prior to ovulation (day 9-13): Your body is making more mucus when an egg starts to develop for fertilisation - this is right before ovulation (release of the egg into the fallopian tube) is about to happen. This mucus is usually yellow, white, or cloudy, and it feels sticky or tacky. You may notice it at the opening of your vagina.
Right before ovulation (Day 13-16): This is where the most mucus is seen. It looks clear and it feels slippery — like raw egg whites — and can be stretched between your fingers. This means you're fertile and therefore protection should be used if you're avoiding pregnancy. If not, go for it!
After approximately 4 days (Day 17 onwards to Day 28): The mucous will reduce drastically, and become cloudy and sticky again. Once gone, you will have the remainder of your cycle as 'dry days'. Day 17 onwards is safe to have sexual intercourse without fear of pregnancy.
A CAVEAT: Every female body is different. The best way to do this accurately is practise understanding your cervical mucous prior to abstaining from protection. It's also a great idea to use this technique alongside another tracking method. See below for the other method I'd recommend.
2. Testing Basal Body Temperature: fun/amazing fact, your body temperature drops right before ovulation and then soars right after. This gives us a great indication of when you're fertile and when it is safe to have unprotected sex. now this technique requires a certain level of commitment and consistency. It's important to chart your temperature daily in order to get an accurate picture of what's going on.
In order to this test these temperature changes accurately a woman will need to check her basal metabolic temperature first thing in the morning before she even rises from the bed, goes to the toilet, eats or drinks and she must have rested for at least a whole four hours. Consistency will help identify patterns which indicate ovulation.
What equipment do I need?
All you need is a new digital thermometer that measures in celsius readings. Basal thermometers give more accurate and precise temperature readings than standard digital thermometers. You can buy these from your local pharmacy. For a fancy contraption you can get the Daysy monitor but it does cost a fair chunk of money. It boasts a 99.3% accuracy reading.
So where does this thermometer go....?
Yes, I can hear you thinking do I need to shove a thermometer up my vagina? In short, no. You need to take your temperature under your tongue. Yep, it's that simple - completely non invasive and no artificial hormones needed.
So I'd love to know, what have you tried? Do these methods worry you or are you ready to leave the pill behind?