Rebuilding Fertility After the Birth Control Pill

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If you are trying to get pregnant or if you are experiencing hormonal problems after stopping the pill, it is important to note that the pill depletes the body of certain nutrients which are important for fertility and hormonal balance.

Many healthy women can get pregnant soon after stopping the pill. According to Conceive magazine, most women get their first postpill period in four to six weeks, 80 percent will be ovulating by three months, and 95 percent within the year. It’s probably wise to let your hormones settle down before trying to get pregnant. You can conceive as soon as you ovulate, of course, but you might want to replenish your body first. The pill depletes fertility and pregnancy nutrients, including folate, vitamins A, B6, and C, and zinc. – Nina Palnck’s Real Food for Mother and Baby

While she recommends eating foods high in these nutrients, she also notes that “women taking a multivitamin conceive more readily than those who don’t.” So if infertility seems to be an issue, give yourself some time to heal from nutrient deficiencies cause by the pill, eat a diet rich in fertility nutrients including those above and vitamins D, B12, and K2, and idodine, and add a little insurance with a multivitamin.

Where to find the fat soluble vitamins
Foods containing vitamins D, K2, and A can be found in Green Pastures cod liver and butter oils plus, of course, egg yolks, butter, liver, and wild salmon.

Vitamin E is found in the oil of olives, palm, avocado, almonds, and wheat germ. If you take a vitamin E supplement make sure that is a mixed tocopherol (these are a little more expensive).

Where to find fertility friendly B vitamins
Vitamin B12 is found in all meats but impaired digestion can impair absorption. Liver has about 1000xs the USDA so liver makes for a pretty good B12 supplement.

Vitamin B6 balances estrogen and progesterone and it aids in fertility. You can get B6 from liver, raw milk, tuna, and banana, but it is very heat sensitive so cook lightly. Folate is an important fertility nutrient which is better consumed as a food than taken as a folic acid supplement. Foods containing folate include leafy greens, liver, chicken, and nuts.

Where to find fertility minerals
The best source of zinc is oysters. You can also find zinc in much smaller amounts in crustaceans, liver, and beef.

Recent research has indicated that iron also plays a role in fertility. Since the body does not absorb non-heme iron as readily as it absorbs heme iron, eating animal foods is a good idea to ensure adequate iron absorption. Heme iron rich foods include beef, dark chicken meat, salmon, pork, and eggs.

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37 Comments

  1. I think the scary thing is how early women are put onto the pill and how it’s often used to address things besides controlling birth. My doctor put me on the pill at 14 because I had long cycles??? I didn’t know any better, of course. But I feel pretty angry with him now(and disappointed with my mother for agreeing).

    • And many of our doctors put us on the pill to control acne and all sorts of other nonsense. Of course, they could look to the cause of these conditions…. Wouldn’t that be intelligent.

  2. Hello. I emailed you Peggy a while ago about why I quit taking my birth control and though it appropriate to share my dilemma about it.

    I quit taking my pill after having some early periods about half way though my cycle. Very out of the ordinary in my case. It happened twice, and after the second time I decided I was finished. I did not have any preexisting condition so it was easy to just quit. The day I quit I developed very bad bloating in the upper GI and constipation that lasted for 5 days. From then up until now (2-3 weeks) things were looking better. However I’ve been having problems again. Having bowel movements multiple times a day followed by very gassy days of no passing. These symptoms are categorized as IBS symptoms. I hope its just hormonal. I read that it could be caused by progesterone. Progesterone causes relaxation of the GI tract in pregnant women and causes things like constipation and gas. IBS is most prevalent in young women with mood disorders and I fit the picture. I hope it is just a coincidence. I wish I never took those darn things.. Never let your daughters or nieces take them.

    • Hi Rachel. Thanks for sharing that here. It was actually yours and another email that made me think to post about the pill and nutritional deficiencies. The drugs our docs prescribe come with more consequences than they choose to disclose. I do hope it’s just an imbalance of hormones and maybe some nutritional deficiencies causing the IBS symptoms. It’s also possible, though, that the pill set you up with an illness you never previously had. High progesterone can definitely be constipating. Hopefully in a few months your hormones will balance and your bowels will be back to normal.

      I wish I had never taken the plethora of drugs doctors prescribed me over the years. They did a great job at wrecking my body. And now I’m tasked with cleaning up after their mess (and the mess of the crazy American diet).

      • Glad my embarrassing personal info sparked some good! ha! and thanks for your support.

        After some more reading I learned that they use hormonal birth control to treat IBS. So I could have had it all along but never realized..

        *
        fingers crossed*

  3. That is what scares me; what damage the pill may have done to my body during the years when I was still developing. I was put on the pill at 15 for menorhaggia, and for 7 out of the last 10 years was on various pills and the Nuvaring, and had surgery for cervical cancer. So glad to be done with it all but worry how it’s affected my body.

    I still have not been able to get pregnant despite having 2 different partners (so its not the sperm quality), and having all the tests possible to rule out fertility probs including a laparoscopy. They’ve all come back normal. Clearly something is NOT normal!

    Thanks for the article, I will be including these vitamins and minerals in my daily diet from now on if I don’t already.

    • Another thing you can try- read “Fully Fertile.” It is a yoga based program encompassing the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual journey to conception. At this point I am just trying to prep myself for pregnancy while I recover from chronic fatigue- but the book has been great for getting my head in the right place. It has 12 chapters on various aspects of ourselves that we can reflect and improve upon.

  4. interesting about the b-12

  5. I’m another one with a terrible ‘pill’ story.

    Each time I tried one, the symptoms were fine at first, but by three cycles in they were so bad I had to quit.

    The first one made me suicidally depressed. Like seriously considering throwing myself out my 5th floor window at work, or just getting in a car and driving and driving away, or opening my veins just to watch. Awful. Thankfully I never acted on any of them, recognised the thoughts as being not really ‘real’ – my life was pretty good, really – and when I stopped the pill it was like the sun instantly came out and the depression was gone *overnight*.

    The second pill I tried gave me awful migraines, which my doctor started treating as a separate condition – not as a problem with the pill. So I was taking the pill, and a daily migraine preventer for a while there.

    One day I just looked at the list of potential side effects on the side of the box, and thought “I am happily married, in a loving, stable relationship. If I got pregnant it would not be a disaster. *WHY* am I risking death for this??”

    So I went back to my Dr, said ‘no thanks’ to more pills – either birth control OR anti-migraine ones, and said I would be exploring natural alternatives. To his credit, he looked up a website for me on the Fertility Awareness Method, and fully endorsed it as an option.

    I never looked back. It has been great. 4 planned pregnancies, no unplanned ones, 3 healthy children (one early-stage miscarriage – my first, which is incredibly common and probably can’t be blamed on the pill, which I’d stopped taking several years earlier :) )

  6. Peggy, I’ve been thinking a lot about my birth control pills lately. But I’m terrified to stop taking them. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to have another child (financial reasons) but I would like to have the option. Do you know of any good sources of information about dealing with menstrual issues that might help? I have extremely painful heavy periods that exhaust me usually they are only 15 – 20 days apart. I also have maniacal mood swings (not to mention frequent cysts). So I’m afraid if I go off the pill, I won’t be able to continue a relatively normal life. Any links or such would be appreciated. :)

    • Is that how your periods are while on the pill, or off? I’ve just read Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler, and I highly recommend reading it if you have problems with your cycle. If you’re bleeding every 15-20 days while not on the pill, it’s fairly unlikely those are all actual menses; at 20 days maybe, but if you’re bleeding every two weeks then it’s more likely to be something else that’s happening, which she explains in the book. She recommends charting your cycle and explains how, but I think you have to be not on the pill in order to chart. It’s a really good book, and might at least help arm you with some more info about what’s going on if you ever decide to stop the pill.

      • That’s the book that I used to learn about Fertility Awareness. Very highly recommended!

    • Jennifer,

      I can’t think of any links for you other than the hundreds of anecdotes left by women on this page. Going close to 100% compliant with Primal eating solves heavy, painful, moody periods. Extremely painful periods might have to do with severe bloating which puts pressure on the uterus. Moods and other symptoms of PMS are caused by biochemical brain deficiencies and other nutrient deficiencies such as magnesium. I would recommend reading the mood cure. Cysts and all these other symptoms appear in women with PCSO. The only cure I know of for that is a very strict Paleo diet.

      • Don’t want to take over this thread, by any means! But it is such an important topic and I love to opportunity to be involved.

        Borage oil completely changed my menstrual life (and now my sister’s, too!). I buy it in capsule form and take two in the morning, two at night either the day before or the day of my period and throughout the rest of my period. My crippling cramping turned into a little dull pain for the first day, completely manageable. My heavy periods that had me changing my tampon every hour and miserable and anxious turned into a calm, normal flow. This was before I started eating primally, but now the healthy eating habits AND the borage oil make for a wonderful, wonderful month, month after month.

        The borage oil has gamma linoleic acid in in (GLA), higher levels then evening primrose oil which is what is having such a great effect on me. My first period with borage oil had me wanting to tell everyone how great my periods were, scream it from the rooftops! Didn’t do that, but seriously. I want so many people to know about borage oil.

  7. Peggy, do you (or any of your readers) know how long it takes for things to go back to ‘normal’ once you come off birth control?

    I was on the pill for 9 years, and a few months after coming off of it developed horrible acne. I changed my diet to a paleo (pretty strict, 90%) stopped taking all other medication, sleep well, exercise, take a probiotic and vitamin d3 (no sunshine here in Nova Scotia) and my periods are a lot more normal. But still, a year later, the acne is persistant.

    I had a few breakouts prior to the pill, but nothing comparable to what I’m having now. I’m trying to remain optimistic since I’m healtheir than I’ve ever been for over 4 months now, but I am getting discouraged. Does anyone have any advice or idea on how long for your body to return to normal after the pill?

    Thanks :D

    • I didn’t last very long on the pill. I was given the pill to regulate my very infrequent cycles and to help with acne. I too became suicidally depressed and my acne was out of control. My sex drive went from good to non-existent and I gained a little weight. I think I took the pill for a year or so until I finally snapped back to reality and realized what was freaking me out so bad.

      I have absolutely no idea how long it took to get back to normal because, for me, there never had been any normal. I had 4 or 5 cycles a year, terrible pcos, and depression. The pill made it all worse but stopping the pill didn’t make me better.

    • Amy- you might want to try drinking Kefir if you haven’t already? My naturopath recommended it to me, due to an imbalance of candida. So now I use coconut oil in cooking and drink kefir 4-5 days a week and I haven’t had ANY breakouts since. My skin is amazing. And that’s after many years of struggling with acne, to varying degrees. And these changes happened a few months before I started eating Paleo, so that wasn’t the reason for the clear up. Does that make sense to you Peggy? You’re more the expert obviously :) Just thought I’d throw taht out in case it could help.

      Kirstin

      • Yes definitely, Kristin. Kefir and yogurt can be so helpful for people with skin problems because skin problems and gut problems go hand in hand. As long as dairy is well tolerated. If it is not, you can also find coconut water kefir (or make it) in the yogurt section of the health food store. For harder acne cases, though, it won’t make a bit of difference. I had severe cystic acne and ate yogurt and then tried kefir everyday. Neither of them made a bit of difference. Cystic acne, though, seems to be more immune system related, so getting to the bottom of intolerances is really helpful.

        Kristin, thanks for sharing your experience. The more input the better!

        • I second that:I make kefir yogurt daily. It’s good to use a paint strainer to strain the curds into a yogurt.it’s much less sour. I also use the whey to ferment ground meat for my cat and make homemade conditioner with egg yolks and olive oil.

          • Rachel, that’s awesome! Lucky cat.
            Amy, I wanted to chime in and say I would recommend non-dairy kefir (i.e. coconut water kefir) or kombucha if coconut water kefir is too expensive/labor intensive to make. I used to drink milk kefir all the time, and wish I still could right now, but it is very powerful anti-candida and I get so sleepy after it (which can be wonderful depending on the time of day!). If you try dairy kefir, maybe try just a little at first and see how it affects you. Also, if you have any dairy intolerance, that could also be affecting your skin. As good as yogurt and kefir are for me (and I WILL have more once my gut is healed!! Love ‘em.), cutting them out has been great for my skin. Just another opinion :)

    • I’m in a similar position to you in terms of taking all the right supplements and being about 90% compliant with paleo/primal eating, but the problem for me seems to be dairy, combined with gut-health imbalances which taking a probiotic doesn’t eradicate. I’m currently researching different candida diets and considering doing a detox, but there’s a lot of misinformation out there about candida and I’m cautious. With dairy though, I never seemed to have an intolerance to dairy before, but that was when I was eating “normal” (grains, vegetable oils, sugar.) The thing with dairy is that I didn’t think I was intolerant because I wasn’t eating it regularly, and the relationship between dairy and skin isn’t instant, so you think to yourself “gosh, I haven’t eaten any chocolate or desserts or whatever, so what could be causing this breakout?” I felt like an idiot when I finally realized it was probably the lattes I was having a few times a week, or the occasional piece of cheese, or gelato, or or or…but all of this fell under my 10% cheat allowance.

      Also, even if it isn’t dairy, what seems to happen is that going primal/paleo removes a bunch of inflammatory foods, thereby reducing a lot of inflammation, but it means you’re then far more sensitive to anything else inflammatory, and then there are underlying conditions that can flare up when before, when you were eating non-foods, you either just didn’t notice or your body was insensitive to those conditions. Kinda like how insulin resistance means you *don’t* experience a conscious bad reaction to carbs, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t doing your body damage. Where this fits in with the pill is that it can be inflammatory, and it messes with your hormonal balance, so coming off the pill might expose and/or create problems that weren’t there before.

      Oops, sorry that comment was so long!

      • Long comment but valuable conclusion, Aiyesha! That just the act of stopping the pill can surface conditions that were underlying but hitherto unnoticed.

    • Amy – I don’t have an answer either and I get the feeling it is going to be different for all women. I think there are too many things in play here, things about hormones which even the medical community doesn’t fully understand yet.

      I was on the pill myself for 12 years. I also have skin issues with acne and rosacea that appeared. I’m also on the paleo diet and taking probiotics and that hasn’t really helped my skin. I’ve been trying to conceive for 3 years with no luck. So I have an idea that my hormone levels or gut flora are out of whack, but I have no idea when or if they will ever return to “normal” after all that time I spent being on the pill and eating wheat. I try to just live my life and not overly worry.

  8. WoW!! I’m so glad I never really took the pill. After the birth of my first son, I took it for two months, (Low dose so I could unsuccessfully breastfeed go figure) but stopped becuase I was having chest pains and palpitations. Scary! (Signs on) After my second son was born, I had the copper IUD put in for three years and suffered horrible, crippling periods and severe acne on my back from that. After that was out, I had no reason to protect against pregnancy for a year. Took for 6 months straight about a year ago because of cysts on my ovaries (A recurring problem until I went Primal :D ) and have been enjoying the emulation of baby-making baby free for over a year now using the pull out method and condoms.

    That stuff is so horrible, I am so glad I never took it very long. Should mention those 6 months were awful. Gained weight, that didn’t go away until I started eating right, and was tired and depressed, though my PMS did go away while I was on it. I no longer suffer from PMS, for which my Husband is ever greatful :)

  9. Just saw that MDA has a post today linking the pill with acid reflux. Yet another complicating side-effect!

    http://www.marksdailyapple.com/gerd-symptoms-causes-natural-remedies/

    • Peggy~
      I’m curious that you recommend Green Pastures Cod Liver Oil.

      In my mind CLO can be helpful to folks who are nutritionally deprived and NOT on a Primal diet.

      I work with pregnant and TTC women and do NOT recommend any CLO to avoid the possibility of excessive Vitamin A–especially since my clients are usually Primal or WAP-ers and eat plenty of liver.

      Obviously, I do not agree with the WAPF stance on Vitamin A levels. They are taking their “data” from fairly recent neolithic cultures–not from our evolutionary past.

      The ratio of Vitamin D to A in CLO is not physiologically or evolutionarily appropriate.

      And Green Pastures cannot tell us how much Vitamin A or D (or Omega 3) is in their product, because of the fermentation process, so we are really in the dark about what this product contains.

      Personally, I recommend eating fish & liver once a week and getting sufficient sun or supplementing so that Vitamin D levels are between 50 & 80 ng/ml.

      Your thoughts?

      • Sondra,

        Obviously, I am not a scientist and I just do my best to make sense of what I read. The WAPF and Weston Price take on vitamin A made sense to me when I read it.

        I don’t and never have taken a whole lot of CLO but I do take it, about a teaspoon a day. Most of the modern world lives in the north and gets very little sunlight throughout most of the year, getting extra vitamin D from CLO sounds like a pretty smart idea to me.

        I don’t typically eat a whole lot of eggs, I don’t eat butter, and I don’t eat a significant amount of liver. CLO seems pretty safe for me.

        Fermentation of cod livers is the old traditional way to extract the oil. As I understand it, they threw the livers in a barrel and the oil rose to the top.

        If I were to make a diet plan, which I haven’t done, then I would caution against taking anything to the extreme. People hear about some nutrient that is supposed to be good for them and the next thing you know they’re overdosing on it.

        There is so much controversy involving supplements, I really don’t care to bring them up at all most of the time.

        • CLO has very little D and I personally would not rely on it as a supplemental source.

          “There is so much controversy involving supplements, I really don’t care to bring them up at all most of the time.”

          Aah…OK!

          I just now saw that GREEN PASTURES is one of your SPONSORS.

          Got it!

          • They aren’t one of my sponsors. I don’t have sponsors. They are a product I have used for a long time and so I recommend it. What do you mean CLO has very little vitamin D? Is there some new hidden evidence about that now too?

          • Peggy~
            Replying here, since there was no reply button at the bottom of your comment.

            Apologies for assuming Green Pastures is a site sponsor! When I saw their badge/button where you have some other advertising, I jumped to a conclusion–sorry!

            This article and some other research I have done shows me that most CLOs are not an ideal source of D–especially in the context of the ratio of D to A:

            http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2008/12/23/important-cod-liver-oil-update.aspx

          • The badges are affiliate links. So if you were to buy from that site, I’d get a tiny cut (not that anyone ever has…) but they are links to sites or products that I use. I don’t go out looking for sponsors from people I don’t know anything about. Just to clear that up. :) I go out looking for them.

            So, just read Mercola’s article. It’s an interesting debate between him and WAPF. I have always gone with WAPF’s recommendations. At the moment I have Carlson in my fridge. I can get that at the local health food store when I’m out of the other. Maybe it would be worth sticking to that instead of the other.

            It really is so hard to take sides though when both sound so reasonable and based on “facts.” Sondra, no matter what we do, we’re bound to mess ourselves up in some way. That’s what I mean about recommending supplements. There’s always new research and opponents. It makes your head spin sometimes! We can only do our best to stay on top of every morsel of info that pops up.

            Anyway, thanks for mentioning it. If we can’t fill each other in, we’d never know much of anything.

  10. I fully agree with Sondra Rose on the cod liver issue and I am happy that someone in the Primal community is brave enought to pronounce some concerns with the allmighty cod liever oil. Even though traditional people might get plenty of vitamin A there nutrition is very different from ours (as hard as we might try to immitate it) and there might be some unknown factor that prevents damage from too much vitamin A. I think that this might be even more important to consider when pregnancy is concerned. I know that studies should be seen with caution but there is just so much that points to too much Vitamin A being harmful to the fetus that the WAPF arguments that only refer to the practise of traditional people seem just nut justified and even dangerous!

  11. I was on and off birth control for years, with horrible consequences. It gave me gallbladder disease, depression, killed my sex drive, etc. Finally, I was having periods that lasted six months, then no period for months. It was terrible. I went to the gyn, and he found a cyst on my right ovary. I had surgery to remove it, and when he was performing the surgery, he found what he referred to as “stage four” endometriosis. He basically said “go on the pill, or get pregnant, because nothing else will make the endo go away.” I was NOT pleased with that. I did research, and decided that I was going to follow dr. John Lee’s protocol with progesterone cream. Two months later, I had my first normal cycle in almost six years. Every cycle since has been consistent, instead of taking vicodin for my period cramps, I’m taking maybe an advil once per period. My periods are less than a week long, not too heavy, and really a breeze. I don’t have crazy mood swings, no depression, and haven’t had any gallbladder pain since I my second month on the cream. It is a godsend. I recommend Dr John Lee’s books to anyone who has PCOS, endo, or any other menstrual problems. It is life changing.

    • forgot to add: I also started charting my cycles, and have begun ovulating again, after about four cycles on the cream. I think every woman needs to chart their cycles, otherwise you have no idea what’s going on in your body. I hate how modern society teaches women to basically ignore their monthly cycles and just pretend it doesn’t exist.

      • I read about progesterone cream too and read so many good reports about it. I took it for several months at a few different periods and it didn’t help me. I just thought I’d throw that out there.

        But it’s awesome that it helped you!!

  12. Thanks everyone for the recommendations. I just bought some kefir to add to my diet! I was able to find an organic kind at the grocery in strawberry flavour. Probably not AS healthy as making it myself, but its delicious. Thanks again!

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