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Birth Control Pills And Weight Gain: Causes, Concerns And Alternatives


Contraception methods, or birth control is a method to prevent unplanned pregnancies. Interestingly, it can also be prescribed to regulate and manage periods, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), acne and endometriosis.

One of the most accessible and commonly used forms of birth control are pills. They are readily available, and some forms of oral contraceptives are sold over the counter as emergency contraception. Pills that need to be taken daily, however, are prescribed by medical professionals.

While birth control is a largely safe method to prevent pregnancy, there are some concerns. A big question asked is does birth control pills cause weight gain or can IUD cause weight gain. Birth control in the form of oral contraceptives, injections or implants can have varying side-effects on a body. 

Let’s discuss some key facts about birth control such as does birth control pills cause weight gain, how does birth control make you gain weight, and other ways of managing birth control pills and weight gain. 

How Do Birth Control Pills Work?

Birth control can be broadly classified into Combined Hormonal Contraceptives and progestin-only contraceptives. Combined Hormonal Contraceptives contain two hormones (estrogen and progestin) and include most birth control pills, the patch, the ring and most birth control shots. Progestin-only Contraceptives contain only a form of progestin and include the implant, most intrauterine devices (IUDs) and certain pills.  

Birth control pills work within your body to help prevent a pregnancy. They safely prevent ovulation, prevent fertilised eggs from attaching to the uterus and also can thicken your cervical mucus, which prevents a sperm from reaching an egg.  

Do Oral Contraceptives Cause Weight Gain?

So, does the contraceptive pill cause weight gain? The short answer is yes, and no. Oral contraceptives can cause weight gain, but the issue is a little more complex than that. 

During the early years of birth control pill production, they had high levels of estrogen and progestin. High doses of both have been proven to cause weight gain due to an increased appetite and fluid retention.

Current birth control pills available on the market, however, have much lower percentages of hormones. While there have been studies looking at the correlation between weight gain and birth control, most have concluded that the evidence is limited and that they cannot positively say that contraceptive pills cause weight gain. Any weight gain that we may see while on the pill is attributed to water retention, and not fat gain.

However, if there is a sign of increased weight gain after beginning the birth control pills, there might be several other factors. These can be age, stress, overeating due to hormones (increased progesterone) and increased fluid retention in the body. Apart from the overeating and increased fluid retention, the other factors are not a direct cause of taking the birth control pill.

So, while taking oral contraceptives causes weight gain, an increased weight gain is probably due to some other factors as well.

Which Birth Control Causes Weight Gain? 

Though there is no definitive study that answers the question ‘can birth control pills cause weight gain’, some studies have shown the correlation between some birth control methods, birth control pills and weight gain.  If you are concerned, here’s some information on how does birth control you gain weight:

1. Birth Control Shot

A birth control shot is an injection that you would have to take every three months to prevent pregnancy. It is not an over the counter shot and will need to be administered by a medical professional. The shot contains medroxyprogesterone acetate, which is a type of progestin that helps prevent pregnancy.

Research has indicated that Depo-Provera (brand name for the injection) can lead to an average weight gain every year. The injection has also been linked to an increase in body fat.

2. Hormonal IUDs

As IUDs are a long-term form of birth control, they are inserted into the uterus to be kept for several years until removed. Can IUD cause weight gain? Yes. Hormonal IUDs release progestin and are proven to lead to an average weight gain of 0.6 kg every year.

3. Non-Hormonal IUDs

Also known as copper IUDs, the copper in the device helps prevent pregnancy. Can copper IUD cause weight gain? Yes, but only minimum weight gain per year in the long term. 

4. Birth Control Implants

A birth control implant is a small rod-shaped device which is inserted into your upper arm to prevent pregnancy. This implant releases progestin, which has been linked to weight gain. Several studies have shown that the implant can lead to a greater weight gain, as compared to non-hormonal birth control.

There are many options for birth control, and you can discuss with your medical practitioner and decide to avoid which contraceptives cause weight gain for you. 

How To Manage Weight While On Contraceptives?

As we’ve discussed above, some weight gain due to fluid retention is normal when you start regular hormonal birth control and will generally go away with time. Apart from the fluid retention, if you do see some weight gain due to your preferred birth control, there are possibly other factors affecting the change as well.

Managing weight while on contraceptives is more or less the same as one needs while maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Here’s how to stop weight gain after stopping birth control. 

4 Ways To Keep Your Weight In Check:

1. Exercise

A quick 30 minutes of physical activity such as swimming, aerobics or cardio is a great way to get your heart pumping and maintain fitness.

2. Hydration

We might not realise it, but not drinking enough water causes a host of issues we would not want to deal with. Make sure you’re drinking your requisite 2 litres, and stay hydrated!

3. Portion Control

A good way to manage your weight is portion control. By eliminating unnecessary sugars and empty calories, and adding on protein and fibre, you can take charge of your weight gain. You can also consult a nutritionist to understand your caloric requirements and figure out your diet as per their suggestions.

4. Healthy Diet

Nutrition, and more importantly, a balanced diet is key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Nutrition dense food such as fruit, vegetables, whole grains and protein are excellent for your body and a healthy weight.

If you feel like you have gained a substantial amount of weight after beginning to take birth control, or even a sudden weight gain, please speak to your medical practitioner about it. Alternatively, you can also consider switching to other forms of birth control that are not hormone based. They can be external like condoms or diaphragms, or even surgical like a vasectomy (for men) or tubal ligation.

If you have gained weight after stopping birth control or want to avoid weight gain after stopping birth control, don’t worry too much. Your body will go back to how it was pre-birth control soon, and until then you can focus on diet and exercise to keep track of your fitness goals.  

Read: 8 Pros & Cons Of Birth Control Pills.

6 Common Side-effects Of Contraceptives:

Birth control pills, much like all other medication, can definitely cause side effects. These are generally listed on your pill bottles, and your medical practitioner will warn you about them as they are prescribed to you. As most birth control pills contain a combination of hormones, the effects they have vary from person to person.

Some common side-effects are:

  1. Headaches
  2. Dizziness
  3. Bloating
  4. Nausea
  5. Mood swings
  6. Inconsistency in your period

These side effects will generally reduce and then completely go away with time.  

However, birth control pills can have more serious, long-term side effects. While they are generally safe to take over a long period of time, they may raise the risk of breast cancer and cervical cancer. But interestingly, they also lower the risk of ovarian, uterine and colorectal cancer. The estrogen in hormonal birth control pills may also raise your risk for blood clots and high blood pressure, which may lead to a heart attack or a stroke.

Before choosing to go on long-term birth control, please have a long and detailed chat with your medical practitioner to decide which form of birth control will be most suited to your body.

Broadly, most women do not have to worry about weight gain due to various contraceptive methods. While some birth control pills and other hormonal birth control may lead to an increase of weight, it is not significant enough to cause distress. So, can birth control pills cause weight gain? Yes. Does IUD cause weight gain? Yes. Should you be worried about it? Absolutely not. 

If you are considering prescribed birth control pills, we can safely say go for it with an open mind. Some women have reported weight gain; however, some have also reported weight loss. The bottom line is that everyone’s body reacts differently to medication, so be sure to discuss the pros and cons of your preferred birth control with a medical practitioner before choosing.

Stay safe and healthy!

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