The simple answer is no; birth control does not usually cause weight gain. But don’t stop here, keep reading. In this article, we’ll debunk the myth behind birth control and weight gain while giving you a better understanding of what you’re putting into your body.
Trust me, we get it – weight gain is not ideal, and trying to regulate your weight is hard enough. No matter how it happens, weight gain affects our mood. It can make us self-conscious and lower self-esteem. The potential for weight gain is a big concern amongst women when talking about birth control pills. It may even prevent some women from using it. Let’s put the control back in birth control.
What types of pills are available?
Let’s start with the basics. Currently, 15.9% of women in the US aged 15-44 are using the birth control pill, of which there are 2 types. 1) The combined pill: estrogen and progestin 2) The progestin-only pill. The type of estrogen used is the same, but the dosage varies between the pill brands. On the other hand, different types and doses of progestin are used in each brand of pill. What does this mean? The side effects of the different pill brands vary.
A review of 40 studies has proven that there is a lack of evidence of weight gain with the use of birth control pills,. Although the pill can cause weight gain, it is a temporary phenomenon. While some women gain around 0.2kg during the first three weeks of commencing the pill, it is common for the weight to revert to normal after 2-3 months. This weight gain is usually attributed to water weight, not fat. The increase in water weight is linked to the hormone estrogen. Estrogen, which is a main ingredient of the pill, causes an increase in water retention and insulin production in the body. The added water retention causes the extra few pounds in weight, but those extra pounds can easily disappear with the first period on the pill.
Contraceptive pills are used for more than just preventing unwanted pregnancy. They can also be prescribed to reduce the symptoms of several conditions. These include endometriosis, PCOS, painful periods and anemia from heavy bleeding. While the fear of gaining weight can convince women to stop using birth control or even starting it in the first place, these fears are unfounded. Do not leave yourself unprotected. Talk to your healthcare provider today and get all your concerns addressed.
“Concern about side effects, fear of health consequences and misinformation were identified as barriers to effective contraceptive use” – Gilliam et al, 2004
If the weight gain persists, it is important to look at other factors in your life. Life stressors(e.g. starting a new relationship, new job, moving) can also be a culprit of weight gain. So don’t throw away the birth control just yet. However, if you can’t seem to pinpoint the reason behind your weight gain, it might be time to book an appointment with your doctor.
Managing the weight gain
Time can help
This can be applied to birth control and weight gain. As studies have shown, the initial weight gain is a consequence of water weight, not fat. So give it time, and with healthy eating and exercise, your weight may return to normal. For some people, it is just temporary.
Change is good
The increased levels of insulin in your body stimulated by the estrogen means the energy from carbs is sent to your body’s fat cells more readily. Estrogen increases your appetite as well.
Check the levels of estrogen in your pill. High estrogen levels are more likely to be the source of your weight gain. If you believe this is the reason, contact your doctor and discuss your concerns with them. It may be time to change brands.
Regular exercise coupled with a healthy balanced diet can benefit you. Try to cultivate a more active lifestyle. It will help you shed the extra weight you might gain from the pill.
The final points
- Every woman may experience different side effects from the pill
- Some women gain weight and others don’t
- Don’t give up - there are many different birth control options to choose from
- Keep trying until you find the type that suits you the most
- Practicing safe sex is very important
Hopkin, M, "Contraceptive pill 'does not cause weight gain'.". in Nature, , 2006.
Gupta, S, "Weight gain on the combined pill--is it real?.". in Human Reproduction Update, 6, 2000, 427-431.
Carpenter, S, & L Neinstein, "Weight gain in adolescent and young adult oral contraceptive users.". in Journal of Adolescent Health Care, 7, 1986, 342-344.
Rosenberg, M, "Weight change with oral contraceptive use and during the menstrual cycle.". in Contraception, 58, 1998, 345-349.
Gilliam, M, M Warden, C Goldstein, & B Tapia, "Concerns about contraceptive side effects among young Latinas: A focus-group approach.". in Contraception, 70, 2004, 299-305.
Web MD, ‘Birth Control Pills,’ Web MD, https://www.webmd.com/sex/birth-control/birth-control-pills#1 Accessed 21st August 2019
Medline Plus, ‘Birth control pills – Overview’, Medline Plus, https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007460.htm, Accessed 21st August 2019
Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, ‘Contraceptive Use’, CDC https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/contraceptive.htm, Accessed 21st August 2019