Cycle tracking after hormonal birth control - What to expect
We know how to go on hormonal birth control, right? We go to the doctor, tell them we want to go on birth control, talk about the different hormonal options, and walk out with a prescription for the pill or an appointment to have an IUD inserted.
The thing that baffles me though is that when you want to go OFF of hormonal birth control, it's like this big, gigantic mystery.
You tell your doctor that you want to get off of hormonal birth control and often, instead of discussing with effective nonhormonal options with you, they tell you that just using condoms is risky and try to switch you to another form of hormonal birth control or the copper IUD.
Here's the deal - If going off of hormonal birth control feels like the right choice for you, it should be as easy to go off of it as it was to go on it. #justsayin'
You should learn what side effects you can expect, what your cycle will look + feel like, how long it will take for a regular cycle to return, how long is too long to suffer with symptoms, and how to prevent pregnancy effectively while you work on regulating your cycle.
That's why I'm dedicating today's episode of Menstrual Mastery to cycle tracking after hormonal birth control!
On today’s episode of Menstrual Mastery, we’re talking all about what to expect when you start cycle tracking after going off of hormonal birth control. This is a topic I love talking about because I work closely with many clients who are newly off of hormonal birth control. When we’re newly off of hormonal birth control, our ability to get pregnant may return quickly or may take awhile. Regardless, one thing we almost always see is irregular cycle patterns, cervical fluid, and temperature shifts. What this means is that using the sympto-thermal method of natural birth control can be a little tricker.
In today’s episode we’ll cover…
>> What the menstrual cycle looks like after going off of hormonal birth control and the differences we see in cervical fluid and temperature
>> How we accommodate for these differences when using the sympto-thermal method after going off of hormonal birth control
>> How long it takes for the cycle to normalize and see regular cervical fluid and temperature shifts
>> My top 3 tips for anyone looking to cycle track post hormonal birth control
Let’s dive in…
When we go off of hormonal birth control, our bodies have to remember how to make the proper combination of hormones to stimulate regular ovulation for the first time in years, if not decades.
This can take a while. Most people are looking for the return of their periods, but I often think about it as the return of ovulation because ovulation is the reason why you get your period. In order for ovulation to occur your hypothalamus tells your pituitary gland to make follicle stimulating hormone which triggers the growth of ovarian follicles in the ovaries. The growing ovarian follicles produce estrogen which triggers cervical fluid, until eventually estrogen spikes which causes luteinizing hormone to spike which ultimately triggers the most mature egg to be released from the ovary. This is what happens in a normal menstrual cycle. However, when we’re newly off of hormonal birth control it can take the brain and body a few tries before ovulation actually happens - so we see several builds up of cervical fluid and a long pre-ovulatory phase.
Once ovulation occurs in a healthy cycle, the robust egg released during ovulation triggers the production of progesterone which in turn triggers the rise in our temperature and holds our uterine lining in place until our period begins. In a healthy cycle the period will arrive on average 10 to 16 days after ovulation.
When we’re newly off of hormonal birth control, the egg that is released during ovulation tends to be weaker and less robust and therefore may lead to weak progesterone production or excess estrogen following ovulation. This, then, leads to a temperature rise that is small or hard to notice. As a result of the lower levels of progesterone and the higher levels of estrogen the uterine lining is unable to stay in place for the full 10 to 16 day post-ovulatory phase which often leads to spotting and an earlier period.
Essentially what we tend to see in menstrual cycles of women who are newly off of hormonal birth control is prolonged cervical fluid wetness, the absence of peak egg white type fluid, long pre-ovulatory phases, low or indiscernible temperature rise, and short post-ovulatory phases.
By now you're probably thinking - woah this sounds complicated, so this means I can’t use cycle tracking when I’m just off of hormonal birth control, right? And the answer there is a NOPE!
You absolutely can and should use cycle tracking when you're newly off of hormonal birth control - whether or not you use it as natural birth control is a separate decision altogether.
The reason I love teaching women how to track their cycles when newly off of hormonal birth control is because it gives them more awareness of the symptoms they are experiencing after ditching the pill, IUD, or other hormonal method.
When we’re tracking our cycles and see excess cervical fluid or low temperatures we know that it is triggered by elevated estrogen levels in comparison to progesterone which could be why we’re experiencing breast tenderness, bloating, and raging pms or awful periods once going off of hormonal birth control. Cycle tracking helps us uncover the potential imbalances behind the shitty symptoms we’re feeling. Once we’ve identified the imbalance - we can do something about it and work towards getting relief!
Now the second part of this question - is can you use cycle tracking as natural birth control when you’re newly off of hormonal birth control?
All fertility awareness instructors have their own thoughts on this. My opinion is that yes you can, though the safer route is to learn how to use the method when you’re newly off of hormonal birth control, but to wait at least 3 months before relying on it entirely. When I enroll a client to teach them the sympto-thermal double check method of natural birth control I always ask them to commit to using condoms or an alternate barrier method for the first 3 months off of hormonal birth control. This ensures that they have adequate time to learn and practice the method AND give their cycle some time to normalize before relying solely on the natural method. I find that for some women it only takes a month or two to have normalized cycles, while for others it may take up to 6 months. Either way, barrier methods like condoms are crucial in this early post-hormonal birth control phase.
This takes me to another important topic and a question that I get asked all the time ---
How long after I go off of hormonal birth control will it take for my cycle to regulate?
I wish the answer was a simple - oh it only takes x amount of time - but it’s not that simple. Each person’s body responds differently to going off of hormonal birth control. Some folks jump right back into a regular cycle, for some it takes a few months to a year, and for others it may take longer or their cycles may be permanently altered.
Many women have been on hormonal birth control for years, decades even, which means that they have not been ovulating, having real periods, or making their own sex hormones for just as long. Have you tried to ride a bicycle again in adulthood after not having ridden a bike in 2 decades? It’s awkward, clumsy, and you have to get used to doing it all over again - right? That’s what it’s like for your brain and your ovaries after all those years of hormonal suppression -- It can take them some time and practice to cycle normally again.
One thing I’ve seen is that supporting your body with the right nutrient dense foods, supportive supplements, and lifestyle shifts makes the return of a regular cycle a whole lot easier.
All of my post hormonal birth control clients use supportive foods and supplements to jumpstart their cycles again and I tend to see cycles beginning to normalize by cycle 3 and the return of mostly normal cycles by cycle 6. By cycles 3-6, in clients using supportive supplements and food choices, I also tend to see the return of regular cervical fluid and temperature shifts. Though it can take longer as well. This is just in my practice and professional experience. It is the case for everyone.
Okay --- I want to leave you today with my top 3 tips for anyone looking to cycle track post hormonal birth control because tracking after hormonal birth control is not only possible, it’s empowering!
Tip #1 -- Patience is everything.
One of the most common things I see in women who are cycle tracking while newly off of hormonal birth control is that they get discouraged when they don’t see the peak egg-white cervical fluid, or temperature rise isn’t obvious, and they struggle to read their early charts. It’s okay. Honestly, this is to be expected when coming off of hormonal birth control. As best you can, be patient with your body. Explore how to support your natural cycle with nutrient dense food and supplements. And, trust that your cycle is in the process of regulating itself. Trust that the cycle tracking signs will get clearer.
Tip #2 -- Practice the sympto-thermal method for 3-6 months before relying on it entirely.
I already talked about this a little, but giving yourself 3-6 months to learn and practice how to use the sympto-thermal method of natural birth control before relying on it as your method of birth control can make a world of a difference. This gives you time to build confidence in yourself and in the method. It gives you the space to make mistakes while you’re learning because you’re not all in just yet. And it gives your cycle time to normalize a bit too.
In the meantime, you can absolutely still have sex - you just have to use an alternate, nonhormonal form of birth control that is not the copper iud because that guy mucks up cervical fluid tracking. The most common methods that I see used are condoms and diaphragms paired with the pull-out method. You could literally use a condom, a diaphragm, and the pull-out method all at the same time to increase the efficacy. When I was learning the method I used a combination of condoms paired with the pull-out method.
And you can have fun with this phase -- try different types of condoms, explore new lubes, engage in other sexy time activities -- get creative!
Tip #3 -- Work with a fertility awareness instructor.
All the efficacy studies on using the sympto-thermal method as natural birth control are based on women who learned and practiced the method under the instruction of a fertility awareness educator. They didn’t hear some info on a podcast, scan a blog post, or read a book and then go out and gave it a try. No - they worked directly with a practitioner who was professionally trained in using and teaching the method to others. Working with a fertility awareness instructor increases the efficacy of the method.
I also advocate for working with a fertility awareness instructor because they will be able to help you apply the rules of the method directly to your unique cycle. They will also be able to coach you through irregular cycle scenarios and confusing charts. What’s even better is that they will be able to provide you with a workbook of practice charts, so that you can practice using the rules on a variety of cycle scenarios as opposed to only having a few of your own cycles to go by.
Working with a fertility awareness instructor provides the practice and precision that you can’t get when learning on your own.
As you’ve probably noticed if you’ve been hanging around Sauvage Wellness - I am one of these practitioners. I am a certified fertility awareness instructor and I work with women around the world to help them confidently transition off of hormonal birth control, track their cycles, & use the sympto-thermal method of natural birth control safely and effectively.
If you’re interested in learning more about my work as a fertility awareness instructor you can head to sauvagewellness.com/coaching.
I am always happy to answer questions, serve and support you, and be a resource for you as you explore stepping away from hormonal birth control.
If you’re curious about learning how to use the sympto-thermal double check method of natural birth control - registration is currently open for my Natural Birth Control Academy course - a 3 month group course where I will be teaching women everything they need to know in order to use this empowering method of birth control entirely on their own in just 3 cycles! Virtual class begins Nov. 5th!
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Disclaimer: Brandy Oswald, Sauvage Wellness LLC, and her employees are not doctors, nurses, physicians, psychotherapists, or in anyway licensed medical practitioners and information presented here is to serve as an educational resource and not to be interpreted as: (1) medical advice; (2) a 100% effective birth control option or (3) nutrition or health guidelines. By reading this you acknowledge that you understand that as a specialized form of consulting, coaching is not the same as professional or licensed therapy or medical advice and intervention; and recognize that it is your responsibility to seek such services from a licensed professional. Brandy Oswald is not a medical provider and cannot give medical advice. All information provided by Sauvage Wellness LLC and Brandy Oswald is of a general nature and is intended only for educational purposes to help with your personal health improvement goals and should not be relied on as medical advice. Always consult a physician with any health concerns and prior to changing your diet, lifestyle, supplements,birth control, or prescription medicine routine. Should you choose to use the information provided by Brandy Oswald it is of your own volition and you recognize that neither Brandy nor Sauvage Wellness LLC is not held liable for any intended or unintended outcomes.