Written by Yoppie
02 Feb 2023
Firstly… what is birth control?
What are the most common birth control options?
Why will some types of birth control make me gain weight?
What else could contribute to my weight gain?
What birth control options could I try to avoid weight gain?
Can I speak to my doctor about this?
When you start to research birth control, you realise just how many types there are. From condoms to caps and injections to IUDs, there’s certainly no shortage of options when you’re trying out different kinds to see what works for you.
One of the reasons people struggle to find the right method of birth control is the weight gain it can sometimes cause. While not all types of birth control cause weight fluctuations, and not all people are susceptible to this side effect, it has been known to happen. So we’re digging a little deeper to find out:
Let’s dive in…
Birth control (sometimes called contraception) is any method implemented to prevent pregnancy. This could be a type of medicine, a device, a procedure or something else. Some types offer more protection than others, and some protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) while others do not. People may choose to take certain methods of birth control for reasons other than preventing pregnancy, such as balancing hormones, improving skin, reducing the intensity of periods, and more.
Remember, if you have gone through puberty and have not yet reached menopause age, then you could be capable of getting pregnant and therefore should use some sort of birth control if you do not want this to happen. When deciding which type is the right one for you, you may want to ask yourself questions like:
There are so many options available when it comes to birth control, and many different popular methods around the world to choose from. In the UK however, according to the NHS some of the most popular types of birth control include:
IUD (intrauterine device) or IUS (intrauterine system)
Often referred to as a “coil”, an IUD or IUS is a small T-shaped plastic device inserted into the neck of your womb/uterus by a trained professional. They are two types; the copper coil (IUD) releases copper and the hormonal coil (IUS) releases the hormone progesterone to stop you from getting pregnant.
Depending on what type you choose, this method of birth control can last anywhere from 3 to 10 years, but always consult your doctor about when you should have it replaced. When inserted correctly, this type of contraception is more than 99% effective.
There are many brands and types of pill you can try, but the main categories are the combined pill, which contains artificial versions of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone, and the progestogen-only pill, which works in the same way but with no oestrogen. Introducing some of the hormones that naturally occur in our system stops ovulation from happening and thickens the cervical mucus to stop sperm reaching an egg. If taken correctly, they can be up to 99% effective.
For many people, condoms are a go-to because they’re the only type of birth control that also protects against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). There are 2 types; external condoms which are worn on the penis, and internal condoms which are worn inside the vagina. Both are designed to create a barrier so semen can’t get through during sex, and they’re usually made from a thin latex. Condoms are thought to be 98% effective when used correctly.
Psst! Got a latex allergy? You’ll need to seek out latex-free condoms or use another type of birth control.
The contraceptive injection is exactly what it sounds like; an injection of contraceptives using a needle. The injection introduces the synthetic hormone progestogen into your bloodstream to stop you being able to get pregnant. There are different brands you can discuss with your doctor, lasting anywhere from 8-13 weeks. This method of birth control is thought to be more than 99% effective.
Natural family planning (fertility awareness)
Natural family planning (sometimes called "fertility awareness") is when you closely monitor and record the symptoms and temperature fluctuations in your body in order to determine where you are in your menstrual cycle. By avoiding your most fertile days of the month, you can prevent a pregnancy. It takes a lot of forward-planning, but if done correctly this method of birth control can be up to 99% effective.
The contraceptive implant is a tiny, flexible plastic stick inserted into the skin of your upper arm by a trained professional. It is designed to release the hormone progestogen into the bloodstream to stop pregnancy occurring, and can last for 3 years before a replacement is needed. This type of contraception is thought to be over 99% effective.
Caps or diaphragms
A cap or diaphragm is a small, flexible, silicone dome you can insert into the vagina before sex to form a barrier over the cervix and stop sperm from reaching the uterus to fertilise any eggs. When used correctly with spermicide, this method can be 92-96% effective at preventing pregnancy.
The contraceptive patch is a small patch that sticks to the skin and releases hormones into the body which are absorbed through the skin. Patches must be changed every week for 3 weeks, followed by one week of no patch. When used correctly, they’re over 99% effective at preventing pregnancy.
Similar to other methods that release the hormones oestrogen and progestogen into the bloodstream to prevent pregnancy, except the vaginal ring is a small, soft plastic ring inserted into the vagina. When used correctly, the ring is over 99% effective.
When deciding which type of contraception may be right for you, be sure to speak to your doctor to learn more about the above methods.
It’s a commonly held belief that certain types of hormonal birth control can cause weight gain, and it’s a huge reason people avoid them.
Much of the worry around weight gain with contraception comes from decades-old stories. In years gone by, hormonal contraception used hormones at much higher levels than our birth control methods use today. For example, the first birth control pill (developed in the 1950s) contained 150 micrograms (mcg) of oestrogen, whereas according to a 2012 review, today’s contraception only contains 20 to 50 mcg of oestrogen. So back in the day there was a very good chance if you took hormonal contraception you would put on a few pounds. Today, not so much.
Studies have looked closely for any correlation between hormonal contraception and weight gain, and the vast majority of these studies came back with limited evidence that the two are related. Some do report gaining a few pounds in the weeks and months after they start taking the pill, but this is often temporary and the result of water retention, not actual weight gain.
It seems more likely users will only experience bloating or changes in body fat distribution around the body, rather than a change in weight. Fluctuating hormone levels during puberty and menopause can also result in changes in body composition, such as when fat begins to grow on the chest, thighs, hips and butt, so it can also be difficult to attribute this to hormonal birth control.
Research into the subject found some studies were poorly designed and therefore could not draw any solid conclusions without the necessary evidence to suggest a clear link between hormonal birth control and weight gain.
As above, although hormonal birth control could be indirectly responsible for weight gain, it’s likely other factors are at play such as increased appetite, bloating and water retention which can all cause the appearance of weight gain, if only in the short term.
Another factor to consider is if you have PCOS, or polycystic ovary syndrome. The exact cause of PCOS is not known, but factors like inflammation in the body, a family history of PCOS, excess androgen hormones, and insulin resistance are all thought to be connected. This common hormonal imbalance presents symptoms like irregular periods, excess body hair, acne, thinning hair on the head, fertility issues, and… drum roll please… weight gain.
Sometimes those with known or undiagnosed PCOS will start taking hormonal birth control as part of their treatment, which causes their hormones to fluctuate. PCOS makes it harder for the body to utilise the insulin hormone, which normally converts sugar from food into energy. This insulin resistance can cause insulin and sugar to build up in the bloodstream, which can lead to many common PCOS symptoms - like weight gain.
If you want to learn the first signs of PCOS and how to know if you have it, click here.
If you suffer from PCOS, it’s best to speak to your doctor to discuss the best way to manage weight alongside any hormonal birth control you are taking. They may suggest a change in birth control, another medication, or lifestyle changes that could have an impact.
Regardless of whether you have PCOS or not, you may be interested in some of the research around which types of birth control are more or less likely to cause weight gain.
While the jury is still out on whether hormonal birth control is in fact the root cause of weight gain, one study found the contraceptive injection seemed to cause more weight variation than other methods, while other studies attributed this to an increase in fat mass. One study found 40% of people taking injections every 3 months noticed this increase in fat mass.
When it comes to oral contraception (the pill), this low-dose oestrogen study found no difference in weight at the end, while another study with progestogen-only contraceptives found variable weight change in its subjects. And there appeared to be no difference between types of intrauterine devices, according to one study.
Overall, it seems any weight gain you experience while on hormonal birth control is more likely to be linked to your genetics, your age, your health, and other lifestyle factors. It also matters how your contraception affects you. For example, if you stop getting periods after starting hormonal contraception then you may end up doing more exercise throughout the month than someone who continues to get their period. That said, studies are limited on the topic so always track any variations yourself to get a clearer idea of how your own body is reacting to hormonal birth control.
Absolutely! If weight gain is a concern you have while on hormonal birth control then we encourage you to speak to your GP who can offer more information on your specific type of contraception, and allow you to try different kinds until you find one that works for you.
Want to find out more about birth control and weight gain? You can ask questions in our Full Stop FB group, or reach out to the Yoppie team on IG at @itsyoppie so we can help.
Don't forget that our personalised menstrual cycle subscription box can get organic tampons, PMS supplements and much more delivered easily and regularly through your letterbox, to give you just a bit more peace of mind each cycle.
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