What You Should Know About Hormonal Contraception

Let me start off by saying that I am not a doctor. I just want to share what I’ve learnt and encourage you to make an informed decision about your health. It is after all your body and you only have one.

My Experience with Contraception

I myself up until very recently was on the pill for about 7 years. I had the depo shot, that in my opinion, is the devil in liquid form. I never went back for my second shot. I gained weight at a crazy rate, I have never felt so depressed in my life, and spotted for 2 days out of a 4-day break between periods… which lasted 2 weeks each!!

Thankfully after the 3-month mark, around when I was due for my next shot, it eased up slightly. But after a couple of months of messed up periods and working super hard to control my weight (I nearly cried every time I walked past chocolate)… I went to a doctor who put me on the pill.

I will be honest, my Gran had breast cancer, so I know I have a risk factor. Genetics is very rarely to blame, it’s more about lifestyle. I wrote an article last year about how you can lower your risk immensely just by living healthier. But this risk made me afraid of taking the pill in the first place. But I was assured that the newer pills pose no risk.

So I went on the pill and was pleasantly surprised. My face and back were finally clear!! My periods came like clockwork, I knew exactly what day it would come. I knew down to the day when my period would come. My pimples were gone!

That in itself after all the months of struggling with my periods and struggling for my entire adolescence and early adulthood with spots (cystic pimples were the worst), was amazing! My already light periods became even lighter and I didn’t get cramps with my periods anymore.

My boobs still hurt, I became more prone to being weepy rather than being irritable which was how I was before I was on contraceptives. I bloated a little more, but overall, I was pretty happy.

Clear skin, regular periods, no fear of having a baby before I was ready, awesome. I checked my boobs every month too, no problem. Also, no more weight gain. Eventually, my boobs didn’t even hurt anymore.

I tried the NuvaRing for a few months, that was okay too, but preferred the pill. I looked into the Copper-T a few times because I still wasn’t too happy about synthetic hormones in my body.

Putting a piece of plastic wrapped in copper up your vajayjay to live in your uterus for a few years sounded scary. My husband was really freaked out when I explained it to him! I also didn’t want to go back to having acne… sigh, the vanity. But the cramps pre-birth control really sucked too, seriously.

What I Discovered and What You Should Know

Fast forward to about a month ago. I came across an article about various birth control options and referenced a study that found that the pill, as well as the Mirena (like the Copper T, but with hormones, not copper), increased the risk of breast cancer by 20% after 5 years, and 38% after 10 years of using these methods.

It is a little bit confusing because as I said, I am not a doctor, so the abstract of the study was confusing, and there are studies that find similar risks but the risk seems to depend on which form of birth control pills you are taking.

This article by www.cancer.gov sums it up nicely. But imagine the fright I got when I read 0-60% higher risk. The 60% part scared the crap out of me!!!! It’s not just breast cancer, it’s cervical cancer too. The risk, however, depending on the study you read eventually goes back down once you stop taking the pill or remove the Mirena.

But Having Said That…

The risk is considered small (the 20%)… by the doctors. This is because young women have a lower risk for breast cancer than older women and older women are less likely to be on the pill. To me, the risk seems huge. But in truth, the studies didn’t take into account:

  • Whether or not the women exercised regularly
  • Their diet
  • Whether they consumed alcohol or not, and if so, how much
  • How old they were when they had their first child
  • Whether or not they smoked

These are all things that play a huge role in your risk not only for breast cancer but for most diseases.

Many Benefit From Hormonal Contraception

I realise that for me, PMS symptoms were not that severe. The worst really was the cramps which were mild (despite needing painkillers, because still, ouch!) compared to some of my friends although once or twice they had me down and out, so I understand completely why women would want to lessen their cramps!

I had pimples all the time, there were just more before my period. A little bloating, wanting to bite everyone’s heads off, and sore boobs. That was it.

Some women have headaches, severe acne, super heavy periods, cramps that are so severe they need to stay home from work or school. That’s just to name a few symptoms. The pill can help with all those things. I believe trying to balance your hormones naturally may be a better option, but if not, the pill can really help.

Hormonal contraception can also protect against ovarian cancer and endometrial cancer. It’s all about your particular body.

The Bottom Line

Speak to your doctor about all the options available to you and your various risks for different cancers or other issues like blood clots which some women have experienced and actually had strokes from. Smoking and taking the pill is a big no-no precisely because of blood clots.

I say this not to scare you, although it is rather scary. I say this so that you will ask questions and know what’s right for your body.

For many women, the pill is going to be fine and even beneficial.

What Are the Other Options

There are quite a few options. The ones that I personally wouldn’t recommend is withdrawal and where you work around your fertile moments. Those seem like they are too unreliable to me. Many women may disagree with this. If you really know your body, these options could be good ones for you.

But here are some that I think are more reliable. Keep in mind that the higher percentage of efficacy is only with perfect use, which is often not the case in the heat of the moment:

  • Copper T (99%+)
  • Male condoms (85-99%)
  • Female condoms (79-95%)
  • The Sponge (76-91%)
  • Cervical cap (71-86%)
  • Diaphragm (88-94%)

You can find out more about all your options here. You can click the “learn more” link which will take you to a full explanation of how to use it and the efficacy and possible side effects.

How Am I Doing So Far?

I am doing okay so far, nothing too drastic has changed. My skin is mercifully clear, but that could be because of my plant-based diet or perhaps it’s just early days. I have been off the pill for two weeks now. I guess I will have to wait to see what happens with my period.

Please let me know what your experiences have been, whether coming off the pill or going on it. 

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