1- why you might ditch HBC,
2-What that looks like,
3-Healthy period basics
In theory, birth control is on our side, right? At its conception (ha, get it?), hormonal birth control was a huge deal for women’s independence and our ability to control if and when we wanted to have children.
But, in recent years, women have started to speak up about the numerous side effects we feel from hormonal birth control, while holistic medical experts have started to shed (ha) light on the importance of regular ovulation for our whole-body health.
Here’s what you need to know about birth control and your cycle:
- Having a period is considered so medically vital that it is referred to by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists as the Sixth Vital Sign. How our period shows up (regularity, heaviness, accompanying symptoms) is considered to be a crucial indicator of overall health.
- Hormonal birth control effectively shuts down your cycle. With the exception of some hormonal IUDs, you generally do not ovulate while on hormonal birth control. Even if you are bleeding each month, it’s not the same as bleeding after ovulation. It’s called a “withdrawal bleed” and it is a hormonally different event.
- When you ovulate, your body produces sex hormones (estrogen and progesterone). These hormones are not just useful for fertility and having a period, they have tons of roles in the body including regulating mood, bone health, and insulin sensitivity, and prevention of heart disease and dementia. If you don’t ovulate, you don’t get these hormones or these benefits.
- Ok, this one is wild. Being on hormonal birth control affects your whole body, including your brain. Did you know that even who you are attracted to can change because of birth control? To have your mind blown and learn how/why this happens, check out this TedTalk from Sarah E. Hill, author of How the Pill Changes Everything: Your Brain on Birth Control.
- Many patients are placed on birth control to “regulate” their period when they suffer from conditions such as PCOS and endometriosis. But, if you’re not actually having a cycle, it can’t be regulated. The pill can help you have a withdrawal bleed at regular intervals, but this, again, doesn’t give you the benefit of hormones from ovulation. Holistic medical experts like Dr. Aviva Romm or Lara Briden ND have advice for how to manage these conditions while allowing your body to cycle.
Now, if you decide not to use hormonal birth control, what do you need to consider? Certainly, you’ll need an alternative method for the prevention of pregnancy. Non-hormonal options include the copper IUD, barrier methods (like good old-fashioned condoms!) or the Fertility Awareness Method, which involves using biomarkers to understand when you are most (and least) likely to get pregnant.
Next, especially if you were using hormonal birth control to manage period symptoms, you’ll need to consider how to support a healthy, symptom-free period. The health of your cycle relates to the health of YOU, so holistic health practices will go a long way in decreasing unwanted period symptoms such as cramps, breast tenderness, or moodiness. Make sure that you are supporting your body with regular exercise, stress management (meditation practices, adaptogens), a nutrient-dense diet, hydration and rest.
Here are some additional tips to support your cycle health:
- Make sure you have a daily bowel movement!
It is important that your digestive tract is working effectively so that your hormones can be metabolized appropriately. Be sure to get enough fiber in your diet, and drink plenty of water. Try 2 tablespoons of flaxseed per day with at least 8 oz of liquid.
- Know what to avoid
Have you heard of “EDC’s” or Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals? Often there are chemicals in our cleaning products, beauty products and cookware that act LIKE hormones, but are not hormones, confusing the system. Look for brands and companies that are non-toxic and free from BPA and pesticides. When you eat produce, make sure to wash it thoroughly and, if you can, opt for organic (or, even better, local and organic!).
- Try some of the herbs shown to support hormone balance and manage symptoms
Maca, chasteberry (vitex agnus-castus) and ginger are all great options to help you manage your period and menstrual symptoms. To learn more, head to the Plant Library in the Nara app or check out (link to article “Nutrition and Herbs to Support a Healthy Menstrual Cycle”).
- Learn about your cycle
Get to know each phase of your cycle and what your body is going through. Try tracking your cycle with a beautiful calendar or an app. Have some fun getting familiar with the lunar cycle and see how your body does or doesn’t sync up with particular moon phases.
Toy with the idea of looking forward to your period. We’ve been taught that our period is a time of pain and suffering. But does it have to be like that? Try to make your period a time where you give yourself extra permission to get cozy with your favorite TV shows, linger in the bath (throw in some lavender and rose petals for bonus relaxation and indulgence), and break out your most comfy sweats. And, who doesn’t want an excuse to eat more chocolate?
- Hormonal birth control affects the whole body
- Ovulation produces hormones that are beneficial for many systems in the body
- Aside from some hormonal IUDs, women taking hormonal birth control do not ovulate
- There are things you can do to naturally support a healthy cycle, such as exercise, eat well and use helpful herbs
Briden, Lara. “The Secret Powers of Ovulation (It’s Not Just to Make a Baby).” Lara Briden – The Period Revolutionary, 26 Oct. 2022, https://www.larabriden.com/the-secret-powers-of-ovulation/ .
HILL, SARAH E. How the Pill Changes Everything: Your Brain on Birth Control. ORION SPRING, 2023.
Romm, Aviva. “5 Ways Flaxseeds Help with Hormone Balance.” Aviva Romm, MD, 5 Feb. 2021, https://avivaromm.com/flax-seeds-super-food/ .