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Weight Gain and Birth Control: What You Need To Know

Weight gain is a common concern for many women who are looking to start hormonal forms of birth control. Stories from friends on birth control who’ve gained weight may be enough to deter some women from trying birth control, but it shouldn’t. Most studies oppose the theory that hormonal birth control causes weight gain.

Still, some women do report gaining a few pounds in the weeks and months after they start taking the pill. This is often temporary and the result of water retention, not actual weight gain. If you find yourself in this category, here’s what you should know.

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Can Birth Control Cause Weight Gain?

Decades ago, hormonal contraception used hormones at levels much higher than we use today. It’s true that high levels of estrogen can increase appetite and invite fluid or water retention. Changes in hormonal birth control and advances in combination forms of the pill have addressed this issue. Most, if not all, pills lack high enough estrogen levels to cause weight gain.

Study after study has examined the relationship between today’s most popular forms of hormonal contraception and weight gain. The vast majority of these studies have found no reasonable evidence to support the claim. Any weight gain that may occur in the first weeks or months after beginning birth control is typically due to water retention. It isn’t actual fat gain.

What Are Other Side Effects of Birth Control?

Shortly after you begin taking birth control, you may notice other side effects in addition to water retention. Common side effects of birth control include:

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Nausea

If your dose of birth control is too high or you don’t take it with food, you may experience nausea soon after taking it. Talk with your doctor about ways you can reduce nausea. They might include taking the pill shortly after a meal or reducing the dosage of the medication. You may also consider taking the medication before bed to reduce nausea.

Skin Changes

Typically, birth control can effectively reduce acne breakouts. Still, some women may experience increased breakouts when they begin using birth control. This can be caused by the change in hormone levels.

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Headaches

Increased estrogen can trigger headaches. If you have a history of migraines, adding estrogen to your system may increase the frequency of these migraines. Make sure your doctor knows about any headache history you may have before you begin taking birth control. If headaches begin occurring more frequently, ask your doctor what can be done to eliminate them.

What Causes the Weight Gain?

If you’re noticing weight gain and can’t pinpoint a reason, there are a few common causes. These can include:

Changes in Routine

If you’ve recently changed jobs and find yourself sedentary for most of your day, you may begin noticing a gradual weight gain. Sitting for large segments of your day is unhealthy. Doing so can lead to weight gain, among other side effects.

Changes in Diet

Are you eating out more than usual? Gradual increases in your calorie intake can add inches around your waistline. Monitor your daily calorie consumption with the help of a food tracker, such as MyFitnessPal, and you should be able to maintain your current weight or lose some weight if that’s your goal.

Changes in Metabolism

Depending on your age, your metabolism could be contributing to changes in weight and energy. As you age, your metabolism can take a nosedive. Without your body’s natural calorie-burning ability, you may see inches and pounds creep on. Ask your doctor to conduct a metabolism blood test to see if you have any contributing conditions that might be impacting your body’s calorie-burning abilities.

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Changes at the Gym

Are you doing more weightlifting or muscle building exercises? Increased muscle mass might explain the uptick in numbers. You’ll probably still feel the same size. Your jeans will fit the same as before or better, but the number you see on the scale may go up. This is because you’re building muscle.

Are Some People More Likely to Gain Weight?

Studies don’t show that any particular groups of women are more inclined to experience weight gain than another. Your weight when you begin taking the pill shouldn’t affect your risk, either. One study found that girls under the age of 18 who are obese aren’t at a higher risk of gaining weight when taking the pill.

Extremely high levels of estrogen can sometimes affect appetite and invite water retention. If your hormonal form of contraception has a high dose of estrogen, you may be more likely to see a change on the scale. If that’s the case, talk to your doctor about changing medicines so you can have a lower level of estrogen.

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How to Address This Issue

Keep these things in mind if you’ve noticed a change in your weight or a fluctuating scale number since you started birth control:

Give It Time

It’s possible that you’ll experience a slight increase in weight immediately after beginning birth control. This is often the result of water retention, not actual fat gain. It’s almost always temporary. Given time, this water will go away. Your weight should return to normal.

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Move a Little More

Getting frequent exercise and eating a healthy, balanced diet will do more good than harm in the long term. Adopting a more active lifestyle may help you drop the few pounds you might gain after starting birth control.

Change Birth Control Pills

Make an appointment to speak with your doctor if you’re concerned your weight gain may be related to your birth control. All birth control pills are different, so it’s possible your doctor can find one that doesn’t affect your appetite or your weight.

Choosing a Birth Control Method That’s Right for You

Talk with your doctor about your options before you ditch all efforts to use a hormonal form of birth control. The beauty of birth control is that women have so many to choose from today.

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Which Birth Control Is Right for You?

If you don’t like the first thing your doctor recommends, you can easily try something else. If you don’t like that, you can keep trying the various options until you find something that makes you feel comfortable, doesn’t cause annoying side effects, and suits your lifestyle.

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