Understanding Ovulation And Hormonal Birth Control
Maybe you’ve been on hormonal birth control for a while and you are curious about your cycle or are considering trying to conceive. You probably have a lot of questions about when to start tracking your ovulation and fertile window.
So, here is what you need to know about hormonal birth control and ovulation.
How hormonal birth control works
Hormonal birth control comes in several forms including:
- Birth control pill (aka oral contraceptives)
- Birth control shot/injection (Depo Provera)
- Birth control patch
- Vaginal ring
- Hormonal Intrauterine Device (IUD)
- Contraceptive Implant
These contraceptives fall into two categories:
- Combination pills (COCs) which is the most common type. This version uses both estrogen and progestin and requires one pill be taken each day.
- Progestin-only pills or mini pills contain only progestin. This version needs to be taken within the same 3 hour window each day to be effective.
Regardless of what type of hormonal contraceptive you use the main premise is the same. The contraceptive releases man-made hormones (estrogen and progestin) into your body to trick your brain into thinking you have already ovulated.
Typically your hormones rise and fall throughout your cycle. When you are on birth control such as an oral contraceptive your progesterone and estrogen levels stay more consistent throughout your cycle. Hormonal birth control prevents these surges in natural hormones and prevents pregnancy by:
- Preventing the signal for the ovary to release an egg
- Thickening the cervical mucus so sperm cannot reach the egg if one is released
- Thinning the uterine lining making it inhospitable for implantation of a fertilized egg
These changes in your normal cycle make it nearly impossible to track your ovulation while on a hormonal contraceptive. If using a tracker, such as Mira, while on birth control you won’t show a fertile window.
However, it can be helpful to use a tracker to confirm that ovulation isn’t occurring. According to the CDC, birth control is effective 99.7% of the time so your chances of getting pregnant are slim if you use it properly. However, there are some things that can cause hormonal birth controls to be ineffective including missed doses, vomiting, and interference from other medications. Having the peace of mind that an ovulation tracker provides can be helpful.
Stopping hormonal birth control
If you are ready to start trying to conceive and have decided to stop taking hormonal birth control there are some things you should know. First, always talk to your doctor about changing your birth control method and possible side effects specific to you.
Most women experience what is known as a withdrawal period two to four weeks after stopping hormonal birth control. The next period you have is considered your first natural period after ending BC. For some women who have been on an oral contraceptive for a long time it can take several months for a regular ovulation cycle to return.
Once you stop taking a hormonal contraceptive your natural hormones will begin to return to normal. Your menstrual cycle will begin to normalize and ovulation will start again. As estrogen begins to build up again the uterine lining will begin to thicken again and become ready for a fertilized egg to implant. With these hormonal changes you might also experience:
- Heavier periods
- Mood swings
Most of these side effects begin to disappear as your body gets used to regular hormonal cycles. If they continue, discuss side effects with your doctor.
You can start using an ovulation tracker as soon as you stop your hormonal contraceptive. It may take a month or more for your hormones to return to normal and for the LH surge to occur. Once your luteinizing hormone returns to normal you can start tracking LH surges as an indicator of ovulation.
Understanding how your hormonal birth control affects your fertile window while you are on the pill and after, is an important step to a healthy relationship with your own body. Discussing your birth control options and plans for trying to conceive with your healthcare provider is also a great place to start.