Many women are surprised to learn that coming off birth control doesn’t mean their cycle immediately goes back to normal. Many women suffer from post-pill amenorrhea, or lack of period, and while experts say that it can take between three and six months for your period to become regular again, amenorrhea can last even longer for some women.
“The birth control pill causes women to produce estrogen, testosterone and progesterone levels that are in the menopausal range,” says Dr. Prudence Hall of the Hall Center. “This is because the pill stops the brain from talking to the ovary. It takes time for the brain to reconnect to the ovary to tell it to resume ovulation, which is what brings on the menstrual periods.”
While you don’t need to worry about it if your period doesn’t come back straight away, not getting your period usually means that your estrogen levels are low, and this can be cause for concern.
“Low estrogen can cause depression, anxiety, high blood sugar, brain fog, increased weight, low sex drive, hair loss and many other side effects,” says Hall.
For many women, letting nature take its course is enough, but there are a few foods you can add to your diet that you can make to overcome post-birth control amenorrhea more quickly.
Naturopathic Doctor Lynn Anderson recommends adding fennel to your diet to stimulate or regulate menstruation, as it contains emenagogue, a substance that stimulates or increases the menstrual flow.
She suggests making a tea from fresh fennel or adding the vegetable to soups or stews.
Parsley also contains emenagogue, and it is also a folk remedy often associated with overcoming post-pill amenorrhea.
“Although there is no scientific evince for its use, there is plenty of folk medicine literature touting it as a great herb for many uses including stimulating the menstrual flow,” says Anderson.
She also notes that other herbs, such as basil, rosemary, sage, marjoram and oregano, can be effective.
Naturopathic doctor Serena Goldstein, meanwhile, recommends several other herbs, including vitex (chasteberry), partridge berry, mugwort, black cohosh, blue cohosh, and angelica sinensis.
“These can all help tonify the system and promote blood flow,” says Goldstein.
She does note that these are best used under the guidance of a professional, as hormonal imbalances can stem from different causes, and certain herbs can interact with drugs.
3. Flax Seeds
Flax seeds — like nuts, avocado, chia seeds, and olive oil — are a great source of healthy fats. They also contain omega-3 fatty acids — which you’ll also find in evening oil of primrose. These nutrients can help promote healthy hormone balance.
Goldstein also notes the importance of promoting gut health when trying to overcome post-pill amenorrhea. Fiber-rich flax seeds can help remove excess hormones and achieve gut balance.
Certain supplements have been associated with regaining a regular menstrual cycle, such as B vitamins, zinc, and magnesium. However, Goldstein also recommends working with your cycle when supplementing.
She suggests taking a good B-complex vitamin, fish oil, and ground flax or chia seeds in the first half of the cycle (new moon to full moon) and evening primrose and ground sesame or sunflower seeds the second half of the cycle are (full moon to new moon).
Not only is salmon a great source of healthy fats and omega-3s, but it also contains vitamin B, which helps support hormone production, liver health, and adrenal health, according to Goldstein.
“Oral contraceptives deplete B vitamins, which are incredibly important in our biochemical reactions, especially pertaining to hormone health, mood, and weight,” she notes.
6. Grass-Fed Red Meat
Red meat is a great source of iron, which can help with blood production, according to Goldstein.
Oysters are rich in zinc, which is an important mineral for balancing hormones. Experts suggest ensuring you get at least 40 mg of zinc daily.
8. Full-Fat Dairy
Studies have shown that women who eat full-fat dairy are less likely to have ovulatory disorders than those who consume low-fat or nonfat dairy. In 2007, research from the Nurses Health Study showed intake of high-fat dairy food may decrease the risk of anovulatory infertility.
Walter Willett, M.D., told Fit Pregnancy that while the reasons behind this remain unclear to the medical community, “We know that full-fat dairy foods convey the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. Skimming the fat from dairy also removes these hormones, which are attached to fat. Left behind are androgens, or male hormones. When male hormones are unchecked by female hormones, ovulation is impaired.”
Foods to Avoid
There are also a few foods to avoid if you want to get your period back, namely inflammatory foods like wheat, gluten, grains, and processed foods of any kind.
“Removing inflammatory foods to help support the body to restore its natural physiological function can be very beneficial and therefore removing gluten containing foods, grains, and sugar is enhancing that innate process,” explains Hall.
“According to Alessio Fasano, MD from Massachusetts General Hospital, arguably the foremost gastrointestinal specialist in the world, humans cannot properly digest gluten because we do not make the enzymes to break it down,” she continues. “Regardless of whether you are allergic or intolerant to foods that contain gluten, ingesting such foods releases inflammatory compounds that get released into the blood stream and stay elevated for approximately 2 hours in everybody.”
Lifestyle Changes for Overcoming Post-Pill Amenorrhea
There are a few things that you can try aside from diet modifications as well: being sure to get eight hours of sleep a night, stepping back your exercise regimen, acupuncture, yoga, and meditation can all contribute to getting your cycle back on track.
“Our body is a complex structure, so integrated care is certainly beneficial in helping get her period back,” notes Goldstein. “Physical medicine like chiropractic and massage are also wonderful healing modalities to work on structure and alignment. There’s also something innately healing about another human touch. Meditation and yoga are also great to help calm the system, which encourages the body to make reproductive hormones (instead of using resources for more cortisol, aka our stress hormone).”
Anderson also recommends aromatherapy to help overcome post-pill amenorrhea.
“Using fennel, chamomile lavender or mugwort essential oils mixed with carrier oil such as sweet almond oil with a massage is the common use,” she says.
Of course, there are occasionally more complex reasons why a woman may not be getting her period.
“The pill suppresses hormone production, so her body is getting used to making those hormones again,” says Goldstein. “If the reason for why she was put on the pill was not corrected, then she may experience the same concerns upon getting off the pill because the problem was tempo ‘solved’ temporarily. It could also mean that there was an underlying condition that was not yet addressed.”
These reasons can include stress, a thyroid condition, blood sugar issues, high prolactin, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, under- or overweight, pregnancy, premature ovarian failure, and excessive exercise. Be sure to remain in contact with your doctor or healthcare professional to ensure that you’re not overlooking a bigger issue in your quest to overcome post-pill amenorrhea.