Do birth control pills make you gain weight?

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Many women who are exploring their options for birth control consider taking birth control pills (also called oral contraception). They are, after all, one of the most commonly used forms of contraception in many developed countries and – when taken correctly and consistently – are about 97% to 99% effective at preventing pregnancy… though they don’t offer any protection against sexually transmissible infections (STI).  However, many women have heard that birth control pills cause women to gain weight – and that concern may keep them from taking birth control pills which are otherwise highly effective at reducing risk of pregnancy.

Considering that these fears of gaining weight are keeping some women from using such effective forms of birth control (and let’s face it – pregnancy weight gain is itself quite high!), it’s worth asking: Do birth control pills actually cause women to gain weight?

The research, it turns out, says that they don’t. Several studies have looked at the issue – since not only women have this perception but some healthcare providers do, too. Some studies have followed pill takers for 6 months and others have studied such women over the course of a year after they begin taking birth control pills. And though some women who take the pill do gain weight, so do some women who don’t take the pill. After all, many young women and men gain weight. It’s just what often happens to people as they grow up and either go to college (hello, Freshman 15!) or take jobs that result in them sitting more than being active.

It’s worth noting that in addition to birth control pills, NuvaRing (the birth control ring) has also been studied in terms of its potential to cause weight gain. Like the pill, the vaginal ring was found “not guilty” of weight gain.

To learn more about which type of birth control might be the best birth control for you, please speak with your healthcare provider about your options. Generally speaking, the best form of birth control will be a birth control method that works well and that you will use correctly and consistently, so it’s important to take things into account such as:

- Can I afford this type of birth control?
- Do I understand how to use it correctly?
- Am I confident that I can use it correctly and consistently?
- Will I feel comfortable using it?
- How effective is it at preventing pregnancy?

To read more about birth control pills, Nuva Ring and weight issues, read this article.

For more MSP articles about birth control, click here.

About Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick is a sex researcher at Indiana University, sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, columnist, and author of five books about sex and love. Learn more about her work at www.sexualhealth.indiana.edu.

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  • Ashley

    please let me know what kind of birth control makes you gain weight, im a very thin person and would love to know. thanks.

  • Ashley

    please let me know what kind of birth control makes you gain weight, im a very thin person and would love to know. thanks.

  • Debby

    Depo Provera (also sometimes called the birth control shot) is more often associated with weight gain, but it’s not a guarantee. Some women don’t find it easy to gain weight. If you’d like to gain a little weight, my recommendation is to speak with your healthcare provider and/or a registered dieticians about healthy strategies to gain weight. One reason meeting with a healthcare provider is important is because there are some medical conditions (such as hyperthyroidism) that make it very difficult to gain weight and it’s important to rule those out.

  • Debby

    Depo Provera (also sometimes called the birth control shot) is more often associated with weight gain, but it’s not a guarantee. Some women don’t find it easy to gain weight. If you’d like to gain a little weight, my recommendation is to speak with your healthcare provider and/or a registered dieticians about healthy strategies to gain weight. One reason meeting with a healthcare provider is important is because there are some medical conditions (such as hyperthyroidism) that make it very difficult to gain weight and it’s important to rule those out.

  • Candice

    I am on Depo Provera and I honestly gained twenty-eight to thirty pounds within the span of three months taking the shot. I was informed by my physician that I would only gain around fifteen pounds at the most. I myself was also very thin, I maintained an average weight of 110 – 115lbs up until I was twenty-two, just before I began the shot. I am now twenty-seven and clinically overweight by those same thirty pounds. I still maintain my active lifestyle, I have never been a fast food/junk food addict, and I eat healthy food regularly as well as ingest quite a bit of water.

    I hate to give such a dark review of Depo Provera, but it has basically ruined my self-esteem because I am unable to shed these pounds. Which of course has led to depression and the use of any alternative birth control for fear of another onset of weight gain.

    I know there are alleged facts claiming that birth control is not a contributing factor of weight gain in young women, but, from my own experience that claim is false. I have never had such a substantial gain in weight than I did with using Depo Provera.

    I hope my review offered some insight into this method.

    Thanks,
    Candice

  • Candice

    I am on Depo Provera and I honestly gained twenty-eight to thirty pounds within the span of three months taking the shot. I was informed by my physician that I would only gain around fifteen pounds at the most. I myself was also very thin, I maintained an average weight of 110 – 115lbs up until I was twenty-two, just before I began the shot. I am now twenty-seven and clinically overweight by those same thirty pounds. I still maintain my active lifestyle, I have never been a fast food/junk food addict, and I eat healthy food regularly as well as ingest quite a bit of water.

    I hate to give such a dark review of Depo Provera, but it has basically ruined my self-esteem because I am unable to shed these pounds. Which of course has led to depression and the use of any alternative birth control for fear of another onset of weight gain.

    I know there are alleged facts claiming that birth control is not a contributing factor of weight gain in young women, but, from my own experience that claim is false. I have never had such a substantial gain in weight than I did with using Depo Provera.

    I hope my review offered some insight into this method.

    Thanks,
    Candice

  • Debby

    Depo is a whole different issue and very different than the birth control pill in terms of side effects (including weight gain, which happens to some but not most Depo users) and the types of hormones used. I agree that healthcare providers and their patients should have more informative conversations about birth control before a method is chosen – especially for longer term methods like Depo.

  • Debby

    Depo is a whole different issue and very different than the birth control pill in terms of side effects (including weight gain, which happens to some but not most Depo users) and the types of hormones used. I agree that healthcare providers and their patients should have more informative conversations about birth control before a method is chosen – especially for longer term methods like Depo.

  • Stephanie

    i was on the pill for a year and never gained weight.I was off of it for a month because i couldnt afford it but now im going to buy it again. do you think from making a month break it could cause me to gain weight or have bad side effects?

  • Stephanie

    i was on the pill for a year and never gained weight.I was off of it for a month because i couldnt afford it but now im going to buy it again. do you think from making a month break it could cause me to gain weight or have bad side effects?

  • Anonymous

    I completely agree with Candice, “I know there are alleged facts claiming that birth control is not a contributing factor of weight gain in young women, but, from my own experience that claim is false.” Absolutely. I have been on BCP for approximately 10 years. My first few years were fine – typical “water weight” gain of ~5 lbs, which I was fine with. However, because my insurance “did not cover” the one I was on, I had to switch to Loestrin, during which I gained another 5 lbs or so over a couple years. Again, I was ok with this. Did not even realize it was from the pill. Then, again due to insurance, I had to switch to Microgestin. I have gained about another 20 lbs, have migraines, and am tired much of the time. Mind you, I have talked to my Drs about these symptoms, had blood work done, and no suggestions, not once, that it may be do to the Pill. I am an extremely active person, am great with food choices, and know that weight gain is based on calories in vs. out. So explain to me how I can reduce my diet to less than 1200 cals per day (noted in book ALL intake thank you), increase my exercise to running and walking 10 miles/day for 5 days a week PLUS weights 3 days a week, and only lose weight during my periods. During my non-period weeks, I either gain (yes gain with less than 1200 cals) or maintain. Oh, then another period week and I lose again. Please, explain to me how this is NOT related to the Pill. I would love to hear the experimental data. Oh, by the way, I am a scientist, so I understand the validity of data. So, please, explain away.

    Yes, I am venting, because I am tired of reading stupid sites like this that simply state stupid statements like, “The research, it turns out, says that they don’t” without a single reference, explanation, or any further information at all. Also, does it not occur to a single site that corporations OF COURSE do not want women to believe that weight gain, or even better, lack of ability to lose weight, can be symptoms. Um, this is from the same companies that like to state, “Break through bleeding or spotting may occur, but is minimal and not a problem.” Ok…..only men and corporations can make a statement like this. Seriously. Give me a $&Z$*ing break. Please.

  • Anonymous

    I completely agree with Candice, “I know there are alleged facts claiming that birth control is not a contributing factor of weight gain in young women, but, from my own experience that claim is false.” Absolutely. I have been on BCP for approximately 10 years. My first few years were fine – typical “water weight” gain of ~5 lbs, which I was fine with. However, because my insurance “did not cover” the one I was on, I had to switch to Loestrin, during which I gained another 5 lbs or so over a couple years. Again, I was ok with this. Did not even realize it was from the pill. Then, again due to insurance, I had to switch to Microgestin. I have gained about another 20 lbs, have migraines, and am tired much of the time. Mind you, I have talked to my Drs about these symptoms, had blood work done, and no suggestions, not once, that it may be do to the Pill. I am an extremely active person, am great with food choices, and know that weight gain is based on calories in vs. out. So explain to me how I can reduce my diet to less than 1200 cals per day (noted in book ALL intake thank you), increase my exercise to running and walking 10 miles/day for 5 days a week PLUS weights 3 days a week, and only lose weight during my periods. During my non-period weeks, I either gain (yes gain with less than 1200 cals) or maintain. Oh, then another period week and I lose again. Please, explain to me how this is NOT related to the Pill. I would love to hear the experimental data. Oh, by the way, I am a scientist, so I understand the validity of data. So, please, explain away.

    Yes, I am venting, because I am tired of reading stupid sites like this that simply state stupid statements like, “The research, it turns out, says that they don’t” without a single reference, explanation, or any further information at all. Also, does it not occur to a single site that corporations OF COURSE do not want women to believe that weight gain, or even better, lack of ability to lose weight, can be symptoms. Um, this is from the same companies that like to state, “Break through bleeding or spotting may occur, but is minimal and not a problem.” Ok…..only men and corporations can make a statement like this. Seriously. Give me a $&Z$*ing break. Please.

  • Debby

    Yours sounds like a very frustrating situation and I’m sorry to hear about your challenges getting help. As a scientist yourself, you may find it useful to begin with this article, which reviews some of the past research related to oral contraceptive pills and weight gain as well as presents a new study of various hormonal methods including NuvaRing and did not find a significant weight gain effect: http://humrep.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/21/9/2304

    I would also highly recommend seeing either a registered dietician (not a “nutritionist”) and/or an endocrinologist as a next step. You may know that when people are on very low calorie diets (which less than 1200 calories qualifies as) they actually have a very difficult time losing weight as the metabolism slows down to preserve health, fat and survival. You likely are also aware of the issues related to hypothyroidism, which is not always readily diagnosed among women, but that is quite common and may possibly have been overlooked, as may other hormonal issues. Just as idea. I am not a medical doctor and do not know you, but I hope that these ideas and resources may be helpful in some way.

    Thanks for taking the time to read and to write.

    Best wishes.

    Debby

  • Debby

    Yours sounds like a very frustrating situation and I’m sorry to hear about your challenges getting help. As a scientist yourself, you may find it useful to begin with this article, which reviews some of the past research related to oral contraceptive pills and weight gain as well as presents a new study of various hormonal methods including NuvaRing and did not find a significant weight gain effect: http://humrep.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/21/9/2304

    I would also highly recommend seeing either a registered dietician (not a “nutritionist”) and/or an endocrinologist as a next step. You may know that when people are on very low calorie diets (which less than 1200 calories qualifies as) they actually have a very difficult time losing weight as the metabolism slows down to preserve health, fat and survival. You likely are also aware of the issues related to hypothyroidism, which is not always readily diagnosed among women, but that is quite common and may possibly have been overlooked, as may other hormonal issues. Just as idea. I am not a medical doctor and do not know you, but I hope that these ideas and resources may be helpful in some way.

    Thanks for taking the time to read and to write.

    Best wishes.

    Debby

  • Morgan

    Yeah, I take ortho-tricyclin. I took another before this and it made me gain around 20 lbs! I gained that much, but never any more, It also caused me to have some issues with depression. So, I switched. Im still gaining no more weight, and no depression. But, I can’t seem to lose what I gained!

  • Morgan

    Yeah, I take ortho-tricyclin. I took another before this and it made me gain around 20 lbs! I gained that much, but never any more, It also caused me to have some issues with depression. So, I switched. Im still gaining no more weight, and no depression. But, I can’t seem to lose what I gained!

  • lulu

    I’m taking the shots now and I love the way its making me gain weight. I was very small at one point and now the depo shot has made me gain weight in all the right places. I’m sorry but I’m going to disagree with some of you. I love it!

  • Valencia

    I got my birth control shot in November on the 4th. The reason why I got the shot was to gain waeight. I would like to know how long does it take for to see improvement of gaining.I weigh about 120 but I just want to gain a few more pounds. I started feeling the adacity of eating alot but then I stop. I try to eat but then I just cant anymore. I get my next shot in january. I just want to know how long does it take for you see the improvement of a little gaining of weight on you?

  • Valencia

    I got my birth control shot in November on the 4th. The reason why I got the shot was to gain waeight. I would like to know how long does it take for to see improvement of gaining.I weigh about 120 but I just want to gain a few more pounds. I started feeling the adacity of eating alot but then I stop. I try to eat but then I just cant anymore. I get my next shot in january. I just want to know how long does it take for you see the improvement of a little gaining of weight on you?

  • Shay

    I've taken orthotricylcen-lo, orthotricyclen, and trilevlin and haven't experienced any noteworthy weight gain. I weighed about 118-119 when I was 18 (a year or so into taking the pill). At 20, I weighed around 125-127. I think this weight gain is attributed to all of the weight lifting I was doing, however I was not lean. I was had muscle, but I looked soft. At 22, I weigh 123 and I run ALL THE TIME (high intensity running, at that). With the amount of running that I do (i.e. 8:30 minute miles for 7 miles), I would expect to weigh less. Either my body's set point is hard to shift, I've come into my “woman body”, or the pill is keeping me from losing a few pounds.
    At any rate I'm getting off the pill because it has completely destroyed my libido.

  • Mrs.Sick of Birth Control

    I was on bcp for 10 years. I was able to lose weight if I worked my bum off, but with each time that I switched, I gained more and more. I finally switched to nuvaring, and I gained weight faster and this weight I could not shed no matter what I did. I just got off bc b/c im sick of the side effects. I’ve lost 7.5 pounds in a week by eating 1200 calories a day. Being off bc is amazing. Im more level headed, less moody, but I do get headaches everdyay as my body is struggling to learn how to rely on its own natural hormones