Contraception, the pill, and weight gain

Dr Kathryn Basford

Medically reviewed by

Dr Kathryn Basford

Last reviewed: 11 Jun 2019

How different methods of contraception can affect your weight

Contents
Woman sat on the floor of a dance studio wonder if the pill is affecting her weight loss

Whether contraception makes you gain weight is a concern for many people. It’s commonly believed that some forms of contraception, particularly hormonal methods, do cause weight gain. But the truth is that it’s hard to say either way.

Each person has a different body, lifestyle, and level of health. How a type of contraception affects, you will depend on these things. As people age, they often put on more weight. So, the longer you’re using contraception, the more weight you’re likely to gain naturally.

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How contraception affects weight

No research directly links using contraception with gaining weight. It’s been found, though, that some contraception can change the way your body stores water, fat and muscle, leading to weight changes in some people.

Contraceptives that contain oestrogen can make your body turn carbohydrates from your food into fat cells more quickly, and make your body store more fat. This was more of a problem in the past when contraceptives contained more oestrogen than they do today. The amount of oestrogen in today’s contraception is unlikely to cause long-term weight gain.

Contraceptives that contain progesterone may cause your body to retain more water than usual and increase your appetite for food. These changes may lead to weight gain over time.

People who are more likely to have diabetes might notice more weight changes than others when using hormonal birth control.

Combined hormonal contraceptives

Combined hormonal contraceptives contain lab-made versions of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone.

Combined pill

Studies have shown mixed reports on the effects of different combined contraceptive pill brands on weight changes.

Some studies found that compared to people not using any contraception, there was no clear weight gain. Other studies found that some people gained about 7% of their weight after 1 year, and some actually lost weight after a year.

Contraceptive patch

The contraceptive patch contains the same hormones as the combined pill. Studies have shown that 88% of people who used it saw a slight increase in their weight on the patch, similar to those studies that reported weight gain on the contraceptive pill.

Contraceptive ring

Studies comparing the effects of the pill and the contraceptive ring on weight changes found that both birth control methods caused a similar amount of weight gain after a year.

Progesterone-only contraceptives

Progesterone-only contraception tends to cause bloating and water retention at first, but that should go away in the long term.

Mini pill

Studies on the mini pill have shown that some people experience a small gain in body fat storage, as well as a drop in the size of their muscles when using the pill long-term.

Contraceptive implant

Studies on the contraceptive implant show a similar pattern to other methods of contraception. Some people gain more weight over time compared to those using non-hormonal birth control options.

Contraceptive injection

The contraceptive injection has been shown to cause an increase in weight, especially around the tummy. Black people were also found to experience a larger weight gain than other ethnicities using the same contraceptive injection.

But other studies showed no changes in weight due to using the shot compared to using non-hormonal birth control methods. So there’s still no clear evidence linking the shot to weight gain.

The coil

Studies on weight gain when using hormonal (IUS) and copper (IUD) coils have shown mixed findings. Results show that people using both types of coil have experienced weight gain.

Some studies showed that those using the IUS gained body fat. Other studies compared weight gain in the IUS to the IUD and showed a similar rise in weight for both contraception methods.

It’s possible that hormonal IUDs with lower progesterone doses might cause fewer changes in weight, but studies are yet to confirm this.

What should I do if I think I’m gaining weight because of contraception?

If you think your contraception is making you gain weight, it’s a good idea to talk to a doctor. They should be able to help you work out the cause.

A doctor may suggest a different contraceptive and ask you to keep an eye on any further changes in your weight over time.

There are several different reasons why people gain weight. Women usually gain about half a kilogram every year as they get older. Other common reasons for weight gain are changes to your lifestyle, such as what you eat and how much you exercise.

If you want to lose weight, you can start by cutting down on food and alcoholic and sugary drinks, and becoming more active by exercising regularly.

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dr-kathryn-basford.png
Medically reviewed by:
Dr Kathryn Basford

Dr Kathryn Basford is an IMC and GMC registered GP who works with our Irish team here at ZAVA. She graduated from the University of Manchester and completed her GP training at Whipps Cross Hospital in London.

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Last reviewed: 11 Jun 2019


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