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Does the Pill Make You Gain Weight or Make Your Boobs Bigger?

All medications have potential side effects, and the Pill is no exception. Weight gain and breast enlargement are often reported from girls on the Pill—but does that happen to everyone and is it really caused by the Pill? We talked to a gynecologist and collegiettes across the country to separate fact from fiction so you can choose the right birth control for you.

Does the Pill make you gain weight?

Some girls report slight to moderate weight gain while they’re on the Pill—but actually, weight gain is rare. According to Dr. Anne Burke, an associate professor of gynecology at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, very few women experience significant weight gain on the Pill. “Most scientific studies indicate that the Pill does not cause weight gain.  In the few studies that have shown an effect, it's been in the range of 3-4% [percent of women who gain weight on the Pill]. I never say never: some women may gain weight on the pill, but most really do not,” she says.

“I’ve been on the Pill since high school,” says Justine, a junior at Johns Hopkins. “I never gained any weight from the Pill.” Emily, a junior at University of Virginia, also did not experience any unpleasant side effects: “I had heard a lot of rumors that starting birth control might make me gain weight, but I didn't feel any changes in my body! I actually lost weight while I was on it,” she says. According to Dr. Burke, most girls will respond to the Pill like Justine and Emily—with no significant weight gain.

Basically, the Pill contains hormones like estrogen that suppress your body’s natural cycle. “Instead of your hormones causing menstruation and ovulation, the Pill gives you steady levels of hormones all the time,” Dr. Burke says. Because the Pill’s formula is such a low dose of hormones, side effects are typically minimal and most women tolerate the Pill quite well. While there are many types of oral contraception on the market (like Seasonale, Yaz, Ortho Tri-Cyclen, to name a few) most of them have very similar doses of hormones. There’s really not a huge difference per pill.

The hormone/weight gain connection

The Pill has been around for decades now, and older versions contained very high doses of estrogen that did cause weight gain. “The doses today are lower than they’ve ever been,” Dr. Burke says, so while your mom’s pill may have made her gain weight, it’s unlikely yours will.

According to Dr. Burke, there are about 60 to 70 kinds of oral contraception on the market right now, and they’re all similar in hormone dosage. So trying a different pill may not be the key to mitigating any unwanted side effects that you may experience. This was true for Elizabeth, a sophomore at Bucknell University, who reported weight gain on the Pill. “I switched to a lower level of estrogen and it still didn't fix anything,” she says.

Why do we still hear about weight gain on the Pill?

Occasionally, girls do gain weight—but it’s rare.  “A small amount of women will tolerate them differently,” Dr. Burke says. “We don’t 100% know why. It has to do with the person. We don’t fully understand about how different individuals respond to any medication.” Regardless of what kind of medicine or drug you take, not every person is going to respond the exact same way. Depending on your genetics, general health and other factors, you may experience side effects that your friend taking the exact same pill won’t. Weight gain on the Pill might happen to you, but there’s no way of knowing until you experiment. Although weight gain is rare, it’s not impossible—which is why weight gain is listed as a potential side effect.

 

“The first month on the Pill, I gained seven or eight pounds—it was instantaneous. I also found that it gave me an increased appetite, although that faded over time,” says Megan*, a sophomore at New York University.  “Between the effects of the Pill and general weight gain (the dreaded Freshman 15!), my bra size also increased from about a 32B to a 32D/32DD.”

While Megan’s story is a severe case, it’s also rare. So if the prospect of weight gain is making you question whether or not to go on the Pill, don’t let it be the determining factor. Medical research shows women who gain weight from the Pill are definitely the minority.

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