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Birth Control Might Be Affecting Your Fitness Journey – Here’s How.

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at FIT chapter.

Birth control shouldn’t be a major chore in your already busy life, nor should it detract from your mood or your goals.

Many times, I’ve heard my friends exclaim “I forgot to take my birth control today,” or “I’ve gained so much weight since I’ve started the pill.” And while oral contraceptives might be the right choice for some, I have found that the drawbacks are greater than the positives, especially if you prioritize fitness in your lifestyle.

Below, I’ll explain my experience with contraceptives and the science-backed facts that led me to choose my favorite.

My first experience with birth control was when I went on the pill at age 17, while staying at my aunt’s house over winter break. I had decided to try the pill in order to better regulate my periods, protect from future pregnancy, and to get comfortable with a new routine, prior to being away at school.

The only memory I have from those few weeks are tears. So many tears. I was sobbing daily and feeling completely hopeless, with no energy to do anything productive. It didn’t take long to realize this option was not the one for me, especially given my tendency to experience mood swings and the bothersome daily task of taking a pill at the exact same time every day.

After doing some research, I stumbled upon the Copper IUD (ParaGard); a non-hormonal intrauterine device that protects from pregnancy for up to 10-12 years. While I was hesitant to undergo the apparently painful insertion, I figured that the temporary discomfort would be a small price to pay for the little upkeep and long lasting results. I scheduled an appointment at Planned Parenthood for the following week.

Yes, the procedure was uncomfortable, but don’t let that deter you.

I would compare the feeling to painful guitar stings being plucked inside of your uterus, but the real discomfort came after. The next 2-3 days were spent with the most painful cramps I have experienced and heavy bleeding. I began to second-guess my decision, but with Advil and rest, I came out the other side. Only spotting remained for the next few weeks.

That was around 3 years ago, and since then, I have been very satisfied with my Copper IUD. The pregnancy protection rate is 99%: 8% higher than oral contraceptives average rate of 91% (NHS). The lack of hormones has kept my mood consistent, as well as my body. My periods were a bit heavier for the first 6 months or so, as is a common experience of women with this form of birth control, but this was not a large issue for me, personally. Other than occasionally checking the strings to make sure the placement is still correct, my IUD needs zero upkeep and I wholeheartedly recommend it. In fact, I especially recommend it to women in fitness.

Oral contraceptives have been proven to impair muscle growth in young women. According to various studies, women taking oral hormonal birth control gained 60% less muscle mass than those who were not taking these contraceptives (Science Daily). This is a pretty major statistic for athletes and those with a fitness-based lifestyle. If muscle gain and physical strength are non-negotiables for you, you may want to reconsider the form of birth control you’re taking.

For some who go on the pill for other reasons than just protection against pregnancy (ex: skin concerns, desiring a lighter period, more regulated flow), hormonal birth control might be the best option, regardless of the impact on your muscle gain. But for those simply in search of a protective measure with little upkeep, the ParaGard is the way to go.

Sullivan is a junior at FIT completing her bachelor’s in International Trade and Marketing. She is a certified personal trainer, and is passionate about everything health & fitness. When she’s not working out, her favorite hobbies are trying out new coffee shops or writing poetry!