Medically reviewed by Sophia Yen, MD, MPH – Written by Pandia Health Editorial Team. Updated on December 18, 2020

Does Birth Control Cause Weight Gain?

Millions of women in the U.S. take hormonal birth control to prevent unintended pregnancy and alleviate adverse health conditions and side effects. There are many different types of birth control, and every woman will respond differently to each one. For hormonal contraceptive methods, there are a few birth control side effectsthat women need to be aware of before starting the pill, such as water retention, bloating, and weight gain.

The good news is that the majority of people do not experience weight gain from birth control. For most people, the combined pill, patch, and ring do not cause weight gain and the hormonal IUD is unlikely to cause weight gain either. The implant and the shot may contribute to weight gain in some people, and pills with higher estrogen levels can lead to an increase in appetite which leads to gaining weight. 

What are the different types of hormonal birth control that can potentially cause weight gain?

Non-hormonal birth control methods will not affect someone’s weight. But some hormonal contraceptives can cause many different side effects.

Copper IUDs and barrier methods will not cause side effects commonly associated with more popular hormonal birth control products.

Can birth control cause weight gain?

Unfortunately, there is a slight connection between weight gain and starting hormonal birth control. Not every woman will experience this side effect, but excess weight can cause other health problems and also affect someone’s self-esteem. It’s important to be aware of the risks.

What is the primary reason birth control causes weight gain?

In most cases, birth control can promote water retention, which increases the number on the scale and also gives the appearance of excess weight. In some cases though, birth control pills can also increase appetite and cause a woman to consume excess calories, leading to weight gain. If birth control pills are causing water retention, stopping the pills will reverse this side effect and lead to weight loss.

Which types of birth control are responsible for weight gain side effects?

Birth control pills prevent ovulation and trick the body into thinking it is already pregnant. Excess estrogen in birth control pills is the primary vehicle for preventing ovulation and making the body think it has already conceived.  But estrogen causes the body to retain water which can give the illusion of weight gain.

Water retention occurs when renin-angiotensin, a compound that the kidneys create, is stimulated via excess estrogen circulating throughout the body. The higher the amount of estrogen in a birth control pill, the more water a woman will retain while taking the pill.

Most birth control pills contain between 30 and 50 micrograms of estrogen and will promote higher levels of water retention than pills with lower levels. For women who are concerned about water retention and weight gain, they can benefit from a low-dose estrogen pill, containing around 20 micrograms of estrogen.

Some birth control pills, like Yaz, contain drospirenone, a progestin component. Drospirenone acts as a diuretic, and won’t cause a woman to retain water. However, women who have a history of blood clots, high blood pressure, adrenal disease, and take NSAIDS frequently should not take Yaz.

It’s also important to note that individual differences will account for weight gain when taking birth control. Some women are more prone to water retention than others, and birth control can worsen this natural tendency. Once a woman starts her period while on birth control, however, water retention will subside.

The birth control shot is designed to last for three months. As a result, birth control shots can cause the most significant amounts of weight gain from retained water. Women who are already prone to water retention may want to steer clear of birth control shots and go with low-dose estrogen pills, or non-hormonal birth control instead.

What types of birth control stimulate appetite?

Some birth control pills can cause women to feel hungrier than usual, which can lead to excess calorie consumption and weight gain. Unlike water retention, this type of weight gain is much harder to get rid of and is more permanent. It can be incredibly hard to make smart diet choices when a person is experiencing cravings for calorie-dense foods thanks to hormones.

Certain birth control pills increase insulin levels. High levels of insulin cause any calories obtained from carbohydrates to be converted into fat cells. Women who already have abnormal glucose metabolism are at high-risk of experiencing this side effect.

The types of hormonal birth control that are the biggest culprits for appetite stimulation are, again, pills with higher levels of estrogen. Low dose estrogen pills do not cause significant increases in appetite and insulin levels. For women who do experience weight gain on the pill, the average weight gained is 4.4 pounds within 12 months on a progestin-only pill.

Also, if a woman experiences significant weight gain after taking the pill, the birth control isn’t necessarily to blame. It’s possible that another health issue is causing weight gain, and it’s crucial that women speak to their doctor if this happens. Cushing’s Syndrome, thyroid disorders, and diabetes can cause sudden, unexplained weight gain.

Can birth control help women lose weight?

Birth control pills won’t decrease appetite or improve a woman’s metabolism. However, some birth control options can prevent water retention and also act as a diuretic, which can give women who would otherwise retain water a slimmer appearance.

Best birth control pill for weight loss

The birth control pill Yasmin is the only birth control pill that has this effect. It is not marketed as a weight loss pill, and women can only expect to lose maybe a pound or two in excess water. As always, making smarter diet choices and exercising are the only ways to prevent weight gain or promote weight loss.

With period cravings, it can be easy to eat all the food in the world. Of course you can eat the chocolate, but it is all about balance. We have some great delicious snacks that can help you beat the period munchies. Pandia Health is all about helping you live your healthiest, most fulfilling life—snacks included!

How to prevent gaining weight on birth control

For women who are concerned about water retention, bloating, and weight gain while on birth control, they should try low-dose estrogen pills and steer clear of birth control shots. A woman may need to try a few different types of pills before finding one that works for her lifestyle and physiology. Some women may not like the side effects of hormonal birth control and may need to stick with barrier methods or use a non-hormonal IUD.

The Depo-Provera shot is the hormonal birth control that commonly has the side effect of weight gain. With this method, you also need to go to the doctor every few months for another shot. If you are someone who wants a more “set it and forget it” option, the implant or an IUD may be a better option for you.

If you’re curious about hormonal birth control pills that do not cause water retention, it’s important to speak to your doctor to explore your contraceptive options.

We want women to feel #PandiaEmpowered, not feeling down about themselves because of the stress the idea of weight gain can cause. Birth control is liberating, and we encourage you to own your sexual health and wellness. 

While weight gain may cause stress, the benefits of birth control are plentiful. With birth control you can make your #PeriodsOptional and you are decreasing your chances of an unexpected pregnancy if you are sexually active. Birth control should give you a peace of mind and Pandia Health is here to help with that!

Frequently Asked Questions about Weight Gain and Birth Control

Why does hormonal birth control cause weight gain?

The majority of birth control pills contain between 30 and 50 micrograms of estrogen. Consequently, that promotes higher levels of water retention than pills with lower levels of estrogen. 

Why do you gain weight on birth control?

The most common reason: water retention. That said, some birth control can increase your appetite which leads to consuming excess calories—thus causing weight gain.

How to get rid of water retention from birth control?

For women concerned with water retention from weight gain, they should try low-dose estrogen pills and steer clear of birth control shots. Everyone’s body is different, so it may take trying different types of birth control to find the best fit.

How to prevent gaining weight on birth control?

Taking a lower dose estrogen pill and eating a balanced diet can help with managing gaining weight on birth control.

How much weight can you gain on birth control?

For women who do experience weight gain on the pill, the average weight gained is 4.4 pounds within 12 months on a progestin-only pill.

Disclaimer: The above information is for general informational purposes only and is NOT a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your doctor/primary care provider before starting or changing treatment.