Side effects are a primary reason why women stop using contraception, even though they may still want to avoid a pregnancy. The Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), the largest source of nationally representative data on contraceptive discontinuation, only asks women who discontinued a method their reasons for discontinuation, for which side effects is an option. Yet, side effects are also experienced by continued users. Using longitudinal data collected from a cohort of contraceptive users in Odisha and Haryana, India, this study explores the effect of side effect severity and frequency on six‐month discontinuation. Among women who experienced side effects of their enrollment method, 49.7 percent continued to use it by the six‐month interview. Women who experienced moderate/severe side effects infrequently were 67 percent (adjusted odds ratio [AOR]: 0.33; 95 percent confidence interval [CI]: 0.16–0.64) less likely to discontinue the enrollment method compared to women who experienced moderate/severe side effects always. Women who experienced mild side effects were even less likely to discontinue (AOR: 0.15; 95 percent CI: 0.06–0.37). Study results suggest side effect severity and frequency are more important factors than simply the experience of a side effect in understanding contraceptive discontinuation. DHS and other national surveys should expand their exploration of side effects to include questions asked of current users.
Published in a peer-reviewed journal of the Population Council.