Could Birth Control Pills Harm Your Fertility?
There is a large mental switch that often happens to women when it comes to sex resulting in pregnancy. I’m sure you are familiar with the irony:
- At first, many women do everything in their power not to get pregnant.
- Then at some point, many women do everything in their power to get pregnant.
There is a common concern that using birth control pills to help with the former may eventually prevent the latter.
Then there are the women who use oral contraception for other health reasons: period control, acne, or help with endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome. Will taking the pill to help with one problem only create a new fertility problem down the road?
Fertility is a serious matter, so understanding birth control’s role is an important and deeply impactful decision for women.
I want to help you weed through all the opinions and the “Well THIS happened to my niece Jenny…” sort of conversations. What does the science say? I’ll show you.
Before we dive in, check out this helpful 6-minute video. It visually shows you exactly what birth control pills do. When you really understand what this medication does, you can better understand its role in your fertility:
Will It Take Longer To Get Pregnant?
Let’s start by looking at the science. I have a handful of studies we will go through together.
In 2009, two researchers studied all the PubMed literature discussing links between birth control and fertility – all the back to 1960 and on through 2007. They wanted to see how much time it takes to get pregnant after contraception use.
They found these studies shared two facts in common:
- There was often a slight temporary delay of fertility in the early months after stopping the pill
- The overall ability to conceive is comparable to women who have not used oral contraceptives
Next, there was a 3-½ year international study on birth control that included more than 58,000 women. Over 2,000 women stopped taking the pill during the study with the intention of getting pregnant. Here’s what happened to them:
- After 1 cycle, the rate of pregnancy was 21.1%
- After 3 cycles, the rate of pregnancy was 45.7%
- After 13 cycles, 79.4% of participants were pregnant (Keep in mind around 85% of couples typically are pregnant within the first year of trying.
For those who did not end up becoming pregnant that first year, around 45% did the next year. For most women, though, it took only 3 cycles.
Just like the one above, the conclusion was these percentages were similar to women who hadn’t used birth control. After all, most couples do not become pregnant on the first try.
Does The Type Of Birth Control Matter?
Not everyone is taking the same type of oral contraception. Is one safer than the other when it comes to fertility?
Short answer: no.
The same two studies above – both the overview of PubMed literature and the 3 ½ year international study – came to the same conclusion: the type of birth control pill you take does not have a “major influence” on your fertility.
Is Long-Term Birth Control Use A Problem?
You may be thinking at this point – “But I’ve been on the pill A LONG TIME! Will that hurt my chances more than a woman who just started the pill a year or two ago?”
A more recent study showed both short-term and long-term users oral contraception users often experience that same short delay before getting pregnant, most of the time just a few cycles.
So the experience was nearly the same … with two exceptions:
- The ladies who had been on the pill longer were, “associated with a higher likelihood of pregnancy, compared with OC use for less than two years.” This is a big win for you if you’ve been using the pill for many years.
- The ladies who started the pill before they were 16 did have slightly decreased rates; a finding the researches admitted needed more thorough study. One possible reason was the idea that these young women started the pill early due to underlying health problems. These same problems could be making it harder to get pregnant in adulthood (like irregular periods).
So if you have been taking oral contraception for many years (unless you begin in your early teens) – you may actually be better off than a woman who has only taken birth control for a short period of time.
Which brings me to my next point….
Could Birth Control Actually Aid Fertility?
We’ve been looking at studies showing birth control does not harm fertility, but could it actually help you get pregnant?
One 2002 study came to the conclusion that even independent of other factors, the pill was connected with improved fertility.
Another study showed that for women who have taken the pill for over four or five years have shown to be more fertile than the “newbies.” Researchers speculate this may have to do with birth control’s ability to inhibit “follicle depletion over a woman’s reproductive life.”
What Do The Doubters Say?
It would be a disservice if I left out “the other side.” Why do some people tell you that birth control will harm your fertility if study after study shows that’s not true?
I turned to Natural Fertility Info, a large resource for understanding fertility from a natural perspective.
They agreed that while the pill will not cause infertility, it “impacts long-term fertility by ‘silencing a woman’s biological clock for so long that, in some cases, they forget it’s ticking away.”
Recommended Article: 6 Important Lifestyle Factors That Influence Fertility
They also see the pill as a Band-Aid of sorts that will cover up some underlying reproductive health problems, and you will not be encouraged to fix them until you are desperate for a baby. This allows the body to “defy nature.”
The Birth Control Pill And You
Obviously choosing whether or not to take the birth control pill is a huge decision that should be made right alongside your doctor. It absolutely has an affect on your body as a whole, and the pill is not without list of known negative side effects like:
- Increased weight
- Mood change
- Lowered sex drive
But if you are avoiding the pill solely for the reason you fear it will harm your chances of getting pregnant – or if you are in the midst of a difficult infertility season wondering if your pills caused your situation – know this:
Modern science does not support the idea that the pill will cause or increase your chances of infertility.
Essentially, all you are doing is stopping the addition of hormones (ones already created by your body) and allowing your system to go back to the hormone levels it has naturally.
Chances are you could have a slight delay of a few months, but keep in mind it takes most couples a few months to get pregnant anyway.