Birth control can be an incredible resource for women who are not ready to start a family yet but plan to have one in the future.
However, with outdated information, muddled facts and urban legends, there is a lot of misinformation circulating on the topic of hormonal birth control. If having a family is a long term goal for you, you might be wondering how birth control affects your chances of making that a reality.
Today, Binto is addressing a popular concern about hormonal birth control: does birth control cause infertility?
The short answer is: NO.
In one of the largest meta-analyses done on the topic by NIH, the researchers examined 22 studies and almost 15,000 study participants. They found that the rate of pregnancy for women in the first 12 months after stopping their birth control was on par with that of women not using contraceptive methods.
The study said “Contraceptive use regardless of its duration and type does not have a negative effect on the ability of women to conceive following termination of use and it doesn’t significantly delay fertility.”
Birth control is associated with health benefits
Researchers have actually identified a number of health benefits that women experience through taking birth control.
One NIH study found that when used for 5 years or more, hormonal birth control can reduce a woman’s risk of ovarian cancer by 50%.
For women with polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS studies indicate that taking hormonal contraceptives can manage irregular period symptoms and help control hormone levels, as well as reduce their risk for endometrial cancer.
Hormonal birth control is also often the first remedy used for helping women with endometriosis to manage their period pain.
So, why am I having a hard time getting pregnant?
There are women who stop taking their hormonal birth control and find themselves struggling to conceive. The likely reason is not that their birth control has caused fertility issues, but that their use of birth control was masking a pre-existing fertility issue.
First, birth control use can mask the signs of natural aging. According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), a woman’s fertility naturally starts to decline at around the age of 27 with a dip around 34 and a steeper drop after 37. If you started taking birth control when you were young and have been on it for many years, the hormones in your birth control may have been masking the natural changes associated with perimenopause or premature menopause. If you are over 35, ready to stop taking your birth control and to try and get pregnant, clinicians recommend that you should see a doctor after 6 months of unsuccessful attempts to conceive. Your use of birth control is not the root of your difficulty conceiving, it just gets harder to get pregnant as women get older.
Alternatively, if you started using birth control to manage a hormonal imbalance or irregular menstrual cycle, these could be symptoms of underlying fertility issues. If you started taking birth control to manage symptoms of PCOS, it may be that you are experiencing fertility related symptoms of PCOS. For women with PCOS, the extra testosterone in your body can interfere with the development and regular release of your eggs. This can make it difficult to get pregnant because there might not be a healthy egg for sperm to fertilize. Click here to read more about PCOS and fertility.
The case is similar for women who suffer from endometriosis. The extra tissue in the ovaries and fallopian tubes that these women produce can cause inflammation and scarring, making it harder for an egg to be released and to reach sperm. Anywhere from 30-50% of women who have endometriosis suffer from infertility. For more information on how endometriosis relates to fertility, click here.
If you are using birth control and elect not to use a condom, you put yourself at risk of contracting an STD. Left untreated, sexually transmitted infections can develop into Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID). These infections spread up your genital tract and can cause permanent damage to the fallopian tubes, uterus, and surrounding tissues which can cause infertility. The CDC calls this the “silent” infection, because women may not even be aware they have one until after it has spread. Luckily, chlamydia and gonorrhea are preventable, and the CDC recommends that all women under 25, and those with new or multiple sex partners get regularly tested for STDs. If you have never been tested for an STD, it is a good idea to ask your doctor to run a test next time you go in for a check-up.
Empirical research indicates that taking birth control does not have a direct effect on your fertility.
The reason women do not become pregnant immediately after stopping birth control is usually that their body needs to return to its regular cycle so ovulation can occur on schedule. If you want to get pregnant, you should go off birth control a few months before you start trying so you can figure out your cycle and begin tracking your ovulation properly. For more information on ovulation’s relationship with fertility click here. For more on ovulation tracking, click here.
If you are having difficulty getting pregnant after stopping your birth control regimen, keep in mind that your age might be playing a role. If you started taking birth control to manage painful or unpredictable menstrual cycles, it may have been masking underlying fertility issues related to existing medical conditions. As always, it is a great idea to ask your doctor any questions you may have about your fertility journey.