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Rachel Gurevich

Myth: Birth Control Pills Cause Infertility.

By April 26, 2011

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In honor of National Infertility Awareness Week, and RESOLVE's Bust a Myth Challenge, I'll be busting some infertility myths this week.

Today's myth: Birth control pills cause infertility.

And I obviously don't mean it keeps you from getting pregnant while you're taking it - I mean it leads to infertility after you stop taking it.

What's Wrong with This Myth

Research on birth control pills have found them to not have a long term effect on your fertility. In fact, as soon as you stop taking them, you're possibly fertile, even before you get your first period.

Birth control pills are even used as part of fertility treatment. During IVF, birth control pills may be used to help regulate and time the treatment cycles, especially in the case of donor eggs but also non-donor cycles.

Also, for women dealing with clomid resistance, birth control pills taken for one cycle before treatment have been found to boost success.

What's (Possibly) Behind It

They say that behind every myth there is a grain of truth. Where does this idea come from that birth control causes infertility? (And I mean besides the anti-birth control people who try to spread lies to scare people away, for whatever reason.)

Many women begin taking birth control pills at an early age, whether that is as early as high school or later in college. Because birth control pills regulate your cycle, determining the day you start your period each month, you will have regular periods as long as you are taking them.

Now let's say you stop taking them, and your cycles are irregular, or worse, completely absent. You may assume the birth control pills are at fault. In actuality, your cycles may have been irregular even before you started the pills. But being so long ago, and way before you started thinking about trying to get pregnant, you may not have noticed or remembered. (Plus, when your cycles just start, slightly irregular periods are normal.)

Another possibility is that your cycles are irregular due to the natural aging process. But because the pills were regulating your cycle before you stopped taking them, you didn't experience any cycle changes yet.

What the Facts Are

Birth control pills are not to blame for infertility. Birth control pills can mask symptoms of infertility, however, and so if you stop taking them and have irregular cycles for a few months, speak to your doctor.

A Controversial Side to the Birth Control Myth

There's another side to the birth control myth, and that is that the ease of birth control pills are to blame for women experiencing age related infertility. Some say that birth control pills gave women the false sense that medicine can control the body so well, that getting pregnant after 35 or 40 shouldn't be a problem.

Others say that birth control pills are so easy to use that they make it easy for women to "forget" about reproduction, leading them to wait too long before having a baby.

In my opinion, both of these ideas are ridiculous.

Birth control pills are no more to blame for over-confidence in the power of medicine than antibiotics, over-the-counter pain killers, or any other drug or medication. We as a society are guilty of imagining that any illness has a cure, as long as you find the right doctor. This is not true, sadly.

The fertility challenged are not the only ones around who face this sad reality, and birth control users are not the only ones who are shocked to discover that medicine doesn't always have a simple answer.

As for saying that birth control pills make it easy to forget about reproduction, that is also just ridiculous. I imagine a man must have come up with that myth, since a woman knows that you (typically) get your period even on birth control pills. That's a monthly reminder of fertility, even if it's a non-fertile cycle due to the hormone control. Not to mention the fact that you have to take a pill each day, another constant reminder of your fertility.

Plus, saying birth control pills make women forget about having babies denies the very real societal pressures to build a family and the psychological and human desire to have children. The pills stop ovulation - not your desire to one day have kids.

If you want to blame someone or something for age related infertility, blame the doctors who prescribe birth control pills without mentioning on a somewhat regular basis to their patients that fertility declines with age.

Doctors are so afraid to offend that they remain silent. This is a mistake. You don't have to be rude about it. (In other words, don't say, "You're getting old, you know. You might want to have some kids!") But perhaps offering a pamphlet that talks about age and fertility to women on a yearly basis, just as a basic education, might be a good idea.

Not to pressure anyone, not to imply that all women have to have kids by a certain age, or at all. But only so that women can make informed choices. Few women are taught that fertility starts a gradual decline at age 27 and a more rapid decline at 35. Doctors should be talking to women about this each year at the annual exam, whether they are taking birth control pills or not.

More on age, fertility, and infertility myths:

This is part of the About.com Health Channel blog carnival on contraception, hosted by About.com Guide Dawn Stacey.

April 1, 2013 at 8:09 am
(1) Molly says:

I guess I’m an “anti-contraception person.” I just don’t believe that it’s healthy for an woman to take artificial birth control from age 15 to age 30 when a woman decides she actually wants to conceive. Have you ever heard of the side affects of these drugs? It’s not just a little headache, it’s serious stuff like stroke, heart attack! I’ve seen so many “bad drug” commercials referring to birth control, yaz and mirena to name a few. Haven’t you ever noticed how many women around you are unable to have children or they say they “don’t ovulate.” All of the women I know personally who have these problems were on birth control for like 15 years! Of course no one will tell you the truth about birth control because it’s such a big money maker! And of course the majority of people are going to disagree with you if you’re aganist it because they are on it and it’s letting them have all the irresponsible sex they want without having to pay the consequences! Let’s face it how right is it to take you’re young teenage daughter and put her on birth control instead of teaching her abstinance? It’s like saying ok now it’s safe for you to go out and have all the sex you want! It’s just wrong! Oh and the article says about it regulating your period, but I’ve heard some women talk about how their birth control causes them to never have a period, now that can’t be good!

April 29, 2013 at 12:15 pm
(2) MysteryLady says:

I have used the daily pills since 22 and I have no single side effects like gain weight or headache or nausea that people often talk about. It depends on each body so before using you should check with your gyno first and have some blood test to see whether you have any syndrome that cannot use the pills then you will be fine. I have stopped using the pills recently and my natural period comes monthly again,very normal. I agree that it is about old age that the infertility comes. I leant about it in my biology class long ago that women more than 30 years old are lessen to be fertilized, maybe you guys just forget. It is not the pills that cause the problem, just the one who uses it does not use it rightly or understand it rightly. Thanks the writer for a good article. Relax everyone. :) .

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