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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.

Comments
April 29, 2011 at 3:52 am
(1) DMN says:

I was told this at 15! I needed BC to control my cycles and this freaked me out so I stopped taking it! Yes I am infertile now, but BC did not cause it!!!

May 7, 2011 at 4:01 am
(2) grace says:

my gyneacologist says i have polycystic ovarian syndrome en has put me on birth control pills and i need to kno if this can solve the ovarian problem

April 3, 2012 at 7:15 pm
(3) Lisa says:

Except for the anti-birth control people who try to spread lies…

Biased much? The pill is handed out as the miracle pill for any number of conditions, but it does NOT cure any condition; rather it masks a condition’s symptoms. Wouldn’t it be better to research the cause of your particular condition towards truly treating and healing it?

The more women on the pill as a supposed cure-all, the more money in the pharmaceutical companies’ pockets. Not that a potential hit on profits would prevent the truth about anything coming out.

April 26, 2012 at 2:40 pm
(4) faith says:

Thank you so much Lisa! I agree with you 100 %! Its all about the mighty dollar and also, population control.

May 8, 2012 at 3:37 am
(5) mhor says:

i am 20 years old since i was 16, im taking contraceptive pills, until now., is the contraceptive pills can cause any tumors or cysts than can actually cause an infertility??..

December 17, 2012 at 12:54 am
(6) Crystal says:

I agree with Lisa…. And this whole article is
totally false and misleading to women! PERMANENT INFERTILITY is labeled as a SIDE EFFECT on most birth control pills.

February 3, 2013 at 9:37 pm
(7) Sara says:

I think Lisa-Faith-Crystal represent exactly the irrational anti-birth control types this article is meant to sanely refute. Their nonsense is a disservice to women.

I agree with the author that it would be a great public service for doctors to share pamphlets about fertility to women of all ages, to promote the lifelong attitude of understanding one’s body.

I learned about the Fertility Awareness Method (and its relatives, NFP, etc–all those things for which one tracks temperatures/cervical mucus/etc, rather than the useless assumptions about Day 14 etc) only when I started trying conceive. Our bodies are amazing! I wish I’d started tracking my cycle long ago. I’m a fan of the pill, too, having used it for some years. But FAM should be more widely known–it can be effective birth control too, for example in the few years run-up before actively trying to conceive.

February 19, 2013 at 12:42 am
(8) Valerie says:

The dishonesty of anti-contraception people never ceases to amaze me. As an adult, I understand rationally that religious people are just people, and that morality doesn’t come from religion. But I was raised as a child to think that Christians were better– “a light shining on a hill”, and somehow I still get surprised by the indifference to truth.

March 9, 2013 at 5:48 pm
(9) Just curious says:

Isn’t birth control intended to cause infertility at least temporarily? You couldn’t convince me that a person who takes hormonal birth control from the age of 16 to the age of 30 can become pregnant soon after stopping birth control. When you train your body to be infertile for long periods of time, shouldn’t you expect it to take just as long to retrain it to be fertile? I am not trying to express any religious or moral views here, but I believe that thinking critically and rationalizing every issue will bring a person to his/her own truth.

April 1, 2013 at 8:09 am
(10) 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 26, 2013 at 9:11 pm
(11) MAR says:

Birth control pills work as endocrine disruptors (other examples of endocrine disruptors are pesticides, agent Orange, steroids, plastics, many industrial wastes). As with other endocrine disruptors and carcinogens, some people will overcome their negative effect, and some(less healthy) may have complications. It is known that smoking increases the rate of complications. Living in a polluted environment, eating junk food, taking other medications will probably do the same but nobody will do honest research, because there is no money in it. Though there was a research that women previously on the Pill have higher rate of babies with Down syndrome, especially if they smoked. Decreased level of B vitamins, incl. folates, is documented; and B- vitamins are essential for brain development in babies. And don’t forget blood clots,etc

April 29, 2013 at 12:15 pm
(12) 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. :) .

August 26, 2013 at 10:59 am
(13) BC says:

Something your article does not discuss is that it is considered “normal,” when going off the pill, to go up to two years without ovulating while your body readjusts to managing the reproductive system without synthetic help. When trying to conceive, two years is not just inconvenient, it is absolutely devastating. While the pill may not cause infertility, per se, women should be much better informed of the risks of delay in ovulation.

September 5, 2013 at 7:10 pm
(14) Alma says:

There is no research cited in this article. It starts out “research has found…” What research? It seems to be all personal opinion. I was shocked today when I took my daughter to a female adolescent gyn today for heavy, painful periods and the only solution offered was getting on oral contraceptives. It is incredible that messing with a natural cycle has become so normal that it is the accepted solution to numerous problems.

October 24, 2013 at 12:36 pm
(15) Monica from Infertilidad says:

Totally agree! Every woman should realize that fertility decrease with age, and much more after 35.

February 22, 2014 at 1:42 am
(16) Is it true? says:

In an article i read that birth control pills cause ur cerviz to age & that is part of the reason why it gets harder to have kids as you get older, article said that for every yr you take the pill , your cervix ages 2 yrs!
Is it true !??

March 24, 2014 at 9:36 am
(17) Jess says:

I’ve been on BC for six years. Before going on it my periods were regular, like clock work! My problem started is that my periods stopped, completely at 5 years and 6 months.
My doctor did a bunch of tests told me to continue taking my BC. Then after six months (6 year mark) he told me to stop taking my BC. So I did. A year of no BC and I find out from my doctor that I may not get my period back due to the prolonged use of BC. He told me that it is common that BC will stop some women’s periods in definitely. I was told that since I don’t have a period, I’m not ovulating and that I am fertile, the only way I will become pregnant is to have them take my eggs and my husbands sperm and then get them injected into me.
Not something a woman wants to hear… EVER!

March 29, 2014 at 9:32 am
(18) Sarah says:

I have been absolutely disgusted by the ease BC pills are being prescribed. I didn’t have my period for 5 years after stopping BC (at 20 years old). Before it I had a ‘textbook’ period. No irregularities or PMS. Without doing any tests my doctors treated me like a silly little girl for being worried about not having my period and suggested to start taking the pill again to ‘regulate’ my cycle! I am a researcher myself and I am fully aware how from a group of 250 women only 1 or 2 might have had a problem after taking BC (concluding BC is safe). That doesn’t mean that for those 1 or 2 it is a myth that BC has had any effect. We are all very different and our bodies react differently to different foods and medicine. Unfortunately we are all being treated as ‘the average’ person.

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