Birth Control Facts & Myths
There is a surprising amount of controversy surrounding birth control. Why is this? Birth control protects women from unwanted pregnancy, can be beneficial to health in various ways (including reducing risk of certain cancers), and are a low risk option for preventing pregnancy.
The surmounting birth control myths are a combination of bad experiences, misunderstandings, and poor reception of the body to certain types of contraception.
But it is perhaps because of these myths about birth control that make it one of the most widely studied substances. Read on to learn more about what the birth control facts are.
Myth 1: Birth control pills make you gain weight
No one wants to gain weight from a medication, especially one as important as birth control. This myth is somewhat based in truth, but it is also a result of improper parallels drawn between weight gain and taking the pill.
Some women actually do gain weight as a result of their birth control pills, but there are also women who lose weight, and many more who do not experience any change in their weight.
Often though, it is an indirect result. The progestin in certain birth control pills may result in an increase in appetite, which may cause a gain in weight if not counteracted with exercise and proper diet.
Some women may experience bloating and water-retention, which can be perceived as increased weight.
Studies have not found any direct link between weight gain and oral contraception.
It’s believed that since many women start taking birth control at a young age, they undergo natural changes in their bodies as they grow older such as gaining weight, and in search of a reason, conclude that birth control pills are to blame.
One contraceptive method that has been directly linked to weight gain is the shot, Depo-Provera.
A 2009 study confirmed that the majority of women using the shot as their method of birth control do gain weight as a direct result.
Ways to counteract this effect
If you are experiencing birth control weight gain that cannot be attributed to other life or health changes, ask your doctor about switching to a lower dose pill.
Myth 2: You should take a break from the pill
Hormones fluctuate naturally in women, and most know how it feels when those hormones are out of balance. Which is why it’s understandable to be worried that your birth control is messing with your natural balance.
The idea behind this myth is that the constant dosing of hormones has a negative effect on your body.
There is no medical reason to take a break from your birth control method, unless you are experiencing dangerous side effects, or you want to become pregnant.
Even if you are not having sex, it is perfectly safe to continue using your birth control, and it is completely unnecessary to take any breaks.
Stopping and starting again actually puts you at risk for those introductory side effects that your body may undergo as it tries to adjust to the change in hormones.
If you are using the birth control shot, it is only recommended for up to two years. After that it is recommended to review other options with your doctor.
Doctors also advise that you review your contraceptive needs after 15 years (or at the age of 35).
Myth 3: You need to take the pill at the same time every day for it to work
There is some truth to this myth, and it’s the reason for the myth’s existence to begin with.
If you take progestin-only pills (sometimes called the mini-pill), you really do need to take them at the same time every day. This is because the effects of the progestin-only pills start to wear off after 26 hours. It’s recommended that, if you’re three or more hours late, use other methods of contraception for the next couple days.
It depends on what method of birth control you use. If you take the combined pill (containing both estrogen and progestin) you have more room to breathe.
The combination pill and estrogen only pills prevent ovulation, convincing your body that you are already pregnant. They take time to build up in your system.
With combination and estrogen-only pills, it is recommended that you take up to two pills the following day if you miss it the day before. There is no need for back up unless you miss more than a day in a row.
When starting a new pack, you’ve just taken a week of inactive pills (to allow for your period). It is more important that you start your new pack on time, with the right day, taken consistently.
The rate of effectiveness may be reduced if not taken consistently, or if taken too late.
Myth 4: Some birth control methods cause you to lose your period – and that’s bad
The belief is that because you are not bleeding, that the blood and lining of your uterus is just building up inside.
Some methods do in fact eliminate or cause irregular periods, and other women purposefully eliminate their periods by skipping the placebo pills and jumping straight to the next pack.
This is completely safe. In fact, it may be beneficial to your health.
The hormones in birth control keep the lining of your uterus thin. It keeps your uterus clean and empty, meaning there’s nothing that needs to come out to begin with. Reducing the number of periods you have actually reduces your chance of endometrial cancer and ovarian cancer.
Myth 5: Birth control causes miscarriage if you actually do become pregnant while on birth control
Birth control is not 100% effective. There is always a slight chance that you can become pregnant. This chance is greatly increased if the birth control is not used as recommended.
Regardless of the chance of pregnancy, there is no evidence to suggest that there is an increased risk of miscarriage.
In fact, two-thirds of women seeking abortion services are doing so because of failed birth control.
What this indicates is that while you are at risk of pregnancy from failed or improperly/not consecutively taken birth control, there is little to no risk of miscarriage as a result of contraception.
Myth 6: The pill causes birth defects
Because of the continuous dose of hormones (and the word “hormones” is shrouded in stigma), women are worried that there will be a long-term effect.
Nearly all women taking birth control hope to conceive in the future, and fear of some residual effect for their future wanted pregnancy keeps them from seeking methods to protect them from unwanted pregnancy.
Oral contraceptives are one of the best studied medications in the U.S. as well as abroad, and yet no studies have concluded any increased risk of anomalies in children born after or during consumption of birth control pills.
This also applies to cases where birth control was accidentally taken during pregnancy, when a woman was unaware of fertilization.
Myth 7: The pill can cause cancer
There is a small amount of research that indicates a possible link between birth control and cancer, specifically breast cancer. But these risks are also dependent on many factors related to your hormones, not just your method of birth control.
Oral contraception is known to reduce the risk of uterine cancer, ovarian cancer and endometrial cancer.
Birth control pills suppress ovulation as well as the expression of estrogen. Too much estrogen can force a buildup of uterine lining, which is called endometrial hyperplasia.
There are times when a doctor will put a patient on birth control pills because the patient is believed to have too much of a buildup in their uterine lining, and the pills will help to thin it.
Myth 8: The pill can cause infertility
As mentioned earlier, the vast majority of women taking birth control hope to conceive in the future. The decision and ability to conceive a child is something that most women naturally hold dear.
The frightening reality that many women face when they cannot conceive makes this myth especially concerning.
Where it comes from is likely the continued notion that continual doses of that bad word (“hormones”) with have certain long-term effects on your body.
Sometimes, the reasons why women begin taking birth control, including irregular periods and hormonal imbalances, are the exact same symptoms of fertility issues.
Because a lot of women begin taking birth control when they are young, they often don’t know how fertile they are to begin with or if there are any other complications such as endometriosis.
A woman returns to whatever her baseline fertility was before contraception. Since oral contraceptives are absorbed into the blood, it will only take a few days for a woman’s hormones to return to what they were before she started taking them.
Myth 9: The pill is effective immediately after use
Birth control doesn’t work like a light switch. It takes time to build up in the system. Yet this myth continues to circulate, perhaps out of wishful thinking.
There are certain methods of birth control that are effective much quicker than others, but in general it will take time to build up. This is especially true for oral contraception. Truth
The first week of taking pills is the most critical, and risky.
You need to accumulate enough hormones in your bloodstream to stop ovulation during the next month.
If you miss pills near the end of your pack, don’t mistakenly believe that it is okay since you are about to have your period.
Myth 10: IUDs are only for women who have already had children
There are two main types of IUDs (intrauterine devices): copper and hormonal, and this is where the confusion comes in.
Copper IUDs are indeed recommended for women who have been pregnant before because it is a bigger device that may cause more intense cramping.
Since nobody wants more intense cramping, this fact is applied as a blanket statement, a general weariness towards the possibility of more pain.
The American Academy of Pediatrics have suggested that IUDs should be the first-line choice of contraception for many reasons.
They are one of the most effective methods of birth control available
You do not have to remember to take a pill each day, which contributes to their effectiveness
They last for 5-10 years
How they work
Copper IUDs can still be used by most women, depending on certain circumstances such as previous abortion or miscarriage.
The copper kills the sperm as part of a natural reaction. You are still ovulating, and the sperm is still getting into your uterus, but the copper ions render the sperm dysfunctional.
It is one of the most effective forms of birth control, and has the added benefit of being completely hormone-free.
Hormonal IUDs create a thick mucus in your cervix, which forms a barrier that blocks sperm. This means that the sperm is not able to get into the uterus.
The benefits of hormonal IUDs are reduced or completely diminished periods and associated cramping.
All Forms of Birth Control
Combination pills, such as Ortho-Tri Cyclen and Loestrin
Extended cycle pills, such as seasonique
Vaginal Ring, such as NuvaRing
Hormonal such as Mirena
The patch, such as Ortho Evra
Implant, such as Implanon
The Final Truth About Birth Control
Birth control is a safe and effective way to prevent unwanted pregnancy. As with all medication, there are some risks associated, but when you work with your doctor to find the right option for you, birth control side effects are minimal.
Want to learn more facts about birth control pills? Contact Eastside Gynecology today at 646-760-4651.