Does the long-term use of contraceptives diminish your fertility? Can you expect to conceive after years of birth control use? If yes, how long will you have to wait? You are not alone if these questions often cross your mind.
Infertility is a serious health issue that prevents a couple from enjoying the pleasure of parenthood. According to the Mayo Clinic, USA, about 40% to 50% of cases of infertility are due to reproductive issues in the female system.With more women entering stressful workplaces, delayed motherhood and processed fast food diets, it is cause for concern as studies reflect rising rates of infertility. Taking this into consideration, it won’t take a great mind to understand the gravity of the matter.
According to the National Health Statistics Reports 2012, 60% of the women of childbearing age are currently using at least one form of birth control measure. Notably, most women prefer contraceptive pills, followed by female sterilization, which is an irreversible method, and the intrauterine device.
So, which contraceptive are you using? Are you worried about its effect on your reproductive health? You share similar concern to many women around the world. To find the most accurate and evidence-based answers, we have conducted deep research to understand the impact of birth control on reproductive health.
An Overview of Artificial Contraception
There are times when you are not prepared to conceive or want to delay the pregnancy. This is when artificial birth control provide the much-needed support. Generally birth control have proven to be very effective at preventing unwanted pregnancy.
The good news is that there are wide range of birth control options so you are able to choose a product that suits your need and lifestyle. Some of the options include: intrauterine device (Mirena, ParaGard, Skyla), contraceptive implant (Nexplanon, Implanon), and contraceptive injection (Depo-Provera).
Remember all these methods allow you to become pregnant when you stop using them. This is in contrast to sterilization in which a reversal is very less likely.
How Does Hormonal Birth Control Work?
In simple terms, birth control prevents conception by altering the levels of key female hormones, estrogen and progesterone. Considering this, your concerns about the future pregnancy is very warranted. Now let’s dive deeper into how birth control works, that way, you will have a clearer idea of exactly what happens when you take those pills.
All the birth control measures that use a progestin or a combination of hormones work by the following ways.
- They block the ovulation process by suppressing the release of follicle stimulating hormone, FSH and luteinizing hormone, LH. Ovulation is a process in which an egg (also called ovum) releases from the ovaries. In the case with no sex or one with protection, the eggs move out of the body with the menstrual blood. But if you have an unprotected sex, the released egg can be fertilized by the sperm.
- They thicken the cervical mucus. This is the fluid that covers the opening of the uterus which is called cervix. Thus, it reduces the chances that the sperm will enter the uterus and fertilize the egg.
- They reduce endometrial growth. The endometrium is the thin inner lining of the uterus. When a female body prepares for a pregnancy, the endometrium becomes thick and gets more blood supply. When you take a birth control pill, the estrogen present in it will thin the endometrial lining. As a result, the fertilized egg cannot attach to the uterus.
Long-term Birth Control Use and Infertility: Could There Be A Link?
The questions about the fertility issues, in most cases, arise from the fact that birth control generally works by altering the normal hormone levels. As you can see in the section above, they affect every process from ovulation to implantation of the fertilized egg.
As a matter of fact, not many scientific studies have attempted to explore the long-term health effects of birth control use. Nonetheless, there are reports of fertility problems in the women who took the pills for a long duration. Overall there are mixed reports about the impact of birth control on fertility. Generally many health providers tout birth control pills as safe and can even enhance fertility in certain groups of women. On the flip side there are studies showing that birth control could negatively impact fertility by causing premature aging of the cervix which is a cause of concern as many women today are choosing to delay pregnancy. The fact remains, more study and research is needed to understanding the long term implications of birth control on fertility.
As a user it boils down to personal choice and needs. It helps to know both the beneficial and potentially harmful effects of the birth control. By doing so, you will be able to take an appropriate decision about your sexual health specifically the ability to conceive when you stop taking the pills.
Know The Impact of Birth Control Use
- The use of oral contraceptive pills can delay the return to fertility. Interestingly, the delay is possible with both the short-term and long-term birth control use. However, in most cases, it is transient and won’t cause any harmful effects to your ability to become pregnant again. Nonetheless, it can affect the prediction of menopause.
- Within six months a year of stopping the use, you should be able to conceive again. In fact, if you have used the pills for more than five years, you might be more successful in conceiving compared to those who never took the pills or used them for less than five years. In essence, the long-term birth control use facilitates conception.
- Some studies suggest using birth control pills after the age 21 years may be more beneficial when it comes to getting an enhanced fertility.
- In addition to contraception, your doctor may prescribe the pills to treat menstrual pain, irregular menses, PCOS, and heavy bleeding during a period.
What Research Tells Us About Long Term Birth Control and Fertility.
Needless to say, the hormonal birth control measures are one of the most effective tools to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. As per the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, these are totally safe and pose no threat to your fertility. The fertility returns to normal when you discontinue the use.
Remember this is what the studies conducted till date suggest. But the full picture is yet to show up.
According to one study, older women (30 to 35 years) who had not experienced pregnancy earlier found it very hard to conceive even after stopping the birth control use. Moreover, taking the pills for more than five years can delay pregnancy by more than a year. Notably, this can be frustrating if you are older than 30.
There is yet another reason why you should be extra cautious while taking the pills. They can cause a deficiency of many essential nutrients. For example, magnesium, vitamins B1, B2, B6, vitamin E, folic acid, and zinc. As a matter of fact, all these nutrients are key to maintaining a healthy fertility.
Do not Forget The Reproductive Side Effects Of Birth Control Pills
Though the long-term birth control use has not shown to cause any permanent fertility problems, it is not entirely free from other side effects. Some common reproductive side effects include:
- Bleeding between the periods. This is the most common side effect and affects almost 50% of the users. Luckily, the problem is transient and usually goes away on its own after a few months. However, if heavy bleeding occurs for 3 or more days while taking the pill, consult your doctor.
- Interrupted menstruation. This is another common problem with the birth control use. Missed periods do not necessarily indicate an unwanted pregnancy. Nonetheless, you may consider taking a pregnancy test if this concerns you. Also, make sure to consult your doctor if the problem repeats on many occasions.
- Decreased sex drive. The hormones present in the pills may cut down your libido. However, in a few cases, the effect might be just opposite. This is not a very serious issue and tends to subside after a few weeks of use.
- Abnormal vaginal discharge. There may be some changes in the amount, consistency, and color of the vaginal discharge. Typically, it does not indicate any serious problem. Only in a few cases, it could be indicative of an infection. In such case, talk to your doctor.
- Sore or enlarged breast. Using birth control may lead to enlarged breasts or increased breast sensitivity. Essentially, you should be free from these unwanted effects after a few weeks of use. However, if the pain or tenderness becomes severe or worsens, consider talking to your doctor. Also, the presence of a breast lump should also warrant an immediate medical attention.
Making the Decision to Use Birth Control
The decision to take the pills is yours. Of course, they offer a myriad of benefits. However it is good to understand the full picture. You would not want to end up being another addition to the group of people who have a significant delay in getting pregnant without being fully aware. Instead, you may go for another option that suits your health and lifestyle. Consult your doctor about the options you have.
Balancing Hormones and Boosting Fertility After Being On the Pill Long Term
Many women who decide to come off the pill may notice a disruption in their cycle which can last for months to years as the body adjusts to changes. I was one of those women. After 5 years off the pill I noticed I would sometimes go 2-3 months with no period. In some cases this can be attributed to other factors including hormonal disorders such as PCOS.
To balance hormones and help the body get back on track a combination of food and herbal remedies may be beneficial. The article Best Foods for Fertility outlines essential vitamins and minerals to supporting a healthy fertility. We also focus on eating for metabolic conditions in the article How to Eat for PCOS.
Herbal remedies such as vitex may be especially beneficial to women looking to regulate their cycles. In our Asana by LadiesBalance capsules, we combine vitex, maca, shatavari, green tea and ginger to create a potent blend that supports a healthy cycle.
The Bottom Line About Birth Control Use and Fertility
All things considered, you may use the contraceptive measures but do not forget to follow your doctor’s instructions on the use. If taking the pill it is important to take the pill as instructed to further avoid creating any imbalances in the system. Proper nutrition and healthy lifestyle habits are even more important to support the body in some of the necessary vitamins and minerals that may be diminished with birth control use.
If you want to become pregnant, plan ahead. You may want to discontinue the birth control and wait for about six months before you can conceive. Talk to your doctor if you cannot get pregnant a year after the discontinuation. This might be due to some other problems that cause infertility.
What are your thoughts? Do you think long term birth control use affects fertility? And how were you able to balance hormones after getting off the pill? Please share in the comment box below
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- Baird, David T., et al. “Hormonal Contraception.” The New England Journal of Medicine 1993; 328:1543-1549.
- United States. US Department of Health and Human Services | National Institutes of Health. Contraception and Birth Control.
- Chasan-Taber, L., et al. “Oral contraceptives and ovulatory causes of delayed fertility.” American Journal of Epidemiology 1997 Aug 1;146(3):258-65.
- United States. National Institutes of Health. ClinicalTrials.gov. Regulation of Cervical Mucus Secretion.
- Mikkelsen, Ellen M., et al. “Pre-gravid oral contraceptive use and time to pregnancy: a Danish prospective cohort study.” Human Reproduction (2013) 28 (5): 1398-1405.