10 Common Myths About the Pill and Contraception

Not understanding how the pill works or misusing it can lead to unwanted pregnancy, irregular bleeding, and hormone imbalance. That's why it is important to learn what you can about the pill. By educating yourself, you can make better choices about contraceptives.

Since its approval on May 9, 1960, the pill has been one of the most carefully studied medications in history. Although women's knowledge has significantly improved since the pill became available, many pill myths still exist, and women wonder whether it causes adverse effects like bloating or weight gain.

Here are some common pill myths and misconceptions.


Weight Gain

Teenage girl with the Contraceptive Pill

BSIP / UIG / Getty Images

Does the birth control pill make you gain weight? It is a common question and one of the greatest myths about the pill. While some people seem to gain weight on the pill, research has shown no association between weight gain and birth control.

The estrogen in the pill can make some people feel bloated, but this effect typically goes away. The progestin found in the pill may increase your appetite, which may result in weight gain if not balanced with diet and exercise.

Also, some people may experience water retention. This effect can often be reduced by switching to a lower dose pill.

People often begin using the pill during a time of life that happens to coincide with weight changes. This may also contribute to the pill's reputation for causing weight gain.


Taking a Break

Should you take a break once in a while from the pill? There's no medical reason for a healthy person to do so.

The pill can be taken consecutively for as long as you need it. However, healthcare providers advise reviewing contraceptive needs after 15 years of using the pill, or at age 35.

The pill is one of the most effective contraceptives, so taking a break from it may increase your risk of getting pregnant if you're sexually active. In fact, it's possible to get pregnant immediately after stopping the pill.

But, when you're not trying to get pregnant, you're unaware of underlying fertility issues. Signs that point to fertility problems, like irregular periods, might only emerge when you stop taking the pill. So intermittently stopping the pill to check in with what your own hormones are doing makes sense if you are not sexually active. If you take a break, pay attention to whether you are ovulating and whether your periods are normal.


Safety and Birth Defect Risks

There are myths that the pill is not safe or that it can cause birth defects. Be assured, the birth control pill is one of the world's most researched and prescribed medications. Experts confirm that it is a safe and well-tolerated contraception method.

The pill has not been linked to any type of birth defects, even if accidentally taken during early pregnancy.

About 151 million women worldwide use the pill. For many women, their quality of life is better while taking the pill than when not.

It can minimize premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms and help regulate your menstrual cycle, so you know exactly when you will have a period (known as a "withdrawal bleed").

You can also use it to skip your period or choose an extended cycle pill designed to reduce the number of periods you have each year. These pills are completely safe as well.


Long Term Pill Use and Fertility

There is no connection between taking the pill and infertility. Fertility can return almost immediately after stopping the pill, which is why it's important not to miss one of your pills.

Some people may face a delay in becoming pregnant after stopping pill use. This is especially true for those who had irregular periods before starting it.

Some of the confusion about the pill and infertility may actually be because, often, people using the pill delay childbearing until their late 30s, a time when female fertility naturally begins to wane.


All Birth Control Pills Are the Same

Some believe that all birth control pills are basically the same. However, there are different brands and varieties of birth control pills. They can contain different levels of hormones and may also supply different doses at various times throughout each pill pack cycle.

Oral contraceptives are classified as:

Each pill brand may affect a person's body chemistry differently. They may also offer slightly different benefits and/or side effects. Discussing your concerns with your healthcare provider will help you find a pill that's best for you.


Smokers and Overweight Women

If you smoke, it's important that you are honest with your healthcare provider about it. Women who smoke have a higher risk, in general, of having a stroke.

For women who are 35 and older, the combination of using the pill along with smoking increases this risk, as well as the chance of developing blood clots. For these reasons, most healthcare providers will not prescribe combination pills for smokers over 35.

If you are overweight, you may be at a high risk of cardiovascular disease, which can also make pill unsafe.

Women who are overweight or obese may also be at greater risk for oral contraceptive failure. But the research is not clear, as noted in a 2016 review of 12 studies.


The Riskiest Time to Miss a Pill

There's a myth that the riskiest time to miss a pill is in the middle of the pack. This myth reflects the idea that a woman's most fertile time is during days eight through 19 of a typical cycle.

However, when you use the pill, you do not have a normal menstrual cycle. Since you do not ovulate, there is not a time when you are more fertile.

If you use a typical 28-day (four-week) combination birth control pill pack, you need to take seven consecutive days of active pills to prevent ovulation. No ovulation means no egg for a sperm to fertilize and no chance of becoming pregnant.

The first week (week 1) of taking pills is the most critical. It is less risky to miss pills in the middle of a pack (weeks 2 and 3). Missing pills at the end of week 4 may mean that you have not taken the pills needed to stop ovulation during the next month.

The most unsafe time to forget a pill is at the beginning of the pack or at the very end. If you forget to start your next pack on time, it extends the pill-free/placebo week past seven days.


Uses for the Pill

The uses of the pill extend beyond contraception. The pill (as well as other hormonal options like the Patch, Mirena IUD, Depo Provera, and NuvaRing) may provide health benefits in addition to preventing pregnancy. Some people use the pill solely for these non-contraceptive advantages.

For some women, the pill's health benefits include:

Additionally, for some women, pill use can provide protection against:

  • Excess facial and body hair
  • Ectopic pregnancy
  • Acne
  • Noncancerous breast growths
  • Ovarian cysts and cancer
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease
  • Osteoporosis
  • Menstrual migraines

Women Over 35 and Teens

Healthy people with normal blood pressure, no increased risk of heart attack or stroke, and who don't smoke can often use lower-dose pills until menopause. The pill may be especially beneficial for perimenopausal people in their mid-to-late 40s who are having heavy or irregular periods.

healthcare provider's prescription is the only way to get the pill. In general, a healthcare provider doesn't need a parent's permission to prescribe the pill to a teenager, though this can vary with state laws. A teen would have to show the healthcare provider that she understands the risks and benefits of this decision.

Pill use has been proven to be both safe and effective in teens, as are IUDs and implants. However, starting the pill is a big decision, so teens may first want to discuss it with a parent or trusted adult.


Cancer Risks

There's a myth that the pill causes cancer. This is not entirely true for most women. Generally speaking, using the pill does not increase your overall cancer risk.

The pill can actually have a protective effect against certain types of cancers. For people who are at average risk for cancer, the pill may reduce the risk of ovarian, endometrial, and colorectal cancers. The research remains limited for people who have a higher risk of cancer due to family history.

Some research does show slightly increased risks for cancers including breast, cervical, and liver cancers.

Breast cancer risks are dependent on many factors. Your age when you first started menstruating and your age at menopause, along with your age of first pregnancy, or not having children, can all change hormone levels and modify breast cancer risk.

Higher cervical cancer risk has been associated with long-term use of contraceptives as well. However, after stopping the pill, the risks generally decrease over time.

The effects on liver cancer risks are not as well defined. Studies looking into this association with the pill are contradictory.

A Word From Verywell

Many of the myths associated with the birth control pill do not apply to every person. Every one of us is different and only you and your healthcare provider can determine whether or not the pill (and which pill) is right for you. Be sure to ask your healthcare provider any questions you have and discuss your concerns.

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