10 Common Myths About the Pill and Contraception

There Are Many Misconceptions About the Birth Control Pill

Since its approval on May 9, 1960, the pill has become one of the most carefully studied medications in history. Although women's knowledge has significantly improved since the introduction of the pill, many pill myths still exist.

Not understanding how the pill works and misusing it can lead to unwanted pregnancy. That is why it is important to learn what you can and ask questions of your doctor. By educating yourself, you can make a better choice about contraceptives. Here are some of the common pill myths and misconceptions.

1

The Pill Makes You Gain Weight

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 women 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 women feel bloated, but this typically goes away. The progestin found in the pill may increase your appetite, which may result in weight gain if not counteracted with diet and exercise. Also, some women may experience water retention. This effect can often be reduced by switching to a lower dose pill. 

Additionally, women 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 unfair reputation for causing weight gain.

2

You Should Take a Break From the Pill Once in a While

There's no medical reason for a healthy woman to take a break from using the pill. The pill can be taken consecutively for as long as you need it without any increased risk. However, doctors do advise reviewing contraceptive needs after 15 years of using the pill or at age of 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 going off the pill. Taking a break can also cause some of the side effects that can be felt when first starting the pill.

3

The Pill Is Not Safe and Can Cause Birth Defects

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.

As with any medication, certain health risks are linked to pill use, but serious side effects are rare. It is important that you discuss your personal and family medical histories with your doctor. Only they can help you decide if it's right for you.

About 100 million women worldwide use the pill. For many women, their quality of life is better while taking the pill than when not. That's because the pill also provides health benefits beyond birth control. It can minimize 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 lower the number of periods you have each year. These pills are completely safe as well.

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

4

Long Term Pill Use Can Affect 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 o.

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

Some of the confusion between the pill and infertility may actually be due to natural causes. Often, women using the pill delay childbearing until their late 30s, a time when fertility naturally begins to wane. Also, when you're not trying to get pregnant, you might be unaware of any natural fertility issues. They might only be discovered after stopping the pill.

5

All Birth Control Pills Are Basically the Same

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 woman's body chemistry differently. They may also offer slightly different benefits and/or side effects. Discussing these concerns with your doctor will help them find a pill that fits you specifically.

6

Smokers and Overweight Women Cannot Use the Pill

If you smoke, it's important that you are honest with your doctor 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 the pill along with smoking increases this risk, as well as the chance of developing blood clots. For these reasons, most doctors will not prescribe combination pills for smokers over 35. 

Even so, low dose combination pills and progestin-only pills are available and suitable for smokers. However, the pill is an unsafe method for women who are heavy smokers.

Women who are overweight or obese may be at greater risk for oral contraceptive failure. That doesn't mean the pill is out of the question. Doctors can try to offset the lowered pill effectiveness by prescribing a slightly higher dose.

Keep in mind though, that cardiovascular risk factors are increased with weight. In certain situations, this can make pill use unsafe.

7

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 (4-week) combination birth control pill pack, you need to take 7 consecutive days of active pills in order to prevent ovulation. You can then miss the last 7 days of the pill pack without the risk of ovulation or pregnancy. This is what occurs during the placebo/reminder pill week of a cycle: 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).

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 7 days.

Women who miss pills near the end of their pack may mistakenly think that it doesn't matter since they are about to have their period. Missing pills at the end of week 4 may mean that you have not taken the pills needed to accumulate enough hormones and stop ovulation during the next month.

8

The Only Use for the Pill is for Contraception

Today's pill options are definitely not your mother's pill! 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 women use the pill solely for these non-contraceptive advantages.

Examples of the pill's health benefits include:

Additionally, pill use can provide protection against:

  • Excess facial and body hair
  • Ectopic pregnancy
  • Acne
  • Non-cancerous breast growths
  • Ovarian cysts and cancer
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease
  • Osteoporosis
  • Menstrual migraines
9

Women Over 35 Can't Use the Pill and Teens Need Permission

Healthy women 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 women in their mid-to-late 40s who are having heavy or irregular periods.

doctor's prescription is the only way to get the pill. In general, a doctor 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 doctor 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.

10

The Pill Causes Different Types of Cancer

This is a common myth that 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 women who are at average risk for cancer, the pill may reduce the risk of ovarian, endometrial, and colorectal cancers. The research remains limited for women who have a higher risk of cancer due to family history.

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

Breast cancer risks are dependent on many factors related to hormones, not just birth control. When you first menstruated and your age at menopause, along with the age of your first pregnancy or not having children can all increase hormones, which can increase 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

As we've demonstrated, many of the myths associated with the birth control pill do not apply to every woman. Every one of us is different and only you and your doctor can determine whether or not the pill (and which pill) is right for you. Be sure to ask your doctor any questions you have and discuss your concerns.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
  • American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.  Frequently asked questions. Combined Hormonal Birth Control: Pill, Patch, and Ring. FAQ185. 2014.
  • Davidson BA, Moorman PG. Risk-Benefit Assessment of the Combined Oral Contraceptive Pill in Women with a Family History of Female Cancer. Expert Opinion on Drug Safety. 2014;13(10):1375-82. doi: 10.1517/14840338.2014.951327.
  • Gallo MF, et al. Combination Contraceptives: Effects on Weight. The Cochrane Database Systematic Reviews. 2014;(1): CD003987. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD003987.pub5.
  • National Cancer Institute. Oral Contraceptives and Cancer Risk. 2012.
  • Wiegratz I, Thaler CJ. Hormonal Contraception--What Kind, When, and for Whom? Deutsches Arzteblatt International. 2011;108(28-29):495-506. doi: 10.3238/arztebl.2011.0495.