Do You Ovulate on the Pill?

illustration of ovulation

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If you're reliably using birth control pills, especially combination birth control pills that contain both estrogen and progestin, you will generally not ovulate on the pill. The hormones in the pill stop you from ovulating, which is what makes them effective birth control methods. If there is no egg released, there is nothing for sperm to fertilize and, therefore, no pregnancy.

The key to stopping ovulation with birth control pills is proper use. Understanding how each type of the pill stops ovulation—and why dosing instructions are what they are—can help you gain a clearer understanding of your fertility.

How Birth Control Affects Ovulation

Ovulation is when one of your ovaries releases an egg. When ovulation happens, the egg can be fertilized by a sperm and pregnancy can occur.

If you aren't using hormonal birth control, ovulation usually happens mid-cycle, or around 14 days before your menstrual period. Because sperm can live for three to five days in a woman's reproductive organs and an egg lives for just 12 to 24 hours after ovulation, you are most likely to get pregnant if you have sex in the three days before or on the day of ovulation.

If you are using hormonal birth control, that changes things. Generally speaking, hormonal birth sends messages to your brain saying you've already ovulated, thereby stopping ovulation from occurring. How this works depends on the method of birth control you are using.

Combination Birth Control Pills and Ovulation

Combination birth control pills that contain both estrogen and progestin, a synthetic form of progesterone, prevent ovulation by tricking your brain into thinking you've already ovulated.

During a natural menstrual cycle of someone who is not using hormonal birth control, levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone rise and fall, communicating with the pituitary gland, which controls ovulation. If you use combination birth control pills, the hormone levels remain fairly steady throughout your cycle, telling the pituitary gland that ovulation is not necessary.

Progestin-Only Birth Control Pills and Ovulation

The hormone in the progestin-only birth control pill, or mini-pill, sometimes stops ovulation, but the main way the mini-pill prevents pregnancy is by thickening the mucus in the cervix. This prevents sperm from reaching an egg, even if you have ovulated.

When You Might Ovulate on the Pill

If you do not take your birth control pill every day at the same time, there may not be enough hormones in your body and ovulation may occur. The risk for ovulation increases if you miss more than one pill in a row.

As mentioned, ovulation is possible if using the mini-pill, but the egg will not become fertilized with proper pill use.

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