Taking Birth Control While Pregnant: What Happens?

If you've been taking the birth control pill and discover you are pregnant, you may wonder whether this could cause the baby harm and if there's a chance that it may lead to a miscarriage or stillbirth.

Most research suggests that you need not worry. Some types of birth control may cause complications, but, for the most part, using birth control pills or other hormone delivery devices (such as the Ortho Evra patch or NuvaRing) is relatively safe.

Birth Control Use and Pregnancy

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Birth Control Pill and Birth Defects

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there's no evidence that taking combination birth control pills or progestin-only pills while pregnant will harm your baby in any way, either by increasing the risk of birth defects or causing pregnancy complications.

It's important to note that there has not been a lot of research on this subject. This is not because of oversight or lack of interest. Medical ethics would not allow anyone to conduct research that may place a mother or her unborn baby in harm's way.

Most of the data is derived from epidemiological research comparing mothers who have used birth control pills during early pregnancy against those who haven't. In this regard, there has been little difference in either the number of birth defects, miscarriage, or stillbirths between either group.

The CDC notes that progestins taken in early pregnancy slightly increase the risk of hypospadias in boys (a birth defect where the opening of the urethra is not located at the tip of the penis).

However, the studies leading to this conclusion are older and were mostly of women taking progestins for infertility or to prevent pregnancy loss and not the low doses of progestins seen in today's birth control pills.

If You Think You May Be Pregnant

It's still not recommended that you continue taking birth control if you're pregnant. In the end, every drug you take will be "taken" by your child, as well.

So if you think you may be pregnant, take a pregnancy test to know for sure. If you can't take a pregnancy test for any reason, consider using other forms of contraception (such as condoms or the sponge) until you can.

Pregnancy While On Birth Control

Although abstinence is the only method of birth control that ensures 100% effectiveness for preventing pregnancy, perfect use of contraceptives is nearly 100% effective. Perfect use means that a contraceptive is used correctly every time, while typical use accounts for common human errors, such as forgetting to take a contraceptive pill on time.

With perfect use, the birth control pill is more than 99% successful. With typical use, the birth control pill is about 91% effective. Perfect use of condoms is about 98% effective, while typical use is around 82%.

Long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) such as an intrauterine device (IUD) and permanent contraception methods like tube litigation are more than 99% effective and have no typical use risk.

Birth Control and Miscarriage Myths

Some people believe that if they continue to take the birth control pill while pregnant, they may have a miscarriage. This is not true, and there has never been any evidence to suggest that.

The hormones in the pill work by thickening cervical mucus to prevent sperm from entering the uterus, stopping ovulation, and preventing the thickening of the uterine lining to support implantation. None of these things contributes to either a miscarriage or stillbirth.

Another myth is that using emergency contraception (such as Plan B One-Step or the AfterPill) while pregnant may cause the spontaneous termination of your pregnancy. This is again not true. These pills really have no effect once a fertilized egg has been implanted.

There are specific medications that can end a pregnancy if desired. However, these are not considered birth control but a form of medical abortion. Known as Mifeprex (mifepristone) or RU-486, the abortion pill has been FDA-approved in the United States since 2000.

Risks of Continuing Birth Control

Using most birth control methods while pregnant causes no harm to your unborn child, but there are risks with using some. Below is a breakdown of common birth control methods and their risks (if any) if used during pregnancy.

COCs or Progestin-Only Pills

Combined estrogen-progestin oral contraceptives (COCs) and progestin-only pills are two different types of birth control pills. COCs contain synthetic forms of estrogen and progesterone, while progestin-only pills contain only synthetic progesterone.

While there's no evidence suggesting birth defects or a miscarriage can occur if you take birth control pills while pregnant, some research suggests that there may be a possible increased risk of wheezing, asthma, and rhinitis for the baby when born.

IUDs

If you have an IUD and become pregnant, there may be complications. Research suggests that if a person chooses to leave their IUD in during pregnancy, their miscarriage risk will increase to around 40%. Moreover, it can raise the likelihood of preterm birth by some 500%.

With these risks in mind, you should call your healthcare provider immediately to have your IUD removed if you find yourself pregnant and decide to continue the pregnancy. Removing the IUD early in a timely fashion can largely reverse those risks.

Implants, Shots, and Vaginal Rings

There's no evidence that contraceptive methods like implants, injection shots, and vaginal rings cause birth defects or miscarriages if utilized during pregnancy. These forms of birth control typically use the same types of hormones found in birth control pills.

Ectopic Pregnancy

Progestin-only forms of birth control may slightly increase the risk of ectopic pregnancy if they fail to prevent pregnancy. However, there's no higher absolute risk of ectopic pregnancy when compared to using no contraceptive.

Ectopic pregnancy is when a fertilized egg implants in a place other than the lining of the uterus (endometrium). Symptoms can include:

  • Low back pain
  • Pain in the abdomen or pelvis
  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding

While abnormal vaginal bleeding and pelvic pain should be reported to a healthcare professional, severe, sudden pain in the pelvis or abdomen, shoulder pain, or fainting are serious symptoms of ectopic pregnancy that need immediate medical attention. These symptoms may indicate that a fallopian tube has ruptured.

Barrier Methods

There are relatively no risks when using barrier methods such as condoms, diaphragms, spermicides, cervical caps, and sponges while pregnant. These methods are used to physically prevent sperm from fertilizing an egg and typically do not involve hormones. It's safe to use these methods while pregnant to prevent sexually transmitted infections.

A Word From Verywell

Unintended use of birth control pills during early pregnancy seems to be of low risk. If you are pregnant, discuss any medications, supplements, and over-the-counter products with your healthcare provider. It's wise to discontinue birth control pills when you discover you are pregnant.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What happens if you keep taking birth control while pregnant?

    Research suggests that there are risks of miscarriage and preterm birth if an IUD is left in during pregnancy. However, there's no evidence of severe risks using other forms of birth control during pregnancy.

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9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Food & Drug Administration. Birth control.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Facts about hypospadias.

  3. National Health Services. How effective is contraception at preventing pregnancy?.

  4. Food & Drug Administration. Mifeprex (mifepristone) information.

  5. Yamamoto-Hanada K, Futamura M, Yang L, et al. Preconceptional exposure to oral contraceptive pills and the risk of wheeze, asthma and rhinitis in childrenAllergol Int. 2016;65(3):327-331. doi:10.1016/j.alit.2016.02.012

  6. Ozgu-Erdinc AS, Tasdemir UG, Uygur D, Aktulay A, Tasdemir N, Gulerman HC. Outcome of intrauterine pregnancies with intrauterine device in place and effects of device location on prognosisContraception. 2014;89(5):426-30. doi:10.1016/j.contraception.2014.01.002

  7. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Long-acting reversible contraception: Intrauterine device and implant.

  8. Brown Health Services Patient Education Series. Progestin-only pills.

  9. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Ectopic pregnancy.

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