Can Taking the Birth Control Pill While Pregnant Hurt My Baby?

Young woman holding birth control pills
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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 a chance that it may lead to a miscarriage or stillbirth.

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

Birth Control Pill and Birth Defects

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there is 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 is important to note that there has not actually been a lot of research on this subject. This is not because of oversight or lack of interest. Medical ethics would simply not allow anyone to conduct research that may place a mother or her unborn baby in harm's way.

As such, 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.

With that being said, it is not recommended that you continue taking birth control if you that you are 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 certain. And, if you can't for any reason, consider using other forms of contraception (such as condoms or the sponge) until such time as you can.

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). 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.

Birth Control and Miscarriage Myths

Some women 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 to the 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 you are 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 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 Mifepristone (RU486), the abortion pill has been FDA-approved in the United States since 2000.

IUD and Miscarriage Risk

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

With these risks in mind, you should call your doctor 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.

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 doctor. It is wise to discontinue birth control when you discover you are pregnant.

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