Does birth control affect fertility? Not a question than even crossed my mind in the 90s, when I first started taking the pill. Back then I thought it was the best thing since sliced bread. An easy, non-intrusive, totally effective way to not get pregnant, with the added benefits of helping with acne and the ability to not have a period if that month it was particularly inconvenient.
Research to date says that the contraceptive pill has no effect on fertility. Although, it can take longer to get pregnant after coming off the pill as it takes a while for menstruation to return to a regular cycle. However, many women who have taken the pill for a long time and then had difficulty getting pregnant have reservations about the scientific research.
Personally, I embraced it wholeheartedly without even a second thought about how it worked and what it was doing to my body. Of course, back then I considered an apple a day to be a healthy lifestyle too. I was a teenager, what did I care?
It wasn’t until years later, trying to conceive and failing miserably, that I thought about the effects that the pill may have had on me. The more I thought about it the more I started wondering – Does birth control affect fertility?
How Does The Birth Control Pill Work?
Not something that was explained to the teenage me when I got my first lot of pills from the Family Planning Clinic. For some reason it seems that women are never really informed about their bodies and what’s being done to them. It’s like we don’t really need to be involved.
Firstly there are a couple of different types of birth control pills. The combination pill and the mini pill. The combination pill is made up of synthetic estrogen and progestin, and the mini pill is progestin-only. The combination pill is the most commonly used as it has a higher pregnancy prevention rate.
The different types of birth control pills work in slightly different ways:
Combination Pill – This pill works by suppressing signals from the brain to the ovaries and changing the natural function of your reproductive system. The pill tells your brain that there are enough hormones in your system so the brain doesn’t produce anymore.
The hypothalamic gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) and pituitary gonadotropin secretion are halted, and this in turn results in luteinizing hormone (LH) suppression. The luteinizing hormone is the one that controls ovulation. No LH means no egg is released.
Mini Pill – This pill doesn’t work in quite the same way. Instead of focusing on stopping ovulation, it focuses more on making your reproductive system an inhospitable environment for a pregnancy. The combination pill has progestin in it so it can also have these effects on the system.
Progestin thins the lining of the womb (the endometrium), making it unfavourable for implantation. So if an egg does get fertilised it won’t latch on.
It also causes changes in the consistency of cervical mucus, making it difficult for the sperm to swim to the egg, and can affect tubal motility meaning the Fallopian tubes don’t do a great job of escorting the egg down to the uterus.
The mini pill is usually only given to women that have recently had a baby, are at high risk of stroke or are concerned about taking estrogen.
Birth Control Pills And Side Effects
Although your doctor probably won’t mention them to you, I know mine never did but to be fair I never asked, here is a list of known side effects that women on the pill have been experiencing.
- Compromised Gut Health
The Birth Control Pill can lead to leaky gut, which is really bad for your overall health. It kills off good bacteria in your gut leaving you vulnerable to illness and autoimmune disorders.
- Clots, Stroke and Heart Attack
Birth control can trigger clots, strokes and heart attacks. Especially in women over 35 years old.
- Metabolic Health
It causes changes to your metabolism, which can lead to weight gain, blood sugar imbalances, and diabetes.
- Thyroid Disease
The pill can deplete the vital nutrients your thyroid needs to work properly. It also increases Thyroid Binding Globulin, which means that any hormones your thyroid does manage to produce are bound up and unavailable to your cells, and every cell in the body needs thyroid hormones to work properly.
- Adrenal Fatigue
Introducing more estrogen into the body triggers an inflammatory reaction. The body then releases cortisol to suppress the inflammation. This happens on a daily basis. Not only that but the pill increases Cortisol Binding Globulin which binds the cortisol making it unusable to the body, so it’s not able to fight the inflammation.
- Mood Changes
Depression, anxiety, lack of motivation. There are plenty of women reporting complete changes to their mood and general temperament after starting the pill. It makes sense. Our natural hormones have an effect on our mood every month. PMS, right? So imagine the effect of taking a whole host of synthetic hormones every day. Scary!
- Vitamin Deficiencies
The pill depletes key nutrients such as magnesium, B vitamins, zinc, and antioxidants.
Does Birth Control Affect Fertility?
To date, there is no scientific evidence that birth control pills have a negative effect on fertility, although much more research is needed for that to be the definitive conclusion. It can take a while to get your menstrual cycle back into a steady rhythm, which means that it could end up taking you longer to conceive if you’ve come off the pill than it would have if you’d never been on it, but it shouldn’t affect your ability to fall pregnant eventually.
That’s the scientific opinion, but there are lots of contradicting opinions from many women who have used the pill and more recently from some doctors.
Dr. Jolene Brighten, an expert in Post-Birth Control Syndrome and the long term side effects associated with hormonal contraceptives, says there is emerging evidence that hormonal birth control can negatively impact fertility for some women.
When you think about how the pill works, how the synthetic hormones completely interrupt the conversation between the brain and the ovaries and alter the workings of the reproductive system, let alone all the side effects, how can it not have some sort of impact on fertility?
According to Dr Brighten, the most common symptoms of Post-Birth Control Syndrome include:
- Menstrual Irregularities: Post-Pill Amenorrhea (loss of menstruation after taking the pill), heavy menstruation, painful periods, and short cycles.
- Hormone changes such as infertility, hypothyroidism, hair loss, breast tenderness, acne, and adrenal dysfunction.
- Pain syndromes like migraines and headaches.
- Changes in body composition like breast size, gaining weight or difficulty losing weight.
- Mood Disorders such as anxiety, depression, mood swings and PMS symptoms.
- Digestive symptoms like changes in bowels, digestive upset, gas, or bloating.
- Inflammation and other immune imbalances.
Interestingly, one specific function of the pill that could have an effect on conceiving and staying pregnant is the thinning of the endometrium. The endometrium, or lining of the womb, needs to be thick in order for a fertilised egg to implant. Some studies have shown that women who have been on the pill for over 10 years have thinner linings, making implantation difficult and possibly causing miscarriage in early pregnancy.
Your body needs to be in such a delicate balance in order to conceive naturally. With all this going on it’s no wonder that some women are having real trouble getting pregnant.
Personally, I’m not convinced that there is no connection between the pill and unexplained infertility. I was on the pill for 16 years. It took me 5 months to get my period back and 5 years to have a baby. I also experienced two miscarriages in that time.
It makes complete sense to me that the long term use of the pill affected my body in a way that had an impact on my fertility, and I’m not alone in thinking that. There are many women out there with similar infertility stories to mine. I think these need to be taken into account when further research is done.
Are The Effects Reversible?
Thankfully yes. With the right diet and supplements you can bring your hormones back into balance and heal your gut, thyroid and adrenal glands.
Check out Dr Brighten’s Post-Birth Control Syndrome Quick Start Detox Guide for coming off the pill here. She offers some great suggestions for repairing your body with these five steps:
- Replenish nutrient stores
- Identify Your Hormone Imbalance
- Heal Your Gut
- Post-Birth Control Detox
- Metabolic Repair
Most women without any underlying fertility problems will be able to get pregnant naturally after coming off the pill but the time it takes can differ greatly. Some women have fallen pregnant within a month or two of stopping while for others it has taken years.
I think it’s safe to say that if you’re experiencing problems then the quicker you detox and start building yourself back up the better your chances of conceiving sooner.
I wish I’d found this information sooner, whilst I was trying to conceive. In fact, if I knew then what I know now about the pill I may never have started taking it.
Or maybe I would have.
To my 16-year-old self, all this talk of fertility and health problems probably would have seemed far separated from my little life, and something I may well have thought worth the trade for the immediate benefits of going on the pill ie no pregnancy and the promise of no acne, although that one didn’t really pan out.
Science may say that the birth control pill has no adverse effects on fertility, but every woman is an individual and everyone’s story is personal. Informing ourselves properly is so important when we make decisions about contraception. For years so many of us have blindly accepted what we are told, without question.
I think it’s time that women started to play a bigger part in women’s health. Nobody knows our bodies like we do. It’s important that we are part of the conversation going forward.
Have you had any problems with birth control, or do you have any questions about the subject? I’d love to hear from you, please leave a comment below.
Thanks for reading,