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The Shocking Truth Behind How Birth Control Affects Fertility

the shocking truth about how birth control affects fertility
Picture of Bere Horthy

Bere Horthy

Doula & Registered Nurse

Meet Amelia, a young lady who’s been on birth control since her early teens. 

At first, it was to manage her acne and periods, but later it became a contraceptive against unplanned pregnancies. 

Now, in her early twenties with the thought of having a baby in the next couple of years, she’s coming off the pill to prepare. 

The big question on her mind is how her long-term use of birth control affects fertility.

But it’s not just Amelia, many women are in the same boat, curious about the link between birth control and their fertility. 

Social circles and social media are filled with theories, yet there are no clear answers.

In this article we delve into the under-discussed truth of how birth control impacts fertility, moving beyond hearsay and down to the facts.

The birth control basics: a refresher

Birth control, as the name suggests, is about controlling when you want to have a baby. 

The main job of birth control is to temporarily stop pregnancy from happening. 

There are several types you might have heard of or even used. 

Common types include the pill, injection, implant, and the hormonal intrauterine device (IUD).

Now, let’s talk about how well they work. 

Generally, they’re all pretty good at doing their job, boasting about 99% effectiveness when used right. 

Yet, that tiny 1% can sometimes throw a curveball. 

Despite the odds, there’s a slim chance of pregnancy. 

A few of my friends can vouch for this, having had surprise pregnancies while on hormonal birth control.

effectiveness of birth control from most to least

How does birth control work anyway?

The science behind birth control is fascinating yet simple. 

Let’s break it down:

Suppressing ovulation: 

They release hormones that tell your ovaries to take a break from releasing eggs. 

No egg, no pregnancy.

Thickening the uterine lining: 

This makes it harder for a fertilised egg to attach to your uterus and grow. 

Imagine trying to stick a poster on a rough, uneven wall — it’s not easy.

Altering the cervical mucus: 

The mucus turns into a sort of sticky guard, making it tough for sperm to swim through and reach the egg.

These mechanisms work together to keep the sperm and egg apart, like a well-coordinated security team at a high-profile event.

Menstrual Cycle graph
Source: UCSF

The journey back to your natural cycle

The next big question is: what effect do these hormones have on our bodies and how does that effect our fertility?

According to a study done on hormonal contraceptives, the synthetic hormones found in contraceptives interact with the body’s natural hormonal processes, leading to temporary prevention of pregnancy. 

Synthetic hormones can cause a variety of side effects such as changes in mood, headaches, and breakthrough bleeding between periods.

The journey to reset hormones post-contraception can vary widely among individuals. 

The hormonal balance in the body needs time to readjust once synthetic hormones are no longer being introduced.

While the synthetic hormones exit the body relatively quickly after you stop taking your contraceptive, the body’s natural hormonal rhythm may take some time to re-establish.

This could impact menstrual cycle regularity and fertility temporarily.

The timeline for hormonal reset can range from a few weeks to several months or even a year in some cases. 

Factors such as the type of contraceptive used, the duration of use, and individual physiological differences play a significant role in this timeline.

Transitioning off birth control isn’t always a smooth ride though. 

Take my friend Lilly for instance. 

After coming off birth control, it took a good three months before her period found its rhythm again.

Those months were like a mix of unpredictability and frustration. 

When the period did decide to make an appearance, it chose the oddest hours, catching Lilly off-guard. 

On top of the fear of having irregular periods long term, intimacy became a game of Russian Roulette with her partner, the worry of an unplanned pregnancy before they’re ready, looming over them.

As said in the study, every narrative is unique. 

Some wave goodbye to birth control and find their cycle snapping back into its routine almost instantly, while others play the waiting game for a year or more. 

It’s a stark reminder of the individuality of our bodies, each responding in its own time and manner.

what studies say

What the studies say

So, what does the science unveil about fertility post-birth control? 

Research mostly comforts us with positive notes – indicating little problems returning to fertility post-discontinuation. 

Yet, it’s hard to shake off the scepticism considering the huge profits pharmaceutical companies rake in from birth control sales yearly. 

It raises a brow on whether the narrative is tinted rosy.

Additionally, studies often paint with a broad brush, leaving room for overgeneralisation. 

They might not echo the entire spectrum of experiences out there. 

Birth control, while suppressing ovulation, can also mask underlying issues. 

So, when one decides to step off the contraceptive train, they might stumble upon fertility issues that had gone unnoticed for years.

This brings to light that while some women transition smoothly from contraceptive use to natural cycles, others may uncover a different story. 

It’s a complex interplay, one where individual bodies react distinctively to the cessation of birth control. 

It accentuates the importance of having a personalised lens, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach when discussing the impact of birth control on fertility.

It’s important to talk about how irregular periods and fertility are connected.

Irregular cycles can show that a woman’s ability to have a baby isn’t at its best, which can be a problem for those wanting to have a baby soon.

Understanding this link is essential and makes it easier for you to make smart choices when you’re thinking about coming off birth control to prepare to have a baby.

cycle and fertility

Prepping for Pregnancy Post-Pill

Now, if the thoughts of tiny toes and baby giggles are dancing in your mind, here are some steps to prep your body as you transition from birth control:

Track Your Cycle: 

Apps like Flo or Natural Cycles can be your diary, helping you keep track of your menstrual cycle, and symptoms and identifying your fertile window.

Eat Healthy: 

A well-balanced diet not only nourishes your body but preps it for the prospective pregnancy.

Include a rainbow of fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats in your diet.

Stay Active: 

Regular exercise keeps the body fit, ensuring it’s in prime condition for what lies ahead. 

It doesn’t have to be rigorous; even a daily walk in the park works wonders.

Mind the Stress: 

Keep stress at bay, maybe with meditation, yoga or even seeing an osteopath

A calm mind fosters a healthy body. 

I’m sure you’ve heard someone say at least once “It’ll happen when you’re not thinking about it”.

Consult a Healthcare Provider: 

If you are still having trouble and are a bit worried, having a chat with a healthcare provider can provide personalised advice based on your health and medical history.

A Personal Takeaway

Diving into the waters of how birth control affects fertility is like opening a book full of important stories.

Each page turned sheds light on something new. 

For women like Amelia and Lilly, this knowledge is key. 

It opens doors to planning, to making choices that are in tune with their dreams and their bodies.

So, what’s the big picture? 

It’s about awareness. 

Knowing how birth control interacts with your body allows you to plan your steps, whether it’s preventing pregnancies now or embracing motherhood in the future. 

It’s about being the captain of your own ship, steering through the waters of reproductive health with confidence.

berenice-horthy-author
Bere Horthy

As a doula and nurse, Bere's mission is to empower and educate women, families, and fellow doulas to make informed decisions throughout their pregnancy, birth, and postpartum journey.

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