- The Contraceptive Pill as a Possible Cause of Infertility
- What is a birth control pill?
- Weight Gain
- Common side effects of stopping birth control that could affect your fertility include:
- Ovulation after stopping birth control
The Contraceptive Pill as a Possible Cause of Infertility
Infertility is on the rise; more and more couples are struggling with this issue. 1 in 8 couples have difficulty with getting pregnant and/or sustaining a pregnancy (Resolve, n.d., para 1). According to a 2006-2010 National Survey of Family Growth by the CDC, 7.4 million women or 11.9% of women have received infertility services in their lifetime (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017, para. 8).
The contraceptive pill may be one of the causes of infertility. The oral contraceptive pill (also known as “the pill”) has been commonly used for irregular menstruation, acne, painful periods, heavy periods, endometriosis, PCOS, uterine fibroids and premenstrual syndrome (PMS). It’s also used for preventing pregnancy. Many women who suffer from infertility wish that they were told about the side effects before they were given “the pill” by a doctor. They have no idea that the pill may cause fertility issues in later life when they are ready to have children.
What is a birth control pill?
Most birth control pills contain Estrogen and Progestin. Some only contain Progestin. We normally call them the “mini pill” (which only contains Progestin), “Everyday Pills” or “21-day pills”. They are all synthetic forms of hormones. The pill prevents ovaries from releasing eggs. When there is no egg released, the sperm has no chance to meet the egg and fertilise it, therefore no pregnancy can occur.
The pill also thickens cervical mucous to prevent sperm from reaching the uterus and thins the uterine lining to prevent implantation. You need at least an 8-9mm thick uterine wall lining to give the embryo the best chance to implant properly (US National Library of Medicine – National Institutes of Health, 2014, para 4). Uterine lining is built up from blood; blood is the most important factor when it comes to female fertility. Some find that once they stop taking the pill after years of having their body regularly stimulated from the synthetic hormones, their body is unable to rebuild that thick lining, making it difficult to conceive even after stopping the pill.
These synthetic hormones can disrupt your hormone balance when you take them for an extended period. It may take up to 9 months or even longer for you to get a regular cycle again once you stop. Synthetic estrogen can cause weight gain due to increased appetite and fluid retention. This is why many women who are on the pill find it difficult to lose weight. Being overweight is another big issue for fertility. It takes time to return to your normal weight once you stop the pill, this puts more stress on you and your body as you are trying to get your menstrual cycle back to normal while also trying to lose weight.
Common side effects of stopping birth control that could affect your fertility include:
1) Irregular periods after stopping birth control pills:
This is normal as it takes a while for your body to adjust your hormones to normal levels. You may experience a few months of irregular periods. It could take up to one year for your periods to return to normal. Acupuncture and Chinese medicine may help to regulate your hormones and bring your period back to normal faster so you can start your pregnancy journey sooner.
2) Cramps after stopping birth control:
For those who were taking the pill to minimize cramps, you are most likely going to feel cramping when you stop taking the pill. Cramping indicates “blood stagnation” and “cold in the uterus” according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Acupuncture and Chinese herbs may be a good combination to resolve period cramps. Drinking ginger water and using a heat pack or hot water bottle on your tummy may help too.
3) Hormonal acne
If you have hormonal acne after stopping birth control pills, this means your hormones are out of balance. A blood test is necessary to determine where your hormone levels are sitting, and acupuncture may help you to regulate them.
Ovulation after stopping birth control
For all infertility cases, apart from getting your period cycle back to normal without cramping, clotting, breast tenderness, hormonal acne and other PMS symptoms; the most important thing you want to know is if you are ovulating. In general, ovulation will start within a few weeks of quitting birth control pills. Unfortunately, sometimes this may take longer. There is nothing you can do for it and your GP will only suggest that you wait.
We normally suggest infertility patients take a blood test to check their FSH and Estrogen levels and sometimes even a scan to see whether there is any evidence of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). We highly recommend you track your basal body temperature (BBT) to see the levels of hormones present. Tracking symptoms of ovulation such as cervical fluid can also help. However, tracking your BBT will give you a more accurate prediction of when or if you’re ovulating.
We see many women who suffer from infertility and most of them have a history of taking birth control pills. The amount of time it takes to restore your hormonal balance, regular menstruation, regular ovulation and fertility all depends on the type of contraceptive pills you were taking and how long you were taking them for.
We strongly suggest condoms for birth control. If you are taking the pill due to cramps, fibroids, acne, extended bleeding periods, irregular menstruation, PCOS or endometriosis, you should consider seeing a fertility acupuncturist who may be able to help you with these issues. It is true that taking contraceptive pills to skip menstruation is a very convenient thing to do, but you may face a bigger issue when the time comes to plan a baby. We hope this article will help those who are considering becoming parents in the future to keep in mind the potential setbacks of birth control pills.
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- Resolve. (n.d) Fast Facts. Retrieved from https://resolve.org/infertility-101/what-is-infertility/fast-facts/
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017). Key Statistics from the National Survey of Family Growth – I Listing. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nsfg/key_statistics/i.htm
- US National Library of Medicine – National Institutes of Health. (2014). Endometrial thickness affects the outcome of in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer in normal responders after GnRH antagonist administration. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4197319/