Misconceptions About the Pill

March 17, 2011

The birth control pill was approved for contraceptive use in May, 1960. Since then it's been carefully studied and monitored and improved by medical researchers in various countries. Unfortunately, there are still many misconceptions surrounding the medication, even after many years of research and monitoring it. The British Medical Journal reports that misconceptions and poor use of the birth control pill are the reason for 20 percent of unwanted pregnancies. You can reduce the chance of birth control failure by understanding the most common misconceptions surrounding them.

It's Important to Take a Break from the Pill

There's the perception that it's healthier to periodically take a break from using the pill. But the truth is that there's no medical reason for a healthy woman to do this. Research has shown that the pill can easily be taken for 15 or more years in a row without increasing a woman's risk for health problems. That said, it's a good idea to review your contraceptive needs once you reach the age of 35 or have been taking oral contraceptives for 15 years. Stopping the pill increases your risk of an unwanted pregnancy. Plus taking a break can sometimes cause some of the side effects that some women experience when first taking the pill. These side effects include nausea, high blood pressure, loss of libido, bloating, vaginal infections, breast tenderness and breakthrough bleeding.

Fertility is not affected by the pill. Women who have used the pill to prevent pregnancy for years may have had a fertility problem they were unaware of prior to taking the pill and any fertility issues are not caused by the pill.

Smokers Should Not Use the Pill

There is some element of truth to this because women who smoke have a higher risk of having a stroke and this risk can be compounded by the hormones in oral contraceptives. The same is true for women over the age of 35, especially with the use of higher dose combination pills. Higher hormone combination pills can also cause a greater risk of blood clots.

Women who smoke should discuss their health concerns with their doctors. Low dose combination pills have been proven to be effective and safe for women who smoke lightly or in moderately. Progestin-only pills are also safe for the average woman who smokes. Heavy smokers should not use oral contraceptives.

The Pill Will Make You Fat

This is a very common misconception. And like the previous misconception there is an element of truth to it. Some women do gain a very small amount of weight gain of up to two pounds when they start the birth control pill. This is temporary and is often caused by short-term water retention and bloating. Drinking more water so you urinate frequently will help this as will remaining active.

Some studies suggest that the hormone progestin can increase appetite. But it isn't the pill that makes you fat, it's the types of foods you chose to eat and the amount of food you consume.

Some studies suggest that this misconception started because so many women start taking oral contraceptives at a point in their lives when natural weight gain is common. They then incorrectly connect the weight gain to the pill.

It's Safer to Miss a Pill Near the End of the Month

If you're using the birth control pill as a contraceptive, then it's actually riskier to miss one or more pills near the pill-free week where you get your period.

Most forms of the pill work by preventing ovulation and there needs to be enough of the pill hormones in your body to prevent an egg from being released. This requires consuming seven consecutive active pills. When you miss pills just before the pill-free week, there may not be enough of the necessary hormone levels in your body to stop ovulation the following month. If you must miss pills, and ideally you shouldn't, the least risky time to do so is in the middle of the pack.

 

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