Physical Health

An OB-GYN Debunks the Most Common Myths About Birth Control

birth control myths"
birth control myths
Graphics by: Aryana Johnson
Graphics by: Aryana Johnson

You’d be hard-pressed to find a topic everyone agrees on, but The Pill has to be one of the most divisive ones out there. Many experts rave about the benefits of taking an oral contraceptive like lighter, regular periods, acne management, and pregnancy prevention. But other experts believe The Pill causes unwanted side effects like heightened anxiety and impedes the body’s natural functions such as ovulation (which is not only beneficial for fertility but for overall health). 

Opposing narratives have only created more confusion surrounding the topic of birth control. To get to the bottom of this dilemma, I tapped OB-GYN Dr. Kameelah Phillips for her expert insight into whether the claims are fact or fiction. Read on for the biggest birth control myths, debunked by Dr. Phillips. But remember to talk to your doctor and healthcare team; the best birth control option is the one that works best for your body, goals, and lifestyle.

Dr. Kameelah Phillips, Board-Certified OB/GYN and Organon Health Partner

Dr. Phillips is a New York-based obstetrics and gynecologist specialist and a women’s health advocate. For over 17 years, she’s been helping women and girls feel comfortable with their bodies, so that they can be empowered by the health.

1. Birth control can damage fertility

Whether it’s through word of mouth or social media, chances are you’ve heard that birth control use can harm your chances of getting pregnant in the future. But according to Dr. Phillips, this isn’t the case. “Women can get pregnant soon after stopping birth control,” she told me. “There are long-acting reversible contraceptive (LARCs) options available that can be highly effective at preventing pregnancy for years at a time, and the body generally has a return to ovulation once they are removed.” A 2009 study found that 20 percent of people got pregnant during their first cycle after discontinuing birth control, while 80 percent got pregnant within a year. Likewise, researchers also found long-term Pill use could potentially increase fertility compared to short-term use.

In summary, the research available shows that The Pill does not affect future fertility. However, how quickly you get pregnant after discontinuing birth control will depend on a myriad of factors, like age, how long it takes your hormones to get back into a regular infradian rhythm, or whether there’s an underlying condition like PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) or endometriosis. This is why Dr. Phillips recommended consulting your doctor if you’re concerned about fertility after birth control; they’ll be able to guide you in making the right choice for you and ease your worries.

While Dr. Phillips hasn’t found a direct link between birth control and cancer in her professional experience, the jury’s still out on this one. A 2010 study found a slight increase in breast cancer rates among women who had used oral contraceptives, albeit the overall risk remained low. On the other hand, the National Cancer Institute found a slight decrease in endometrial and ovarian cancer rates among those who had taken oral contraceptives for an extended period.

That said, genetics, life stage, health background, and many other factors also play a role in cancer risk. Dr. Phillips recommended talking with your doctor about your concerns and health history so you can find the right birth control option for your lifestyle and risk. If you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, your doctor might be able to give you a BRCA gene test to determine if you have BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations, which can help you better understand your risk.

3. Staying on birth control for a long time can harm your health and decrease its effectiveness

You may have also heard that staying on birth control for a long time can harm your health. Although the origins of this narrative are unknown, it might be attributed to the fact that birth control uses estrogen, progestin, or a combination of the two to suppress ovulation to prevent pregnancy, but ovulation is considered a sign of a healthy body. There’s also a common myth that staying on The Pill for an extended period can decrease its effectiveness overall. Dr. Phillips said that because of these two myths she often sees patients who believe they should take a “break” from birth control. However, there is no medical reason to take a break from hormonal contraceptives. While every body is different, no research indicates long-term use of The Pill decreases its effectiveness or is harmful.

4. Antibiotics decrease the effectiveness of birth control

If you take an oral contraceptive, you’ve likely been told not to have sex while you’re taking antibiotics because it’s widely believed that antibiotics decrease the effectiveness of birth control and make you more susceptible to pregnancy. According to Dr. Phillips, this depends on what type of medication you’re taking. For the most part, antibiotics—especially commonly used ones like amoxicillin and clarithromycin—won’t decrease the effectiveness of birth control; however, rifamycin antibiotics, like rifampicin or rifabutin, can interact with birth control pills, patches, shots, implants, and rings and raise your chances of getting pregnant.

Regardless of whether you’re taking antibiotics, Dr. Phillips urged disclosing all your medications (prescribed and over-the-counter) to your healthcare provider. Not only will this help prevent unwanted drug interactions, but it’ll also inform you whether you need to consider an additional form of contraception while on an antibiotic.

5. Birth control causes weight gain

It’s long been said that weight gain is one potential side effect of birth control, but according to Dr. Phillips, you don’t need to be concerned about weight changes. While some people may experience slight weight gain after going on The Pill, it’s usually temporary, minimal, and manageable. Unlike the birth control of the past that used high hormone levels that, in turn, increased appetite and water retention, the hormone levels found in today’s contraception methods are not high enough to cause weight gain. Also remember: Weight fluctuations are normal.

If you are experiencing weight gain and believe it may be related to your birth control method, Dr. Phillips encouraged talking with your doctor to create a plan of action together. “There may be other reasons someone can be gaining weight, so I take the time to discuss what could be at play—life stage, health background, healthy eating, and exercise—to assess what could be a factor outside of their birth control,” Dr. Phillips explained.

Please consult a doctor or a mental health professional before beginning or stopping any treatments, supplements, or medications. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical or mental health condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this article.