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Does Long-Term Use of Birth Control Pills Lead to Infertility?

By Dr. Jesús Alberto Félix Atondo

Since oral contraceptives—birth control pills—were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration  over six decades ago, there’s been a lot of myths about them.  Women have worried that they cause them to gain weight, that they affect current pregnancies, or that they lead to certain kinds of cancer.  But perhaps the biggest concern of all is that long-term use of “the pill” can cause infertility down the road, and that’s absolutely false.  Put simply, the pills will prevent pregnancy only while you’re taking them, or in some cases, for a short time after you’ve stopped.

How Do Birth Control Pills Work?

If you understand how birth control pills work, you won’t have to worry about not being able to have children later in life.  The pills are designed to interrupt—not destroy—natural processes leading to pregnancy.   They do this in a couple of ways.  The many contraceptives on the market today come in basically two varieties:  Those that contain Estrogen and Progestin, and the progestin-only pill. Here’s how each works:

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Estrogen-Progestin Contraceptives

These “combination pills,” as they’re commonly called, do a couple of different things.   First, the estrogen, which comes in different amounts depending on the specific medication, inhibits ovulation by suppressing the production of follicle-stimulating hormones (FSH) produced by the pituitary gland.   What this means is that while you’re taking the pills, your ovaries stop producing eggs, so you can’t get pregnant. This doesn’t  damage the ovaries in any way—it just sends them a message that they should stop making eggs for a while.

The second hormone, progestin, works on another part of the reproductive system.  Essentially, it thickens the mucus lining along the cervix, creating an inhospitable environment for sperm, making the endometrial wall too thick for sperm to penetrate.  This causes no harm or long-term effect on any part of the reproductive system; when the pill is discontinued and out of your system, you can become pregnant again.

Some of the most common combination pills include Yaz, Apri, Sprintec, and Loestrin.

Progestin-only Contraceptives

A second type of birth control pills is often referred to as the “mini-pill.”  It doesn’t contain estrogen, so there’s no impact on the ovaries.  Rather, it affects only the cervix, preventing sperm from getting through, so the approach isn’t as comprehensive as the combination pill.   Progestin is an artificial form of progesterone, which, like estrogen, is a reproductive hormone that your body makes that also regulates menstrual cycles.   Progersterone is produced in the adrenal cortex and the gonads of both women and men. Ironically, it’s also the hormone that helps prepare the uterus for fetal development,  thickening its lining to protect the new fetus.

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Common brands of the mini-pill include Heather, Aygestin, and Jolivette.

Birth Control Pills are Short-Term

Since oral contraceptives only suspend reproductive function, they do not diminish the potential for pregnancy once they have been discontinued.  In fact, most birth control pills must be taken on a daily basis (and some at the same time each day) to prevent fertilization.  While it’s true that menstrual cycles may be delayed for some time after stopping medication, they eventually return to normal and pregnancy once again is possible.  This is even true of even more assertive measures, such as contraception injections—such as the Depo Provera shot which is good for up to three months—which eventually wear off.

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It’s Not the Pill

If you stopped taking birth control pills some time ago and you still can’t get pregnant, it’s not the pills, because they’re well out of your system.  Other causes, such as poor egg production, blocked fallopian tubes, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), or problems with the uterus, such as endometriosis, may be the cause.  The issue may even be a disorder of the endocrine system—the hormone-producing organs where human sexuality really begins—like the hypothalamus or pituitary glands.  And it’s always a good idea to consider that the problem may reside with the male partner, who may not be able to produce or deliver sperm.  So relax!  Your birth control pills will not cause long-term infertility.

Explore Your Options

Deciding to go on birth control, then determining which one is best for you, is a big step.  It’s important to look at what’s available and to see what a qualified medical professional suggests for you. That’s why the Fertility Center of Mexico is your best choice.

Located in the New City Medical Plaza in Tijuana, the Center boasts a full complement of OB-GYN doctors, embryologists, and fertilization specialists who are ready to work with you.  Offering a full range of services, including sperm freezing, IVF in Tijuana, timed intercourse cycle, preimplantation genetic test in Tijuana, egg freezing Mexico, IUI in Mexico, the Fertility Center is equipped with an in-house, state-of-the-art laboratory and diagnostic services.  Contact our Fertility Clinic Tijuana today to help with your needs.

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Dr. Jesús Alberto Félix Atondo

Gynecology, Obstetrics and Biology of Human Reproduction Surgeon at the Autonomous University of Guadalajara, specialist Biologist of Human Reproduction by the Mexican Institute of Infertility.

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