You know the drill — birth control pills to avoid pregnancy until the time is right. It’s what millions of women in the U.S. alone have done or are doing, which is why hormonal birth control makes up such a huge percentage of all prescription drugs.
But while the Pill is pretty well understood, there’s a little known side effect that may give you pause, especially if you’re ready to start trying for that mini me. Surprise — birth control pills actually deplete the body of certain nutrients. We’re not bashing the Pill, and this isn’t some five-alarm fire about how birth control is causing widespread nutrient deficiency in American women. But there is evidence that women on the Pill have lower nutrient levels than those who don’t, and it’s a shortfall that can stick around. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll experience health issues, but it is worth addressing. Here’s why you really should take prenatal vitamins while you're on birth control, and definitely afterward if you’re trying for a baby.
- A little-known side effect of hormonal birth control is that it depletes specific nutrients in the body.
- Replenishing those nutrients after birth control is particularly important if you’re planning to have a baby.
- Improving the diet by incorporating specific foods is one option for replenishing nutrients.
- Supplementing with a high-quality prenatal vitamin, especially if you’re trying, is a good way to replenish nutrients that are needed for a successful conception.
- Experts recommend that women of child-bearing age take a high-quality prenatal vitamin, whether they’re on the Pill or not.
Which Nutrients Does Birth Control Deplete?
Your levels of vitamins B6 and B12, magnesium, folic acid, vitamin C, and zinc can all suffer if you’re using contraceptives. It’s subtle, but consider the duration most women take the Pill — months and months on end, often years and even decades — and how that decline can add up. So what’s the deal? It’s complicated, but it relates to the Pill’s effect on the liver, which is where everything is metabolized.
You’ll see recommendations from many experts for taking a high-quality prenatal vitamin during the child-bearing years, whether they’re on the Pill or not, and it’s all about keeping those nutrition bases covered. Carly Hartwig, a holistic reproductive health advocate and fertility awareness educator through CLWC, is one of them. “Taking a high-quality and robust prenatal for at least three months before transitioning off of hormonal contraceptives is one of the best steps you can take to prevent post-birth control syndrome,” she says. “This is especially critical for women who plan to try to conceive after transitioning off, as the nutrient deficit caused by hormonal contraceptives can impact the health of your pregnancy and the health of your baby.”
Of course, knowledge is power, and knowing that this nutrient deficiency is possible, however it occurs, means you can do a little compensating.
A diet heavy in whole foods and light on the processed stuff and alcohol goes a long way in giving your body the nutrients it needs, and most dietitians recommend getting everything you need from your food. Easier said than done! If you’re on the pill, or recently off it, you should up your intake of a few specific foods to dial in key nutrients:
- Eggs and dairy to boost B vitamins.
- Spinach for B6, magnesium, and folic acid.
- Lentils for folic acid.
- Seafood for vitamin B12 and zinc.
- Cashews for magnesium and zinc.
- Vegetable juice for vitamin C.
Round out your otherwise healthy diet with these additions, and aim for getting them all on your plate at least weekly. But supplementing as well tends to be a good idea. Unfortunately, those eating an entirely clean, varied, nutrient-rich diet are few and far between, and even then, they could be lacking.
If you’re coming off the pill because it’s baby time, there’s a bigger picture to consider. Some of the same nutrients that decline on the Pill are the very ones you need for conception — specifically, vitamins B6 and B12, folate, and zinc, all of which play various roles in things like reducing miscarriage chances, triggering ovulation, improving egg quality, and more. Makes sense that you’d want to ensure you’re getting all the nutrients you need to conceive, right?
If we can go back to high school biology for just a second, there’s also the timing of things to consider. Human eggs take about three months to mature, and there are important nutrients in key amounts that can help optimize egg quality during this time. It’s why most fertility experts will advise starting prenatals at least three months before you hope to conceive. Pro tip — that’s true for both women and men.
The Bottom Line
The challenge, of course, is finding a clean prenatal vitamin that’s delivering those key nutrients in appropriate amounts. And that’s where Beli comes in. Our science-aligned formulas for men and women are designed to improve your chances of a successful conception, pregnancy, and baby with the nutrients shown to fuel fertility.
“I’ll be recommending Beli to all of my holistic reproductive healthcare clients, as it’s easy on your gut (hormonal contraceptives also disrupt your gut microbiome) and contains supportive amounts of essential nutrients that are depleted, like folate and zinc,” says Hartwig. And if you’re just looking for a good prenatal to ward off nutrition depletion while you take steps to avoid pregnancy, we’ve got you covered there too.