There’s a lot of confusion when it comes to hormonal birth control and fertility. Many women wonder if years of being on the Pill, for example, has somehow ruined their chances of becoming mothers. The short answer is no—birth control doesn’t negatively affect your fertility in the long run. Instead, it’s designed to temporarily delay your fertility to prevent pregnancy in the here and now. Once you stop taking birth control, whether you were using oral or injectable contraceptives, the patch, or an IUD, your normal fertility levels will return. The big key if you’re coming off birth control with plans for a baby is to address the possible nutrient deficiencies, which really can impact your fertility. Here’s what else to know about birth control and fertility.
- Birth control temporarily affects your fertility, or your ability to become pregnant.
- Once you stop using birth control, your normal fertility levels will return, though the timeline can vary depending on the form of birth control you were using.
- Research shows that birth control depletes certain nutrients, including vitamins B6 and B12, folic acid, vitamin C, magnesium and zinc, so it’s important to eat a healthy diet and supplement wisely.
- Experts recommend taking a prenatal vitamin during childbearing years to ensure you’re getting the right nutrients in the right amounts.
Hormonal Birth Control Basics
The goal of birth control is to prevent pregnancy, so yes, it does indeed temporarily affect your fertility (i.e., your ability to become pregnant). Everyone responds to hormonal birth control in their own way. It’s typical, for example, to experience different menstrual effects, depending on the type of birth control you use and your own physiology. Your period may be lighter or heavier, far more regular, irregular, or even gone altogether. After cycling off birth control, it’s normal to experience some inconsistency for a little while. Any irregularities you had before starting birth control are also likely to return.
Once you come off your hormonal birth control of choice, your fertility returns. Depending on the form of birth control you use, it can take varying amounts of time for the associated hormones to leave your body. Here’s what a 2020 study found (1):
- Injectable contraceptives: 5-8 menstrual cycles
- Patch: 4 cycles
- Oral contraceptives: 3 cycles
- Vaginal rings: 3 cycles
- Hormonal and copper IUDs and implants: 2 cycles
There is evidence that effects of contraceptive injections can take up to one year to subside, so keep that in mind if a baby is in the near future (2). Still, rest assured that no matter which contraception you use, there is zero research to support the idea that it will harm your fertility—and that’s true no matter what you're using or how long you’ve taken it (3).
The Nutrient Shortage
Studies do show, however, that birth control can deplete specific nutrients (4). It’s a little-known but incredibly common side effect. While it’s a subtle decline, it can add up if you’re on birth control long term, which is the case for many women. To stave off this nutrient nosedive, many experts recommend that women take a high-quality prenatal vitamin during their childbearing years, especially if they’re also using hormonal contraceptives.
“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,” says Carly Hartwig, a holistic reproductive health advocate and fertility awareness educator through CLWC. “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.”
So, what’s at stake? Generally, reserves of the following nutrients are all tend to drop while you use contraceptives:
That’s why it’s important to prioritize a nutrient-dense diet. To top off what you’re losing, you should be regularly eating eggs, dairy, spinach, lentils, seafood, cashews and vegetable juice. You can also supplement with Beli for Women, which has all of these nutrients and more. It’s a scientifically-aligned prenatal vitamin designed to support your fertility with all the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants you need for a successful conception and pregnancy. In fact, it’s what Hartwig recommends to all her clients. “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,” she says.
Hormonal imbalance can be another hurdle after coming off birth control. Hormonal contraceptives inhibit hormone production as a means of preventing pregnancy (specifically, pathways for GnRH, LH and FH, which suppresses ovulation). When you stop taking birth control, pathways for these hormones can take a little time to regain proper function. Since balanced hormones are key for fertility, it’s wise to take steps to maintain a healthy weight, be mindful of nutrition, exercise regularly, manage stress, and supplement with a good prenatal vitamin. You know, all the standard pillars of fertility!
The Birth Control/Fertility Misconception
There are a few things that likely contributed to this persistent idea that birth control negatively and permanently affects fertility. First, there really was a problematic IUD that actually did permanent damage back in the 70s and had to be yanked from the market. In the decades since, hormonal birth control has become safer and lower dose, and none of the options on the market today negatively affect fertility. Since they can delay fertility even after you stop, some people take that as proof that they actually cause infertility. Other people blame birth control for certain irregularities and conditions, like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). That’s likely because some birth control methods, like the pill, create an artificial menstrual cycle that’s really dependable. The regularity can mask pre-existing conditions that seem to suddenly appear once birth control is discontinued, and it’s easy enough to assume that it was the contraception itself that caused the issue.
The Bottom Line
Don’t be concerned that years of hormonal birth control have ruined your fertility—they haven’t. If you’re worried about infertility, it’s important to speak to your doctor about what might be going on. In the meantime, manage what’s within your control by embracing a healthy lifestyle, including supplementing with a clean, non-toxic prenatal vitamin (and we have one in mind!).
- Yland, J et al. 2020. Pregravid contraceptive use and fecundability: prospective cohort study. https://www.bmj.com/content/371/bmj.m3966
- The contraceptive injection. (2018). https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/contraception/contraceptive-injection/
- Girum, T et al. (2018). Return of fertility after discontinuation of contraception: a systematic review and meta-analysis. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6055351/
- Palmery, M et al. (2013). Oral contraceptives and changes in nutritional requirements. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23852908/