Birth control myths

A woman applying a birth control patch to her left arm


10 common birth control myths — and the facts

When it comes to birth control, there are lots of misconceptions and rumors out there. Here, Brenda Jackson, a nurse-midwife and Director of Clinical Care Improvement and Clinical Quality at Kaiser Permanente, share the facts behind some of these common birth control myths.

Fact: Researchers have found no evidence that birth control pills cause weight gain. While this is true today, this wasn’t always the case. When birth control pills first came out in the 1960s, they had higher levels of estrogen, which can, in fact, cause weight gain. But today’s birth control pills have much fewer hormones, so weight gain is not likely.

Taking the pill, or any hormonal birth control, may cause fluid retention before your period. This can cause you to gain a few pounds, but it should go away once your period is over. 

Though it’s rare, some people can gain weight on the pill. If that happens to you, talk to your provider about it. They can help you find a different birth control method that works better for you.

Fact: Birth control doesn’t affect your fertility and has no long-term effects on your ability to have a baby after you stop taking it.

Once you stop using birth control — whether it’s an IUD, implant, pill, patch, or ring — you can get pregnant right away. The only method that takes a little longer to stop preventing pregnancy is the shot. It can take up to 10 months for the shot to leave your body.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs/STDs) actually have more of a chance of affecting fertility. STIs, like chlamydia and gonorrhea, can cause permanent damage to your reproductive organs and lead to infertility, if untreated. That’s why it’s so important to use a condom and why you should regularly get tested for STIs.

Fact: The IUD is appropriate and safe for people with and without kids. Not having kids has no bearing on whether or not you can use the IUD. 

This myth is so common because it used to be true. Years ago, you could only get an IUD if you already had children. Doctors recommended it because after you give birth, your cervix and uterus are slightly larger. This makes inserting the IUD easier and using it more comfortable.

Today, there are newer and smaller IUDs, which are easier to insert and more comfortable for every user.

Fact: The birth control pill does not cause cancer. In fact, it can actually lower your risk of certain cancers. According to the American Cancer Society, studies have found that birth control pills — with both estrogen and progesterone — can lower your risk of ovarian and endometrial cancer. And the longer you take them, the lower your risk. There’s also new research that suggests birth control pills may lower your risk of developing colon cancer while you take them.

When it comes to breast cancer, the answer is a little more complicated. Several studies have suggested that birth control pills are associated with a small increased risk of breast cancer for current and recent users. 

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use the pill. In general, the benefits of the pill, like pregnancy prevention and a lower risk of ovarian and endometrial cancers, still outweigh the very small increased risk of breast cancer. This is especially true if you’re young.

If you’re over 40 and have a higher risk of breast cancer because of family history or other factors, you might want to try a different birth control method. It’s best to tell your doctor about your increased risk so they can help you find the best option for you.

Fact: You don’t need to “cleanse” or detox your body from birth control. There are no medical benefits to taking a break from birth control. You can safely stay on your chosen method of birth control for as long as you want. Taking breaks from birth control may increase your risk of an unwanted pregnancy.

Fact: The IUD is a very safe form of birth control, and IUD complications are not common. Many of the misconceptions about the IUD are tied to some of its very rare complications.

For example, one possible complication from an IUD is that it can poke through the lining of the uterus. While it’s possible, it’s not likely. The risk of this tearing for teens and adults is approximately 0.1%, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Similarly, there are scary stories that IUDs can fall out of the uterus. This is also possible, but not likely. 

Fact: There’s no strong evidence that birth control causes mood changes or mental health disorders. Research shows that most people do well on hormonal birth control and don’t experience any severe mood changes.

While much less common, some people can experience mood swings after starting birth control. It’s possible that some people may be more sensitive to hormones than others. If you start hormonal birth control and don’t feel right, pay attention to your body and tell your provider what’s going on. They can help you find a birth control method that works better for you.

Fact: The birth control patch rarely falls off. It’s very sticky, and once it’s placed, it should stay put until you remove it. It shouldn’t fall off because of showering or sweating.

In those rare instances if it does fall off, you can just replace it. If the patch is still sticky, and it’s been less than 48 hours since it came off, you can put the same patch back on. If it’s no longer sticky, or it’s been more than 2 days, put on a new patch. 

Fact: The birth control ring should not cause discomfort during sex. In general, you and your partner shouldn’t be able to feel the ring during penetrative sex. If you feel any discomfort, or if it bothers you or your partner, the ring might not be fully inserted. Try moving the ring around until it feels comfortable.  

Fact: The implant is a discreet birth control method. Once the bruising is gone from the implant insertion, you shouldn’t be able to see it under your skin. No one will know it’s there unless you tell them. But you will be able to feel the implant if you press on your arm where it was inserted. 

  

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