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Getting to the Bottom of Myths About the Pill

Birth control is a very personal subject. Each woman who uses it may have different concerns and goals when it comes to taking the pill. Because of this, there are many myths about birth control pills and their side effects. Dr. Ronald Stewart, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Banner Health Clinic in Colorado, gives his opinion on these myths about the pill.

#1 – The pill makes you gain weight.

False. Birth control pills have not been shown to cause weight gain. In a summary of multiple studies, women both gained and lost weight. Each body is different; therefore, each reacts differently.

Some women have been known to gain weight the first or second month of starting the pill, but this essentially always returns to normal.

Dr. Stewart says, “Unfortunately, weight gain while taking the pill must be attributed to lifestyle issues.” With proper diet and exercise, you can expect your weight to stay generally the same while you take birth control pills.

#2 – Starting the pill too early will damage your reproductive organs or cause infertility.

False. As of now, there is no evidence to support this claim.

Starting birth control pills on young women who are approaching puberty has also never been shown to cause any issues with development of sexual characteristics, sexual function or fertility.

#3 – The pill can cause birth defects in babies.

False. Unfortunately, taking birth control pills does not always prevent pregnancy. In the rare cases that pregnancy occurs while taking the pill, there is no evidence of adverse effects on the fetus.

In the past, there was a concern that the chemical make-up of the pill containing progesterone might have an effect on a fetus. Dr. Stewart claims that this has never been found to be true.

Although you should not take birth control while pregnant because it is not necessary, the baby will not be harmed if you aren’t aware of the pregnancy for some time.

#4 – All birth control pills are the same.

False. There are two types of birth control pills.

Combination of estrogen and progesterone:

This is the most common type of pill. It has a combination of both components. Typically, the amount of estrogen is the same, but the progesterone can vary.

This variation is what can cause different reactions among women. This is what can also cause different side effects, and a doctor may need to adjust the doses. These are individual responses, but the general principle of these kinds of pills is the same.

Furthermore, in recent years the packaging has changed so that not all pills consist of 21 hormone pills and seven placebos. Some have shorter placebo intervals, and some have much longer periods of hormonal use which allow for fewer menses during a given period of time.

Progesterone only:

This type of pill is often referred to as the mini pill and may be used in any woman. However, this type if most commonly used in women who are breast-feeding after having a child.

This can also be a personal preference, but it is important to discuss options with your doctor about what might be best for your body.

#5 – The pill does not work as well if you are overweight.

False. Very low-dose birth control pills have been seen to be less effective in a significantly heavier female, but that typically would never be the correct prescription.

Standard dose pills have not been shown to work any less effectively in terms of a woman’s weight.

#6 – The pill is only for contraception.

Birth control pills were obviously initially developed for contraception. However, there are many other benefits to using the pill.

Dr. Stewart lists some other uses:

  • To regulate menstruation for women who have irregular periods
  • To decrease menstrual pain – this can be especially helpful in younger women or women who suffer from endometriosis
  • To suppress hair growth in women with excessive hair
  • To decrease the amount of blood flow in women with heavy periods
  • To treat premenstrual syndrome
  • To treat acne

#7 – The pill can cause cancer.

It is true that long-term use of combination birth control pills prior to a first pregnancy has been associated with a slight increased risk of breast cancer. There are also many other factors that weigh into breast cancer risk.

However, it is also true that use of birth control pills decreases the risk of both ovarian and uterine cancer.

If you are interested in starting birth control, or learning about which type is best for you, visit your primary care doctor or gynecologist. To find a doctor near you, go to bannerhealth.com/physician-directory.

Gynecology Women's Health

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