By Rachel Nall, RN, BSN, CCRN
Reviewed by Debra Sullivan, PhD, MSN, RN, CNE, COI
Taking the pill does not mean a woman never wants to get pregnant.
If the time arrives when she does want to conceive, she may wonder how long it will take her to become pregnant.
The answer to this question can depend not only on when she stopped taking the pill but other factors, including age and overall health.
Fast facts about getting pregnant after stopping the pill:
- The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimate almost 62 percent of women between 15 to 44 years of age use contraception.
- A variety of birth control pills are available on prescription in the United States.
- Sometimes taking the pill can conceal menstrual cycle irregularities.
- Women may not get pregnant right after stopping the pill, as the menstrual cycle reestablishes itself.
How the pill works
Blister packs of hormonal birth control contraceptive pills.
When a woman stops taking birth control pills, her menstrual cycle may take a while to return to a natural pattern.
Birth control pills serve several purposes, including:
- maintaining consistent hormone levels
- stopping the estrogen peak that causes ovulation
- thickening cervical mucus, so sperm cannot reach an egg
In addition to preventing pregnancy, taking birth control pills offers several benefits to women. These include reduced bleeding and cramping during a menstrual cycle and reduced risk for ovarian cysts.
When taken at the same time every day, birth control pills prevent pregnancy for 91 percent of women on combined pills and 95 percent of women on mini-pills, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
When a woman wishes to conceive, she will stop taking the pill.
How long does it take for the menstrual cycle to reestablish itself?
According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS), a woman’s period may be irregular for up to 3 months after she stops taking the pill.
Doctors call a woman’s first period after stopping the pill a “withdrawal bleed” where she may experience bleeding patterns that are different from her period while on the pill.
Doctors call the next period a woman has “a natural period” that is more like her typical period.
It is possible that an irregular menstrual cycle, or reestablishing a natural menstrual cycle off the pill, can affect a woman’s ability to conceive.
What do the studies say?
Taking oral contraceptives can result in a short-term delay in achieving pregnancy of 2 to 6 months when a woman stops taking the pill, compared to other contraceptive use, according to a 2013 Danish study published in the journal Human Reproduction.
The study included 3,727 women, aged 18 to 40 years.
The participants were asked to complete a questionnaire on a monthly basis for 12 months to determine if pregnancy occurred.
The researchers also found that women who had used birth control pills for longer rather than shorter time periods were more likely to get pregnant.
Similarly, long-term use had no negative effect on the probability of getting pregnant.
The study also found that women who had used birth control pills, starting younger than age 21 years old, were less likely to get pregnant when compared to women who started taking the pill after the age of 21 years.
The researchers theorized that younger women starting birth control pills might have more irregularities in their menstrual cycle compared with women starting birth control pills later.
An older research study published in the 2009 issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology, found that previous use of oral contraceptives does not affect conception in the short-term or during a one-year period after trying to conceive.
Considerations when stopping the pill
Examples of the factors that impact the likelihood of conceiving after ceasing the contraceptive pill include:
- A woman’s overall health: Factors, such as thyroid disorders, pituitary gland disorders, or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), can affect the chances of conceiving. Women who are obese or excessively thin also may have difficulty conceiving.
- A woman’s reproductive health: Women who have a history of pelvic infections, blocked fallopian tubes, or endometriosis may have greater difficulty conceiving.
- A man’s reproductive health: Low sperm counts can affect a couple’s chances of getting pregnant.
- How often a couple has sex: “Regular” sex when trying to conceive is usually having sex every 2 to 3 days. Having sex less frequently is less likely to result in pregnancy.
- A woman’s age: Rates of pregnancy decline after women reach the age of 35 years. According to the NHS, 92 percent of women ages 19 to 26, will conceive within 1 year of having unprotected sex. An estimated 82 percent of women, 35 to 39 years of age, will conceive within 1 year after having unprotected sex.
Most obstetricians use the 1-year mark of having unprotected sex as a milestone in fertility assessment. If a couple has not conceived after trying for 1 year, they may wish to see an obstetrician for further evaluation.
Many factors go into getting pregnant. While stopping the pill is an important step, so is making sure a woman’s body is in the best possible health to conceive.
Additional steps a woman can take to ensure a healthy pregnancy include:
- prenatal vitamins or folic acid supplements to avoid birth abnormalities
- stopping smoking
- refraining from drinking alcohol
- keeping stress to a minimum
While stopping the pill may temporarily extend the time to conception, some women will get pregnant immediately after they come off the pill.
Therefore, it is vital for a woman to be ready to take care of her body during her pregnancy, as soon as she and her partner begin trying to conceive.
SOURCE: MEDICAL NEWS TODAY