Birth control pills: 5 myths you should stop believing
Deciding on a method of birth control isn’t always easy. A national survey conducted in 2014 found that out of the 52.2% of married Malaysian women, only 34.3% use modern methods of contraception. While the pill (combined oral contraceptive pill) is the most popular method in Malaysia (13.2% of married women surveyed),1,2 many misconceptions about it still exist.
You may have heard it from your friends, colleagues or family – birth control pills will make you fat or cause you to develop acne, or even increase your risk of cancer. The truth is that these pills can be taken safely when prescribed by a doctor and are effective in helping to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
So, read on to debunk five common misconceptions about birth control pills so you can separate the truths from myths.
5 myths about birth control pills
Myth 1: Birth control pills could lead to weight gain.
Putting on weight may be a major concern when you are considering birth control pills especially if you have heard stories of friends experiencing the same.
However, research hasn’t established any relationship between these pills and weight gain.4,5
In fact, the current generation of birth control pills that use lower doses of hormones and contain drospirenone (a type of progestin), could help reduce water retention associated with the menstrual cycle.6
Myth 2: The pill may increase the risk of cancer.
The truth is that combined hormonal contraceptives may decrease the risk of certain types of cancer, such as ovarian cancer, endometrial (the inner lining of the uterus is known as the endometrium) cancer and colon cancer.4,7,8 Researchers have discovered that combined pills have a protective effect against ovarian and endometrial cancer for up to 15 years or more after intake discontinues.7
Though the use of these pills does not increase breast cancer risk, if you have a family history, if you have or have had breast cancer, you may need to consult your doctor before using any form of hormonal contraceptive.8
Myth 3: The pill may mess with your mood.
Though most studies have shown no association between taking contraceptive pills and mood changes, some women have reported this.9,10
However, contraceptive pills with newer forms of progestin such as drospirenone, have shown a beneficial effect on moods.10
Did you know that low dose contraceptive pills are also prescribed to perimenopausal women to help out with their mood swings?11
If you are concerned about the effect of these pills on your mood, do discuss with your doctor.
Myth 4: The pill may interfere with your fertility.
The majority of women (74%) who used birth control pills were able to conceive within six months of stopping. Smaller percentages, 14% and 12%, conceived within a year.12 This means that the pill does not interfere with your fertility. In fact, women who are on birth control pills and those on other forms of contraception return to fertility about the same time.13
Generally, you can get pregnant as soon as you ovulate again, which is usually two weeks after you stop taking the pill. If your period doesn’t return, take a pregnancy test before you see your doctor. In case you’ve been taking combined pills during early pregnancy, you should stop taking them and inform your doctor. Try not to worry about having taken the pills unknowingly as there really isn’t much evidence to show that the hormones in the pill cause birth defects.14
Myth 5: Skipping your period by using birth control is not healthy.
The usual birth control pills come in packages that have 21 active hormone pills and 7 dummy pills. Taking the 21 pills back-to-back without the dummy pills can delay or stop your periods when you go on holiday, have an important exam or join a sport event.14
You can stop taking the pill at any time before finishing your current pill packet. Your menstrual cycle will resume after you stop the pill. It doesn’t cause a buildup of blood in your uterus.
Take control of your reproductive life
There are many different types of birth control pills available in Malaysia, but each type comes with its own benefits and effects. Discuss with your doctor to find the right contraceptive pill for you.
- Najimudeen M, Sachchithanantham K. An insight into low contraceptive prevalence in Malaysia and its probably consequences. Int J Reprod Contracept Obstet Gynecol. 2014;3(3):493-496. Available at https://www.ejmanager.com/mnstemps/89/89-1404152512.pdf Accessed on 12 October 2018.
- Lembaga Penduduk Dan Pembangunan Keluarga Negara. Laporan penemuan utama: kajian penduduk dan keluarga Malaysia kelima (KPKM-5). 2014. Available at http://www.lppkn.gov.my/index.php/en/pusat-sumber/2016-02-26-02-25-15/2016-03-04-00-42-00/file.html Accessed on 15 October 2018.
- Stachenfeld NS. Sex hormone effects on body fluid regulation. Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 2008;36(3):152-159. Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2849969/ Accessed on 15 October 2018.
- National Health Services, United Kingdom. Your contraception guide: Combine pill. Available at https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/contraception/combined-contraceptive-pill/#how-the-combined-pill-works Accessed on 18 September 2018.
- Gallo MF, Lopez LM, Grimes DA, Carayon F, Schulz KF, Helmerhorst FM. Combination contraceptives: effects on weight (Review). Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014;Issue 1: Article No. CD003987. Available at https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD003987.pub5/abstract Accessed on 18 September 2018.
- Oelkers W. Antimineralcorticoid activity of a novel oral contraceptive containing drospirenone, a unique progesteron resembling natural progesterone. Eur J Contracept Reprod Health Care. 2003;7(Suppl 3):19-26..
- Roberts HE. Gynaecological cancer and the contraceptive pill. Obstet Gynaecol. 2004;6:75-79. Available at https://obgyn.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1576/toag.188.8.131.52981 Accessed on 15 October 2018.
World Health Organization. Family planning: a global handbook for providers. 2018. Available at http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/260156/9780999203705-eng.pdf;jsessionid=D5FA073C4AD28F35B3FBB2F628B7DF4F?sequence=1 Accessed on 15 October 2018.
- Toffol E, Heikinheimo O, Koponen P, Luoto R, Partonen T. Hormonal contraception and mental health: results of a population-based study. Hum Reprod. 2011;26(11):3085-3093. Available at https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/9638/be779e99c6eda0d7160f649c59547988fa18.pdf Accessed on 15 October 2018.
- Schaffir J, Worly BL, Gur TL. Combined hormonal contraception and its effects on mood: a critical review. Eur J Contracept Reprod Health Care. 2016;21(5):347-355. Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27636867 Accessed on 15 October 2018.
- Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School. (2018). Perimenopause: rock road to menopause. Available at https://www.health.harvard.edu/womens-health/perimenopause-rocky-road-to-menopause Accessed on 15 October 2018.
- Farrow A, Hull MGR, Northstone K, Taylor H, Forc WCL, Golding J. Prolonged use of oral contraception before a planned pregnancy is assoicated with a decreased risk of delayed conception. Hum Repord. 2002;17(10):2754-2761. Available at https://academic.oup.com/humrep/article/17/10/2754/607778 Accessed on 15 October 2018.
- Barnhart KT, Schreiber CA. Retunr to fertility following discontinuation of oral contraceptives. Ferti Steril. 2009;91:659-663. Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19268187 Accessed on 15 October 2018.
- Mayo Clinic. (2018). Healthy lifestyle: birth control. Available at https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/birth-control/in-depth/birth-control-pill/art-20045136?pg=2/ Accessed on 15 October 2018.