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Contraceptive Myths

There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about birth control that you may hear from friends, family, the media, and other sources. Below are a few of the most common myths about birth control that you may hear if you haven’t heard them already. If you hear something about birth control from a source other than your healthcare provider who prescribes or manages your birth control, you should ask them about it before stopping your birth control method, which can put you at risk for an unwanted pregnancy. Visit the Birth Control Methods page to learn about the different types of birth control.

Birth Control Causes Weight Gain

No birth control methods cause you to gain weight just because you’re using birth control. Many people start birth control when they’re young and going through puberty, which is a time when their bodies are changing rapidly. Weight gain is common during puberty whether or not you’re using birth control. Most people also gain 1-3 pounds of weight every year as they age naturally.

The injectable contraceptive method Depo-Provera, commonly known as “the shot”, does delay the feeling of fullness, so people who are using this method may think that they’re still hungry, causing them to eat more and gain weight. This can be prevented by eating a healthy diet, being aware of portion sizes, and exercising regularly. The average amount of weight gain associated with Depo-Provera use is 5 pounds in 12 months.

Birth Control Causes Cancer

Cancer and other serious medical conditions are common concerns for many people who are taking medications of any type. Hormonal birth control methods protect against ovarian, uterine, and colon cancers, and for some of these cancers, the protection lasts for years after you stop using the birth control method. While some recent research studies have found a small association between breast cancer and using hormonal birth control, these studies are not able to account for all of the other lifestyle factors that may increase the risk for breast cancer much more than using common medications like birth control.

If you have a family history of certain cancers or genetic diseases that put you at a higher risk for cancers that may be sensitive to hormones or if you currently have or recently had a cancer diagnosis, you should discuss this with your healthcare provider when deciding on a birth control method.

Birth Control Causes Infertility

Birth control methods temporarily prevent fertility, which is a major benefit of using birth control. Once you stop using birth control, you’re able to become pregnant as soon as your next menstrual cycle or within 1 month after stopping birth control. The one exception to this is the Depo-Provera injection, also known as “the shot”, because it may take up to 6-9 months for regular menstrual cycles to return after stopping it.

People often start using birth control when they are young and continue to use it for many years. They naturally become a little bit less fertile as they age whether they are using birth control or not. Someone may find that they are less fertile than they expect when they stop their birth control method simply because they are older.

Infertility may be caused by a variety of different factors, the most common and preventable of which are sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like gonorrhea or chlamydia. STIs that go untreated for a long time cause scarring of the reproductive organs and infertility. It’s important to get tested for STIs regularly if you’re sexually active.

Birth Control Makes People Moody and Emotional

For most people, birth control either improves or does not change their mood. Birth control can improve mood changes that are associated with hormonal changes during period cycles. Some forms of birth control pills have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treatment of severe mood changes associated with periods such as premenstrual syndrome (PMS) or premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). Sometimes people start using birth control when many other things are changing in their lives, such as new relationships, new jobs, or new life opportunities, and all these things are likely to affect their emotions.

IUDs Are Not Safe for Teenagers or for People Who Have Not Delivered a Baby

IUDs, or intrauterine devices, are safe for young people and people who have not had babies before. All types of IUDs, hormonal and copper types, are safe and extremely effective at preventing pregnancy. Some IUDs are a few millimeters smaller than others and are often advertised specifically to teenagers or people who have not had babies before. In reality, an IUD of any size can be placed in anyone with a uterus regardless of their age or the deliveries that they’ve had.

Birth Control Can Cause an Abortion

No birth control methods cause an abortion to happen. Some people confuse emergency contraception, also known as “the morning-after pill”, with the medical abortion pill, also known as mifepristone, Mifeprex, or RU-486. Emergency contraception must be taken within 5 days of having unprotected sex and works by delaying the ovary from releasing an egg. If you’re already pregnant, emergency contraception does not cause an abortion or any harm to the pregnancy.

If you start a birth control method before you know that you’re pregnant, the birth control does not harm the pregnancy or cause any birth defects. IUDs, birth control that’s inside the uterus, work by preventing sperm from entering the uterus. If you become pregnant while you have an IUD in place, it does not cause an abortion, but you should be evaluated by a healthcare provider immediately because you may be at risk for having an ectopic pregnancy, or a pregnancy outside the uterus.

Your Body Needs to Take a Break from Using Birth Control

Although many methods of birth control contain hormones, the hormones are similar to the ones that naturally occur in your body. Being on birth control does not cause there to be “too many” hormones in your body because your body regulates its own hormone levels as it responds to the birth control. There are no negative effects of being on birth control for a long time. There is no reason to stop using birth control unless you want to try to become pregnant. If you’re having sex and you don’t want to be pregnant, it’s important to find the birth control that works best for you. Visit the Birth Control Methods page to learn about the different types of birth control.

If You Get a Long-Term Method of Birth Control, You Have to Use It for the Maximum Number of Years

Long-term methods of birth control, such as IUDs or implants, can be used for as long as 3, 5, or 10 years depending on which method you choose. You do not have to keep the birth control method for that long if you change your mind and want to switch to a different method or if you want to try to become pregnant earlier than that. You can have the birth control implant or IUD removed whenever you want. If you do decide to keep the birth control method for the entire time and you’re happy with it, you can have the implant or IUD removed and a new one put in at the same time.

Breastfeeding Can Be Used as a Form of Birth Control

While this is true, it only works effectively if all three of the following conditions are met:

  • Exclusively breastfeeding (feeding the infant every 2-4 hours),
  • Within 6 months of the delivery of the infant, and
  • Has not had a menstrual period yet

Only when all three of the conditions are met can breastfeeding be used as a form of birth control. Some people choose to continue breastfeeding for longer than 6 months, but they will not be protected against pregnancy after that time, even if their regular menstrual periods have not yet returned. Anyone who is breastfeeding should discuss with their healthcare provider about when they plan to start a birth control method after their delivery.

Birth Control Will Decrease a Person’s Milk Supply If They Are Breastfeeding

Birth control does not impact the amount of milk, the quality of the milk, or the length of time of breastfeeding for people who choose to breastfeed their infants. All non-hormonal or progestin-only methods of contraception (hormonal IUDs, copper IUDs, implants, Depo-Provera injection, progestin-only pills, barrier methods) can be started immediately after delivery.

Estrogen-containing methods of contraception (pills, patches, rings) cannot be started until 4-6 weeks after delivery because estrogen can increase the risk of life-threatening blood clots in people who have recently delivered. No person should delay starting birth control because of concerns about breastfeeding. Delays in starting birth control can increase your chance of having an unplanned pregnancy.

Content reviewed by Shandhini Raidoo, MD, MPH, FACOG

Last Updated: September 25, 2020 by Phyllis Raquinio