Long before birth control was ever a thing, there were misconceptions about, well, conception. We’ve heard old wives’ tales and unproven theories about everything from fertility to the birthing process itself—and birth control is no exception. But facts are facts, and doctors, especially those who treat women of reproductive age, can attest to the reality that most of what we are taught to believe about BC is totally untrue. Wondering if you’ve been falling victim to these misconceptions? Here, some of the nation’s top gynecologists set the record straight by debunking the most common myths about birth control methods.
It’s easy to get pregnant
The chance of getting pregnant when you have unprotected sex isn’t as high as you probably think. “Since the majority of eggs are not normal or don’t fertilize or don’t implant, conception occurs only 20 percent of the time when a couple has timed intercourse,” explains Alan Copperman, MD, OBGYN at Progyny and co-founder of Reproductive Medicine Associates of New York. “It may be actually chance alone that is responsible for conceiving or not conceiving.” Bottom line: If you are sexually active and not looking to conceive, you shouldn’t chance it.
Birth control makes PMS worse
Quite the contrary. Don’t believe your boyfriend when he says your birth control pills are making you crazy. “There is also a strong belief that contraceptives cause depression or make PMS worse when in actuality they are often solutions for PMS and many mood disorders by balancing hormone levels and avoiding hormonal swings that may be associated with the natural menstrual cycle,” says Rebecca Levy-Gantt, MD, OBGYN, at Premier ObGyn Napa Inc.
Birth control makes you gain weight
If you’ve passed on the pill in the past, fearing you’d go up a few jean sizes, you may want to reconsider. “I think I have heard this one from almost every patient, regarding every type of birth control, even things like a copper IUD which has no hormones,” says Dr. Levy-Gantt. “The truth is, in studies it has been shown that with birth control pills, the average weight gain over three years is about three to five pounds, which is similar to what women gain anyway as they get older.” The only exception is Depo Provera and some IUDs, which can, in some cases, cause an increased appetite and lead to weight gain, she adds.
You’re banking up your eggs by being on birth control
Since the basic birth control pill pumps your body with synthetic versions of the female sex hormones progesterone and estrogen, they prevent you from ovulating. But that doesn’t mean that you’re not going through eggs each month. The eggs start out as follicles that develop on your ovaries, and these follicles end up dying (don’t worry, a healthy woman has hundreds of thousands, depending on her age) when not fertilized.
Birth control will decrease future fertility
On the flip side, you might think that years of putting your body’s baby-making process on hold might impact its ability to procreate, but it doesn’t. “As soon as birth control is stopped—meaning as soon as an IUD is removed or as soon as you stop taking birth control pills—your fertility will return in the very next cycle,” says Dr. Levy-Gantt. “But if you started birth control in your 20s and were on it for eight to 10 years, you may be less fertile because of the natural decline in fertility that occurs with age.” In other words, a woman at 36 is less fertile than a woman at 26, but not because of birth control. The only exception is Depo Provera, which may stay in your system for a year or more after the last shot, explains Dr. Levy-Gantt.
“Pulling out” is a reliable form of birth control
Despite how many friends tell you that they’ve been doing it for years, know that they are lucky—very lucky. While the withdrawal method, as it’s called, does help prevent pregnancy, since less sperm enters the vagina, it most certainly isn’t as reliable as other methods. Plus, pulling out properly can be difficult: “Don’t forget about a little thing called pre-ejaculation, which happens right before your partner finally ejaculates,” says Sherry Ross, MD, OBGYN and author of She-ology. “This liquid that comes out of the penis before ejaculation may have active and viable sperm that can make you pregnant.” According to Planned Parenthood, 1 in 5 women who use this method get pregnant every year.
You can’t get pregnant on your period
It’s not easy to do, but it can be done. “For some women with shorter intervals between periods—for example 21 days between each period—they ovulate on day 7 or 8, and so they are prone to getting pregnant at the end of a long period,” says Dr. Ross. “For women who have a period every 21 days and a period lasting 7 days, they can get pregnant on day 5, 6 or 7 if they have unprotected sex.” And remember, even though the risk is small, pregnancy can happen since sperm can live for 3 days.
Breastfeeding prevents pregnancy
While it’s true that breastfeeding can put your ovulation on pause, it’s totally untrue to use it as a form of birth control. Ever heard of Irish twins? If you just gave birth and haven’t gotten your period, you may still be able to get pregnant, our experts explain. “Most women do not understand that you can get pregnant before having your period return,” says Dr. Ross. “Health care providers need to educate women during the standard six-week post-delivery visit to discuss birth control practices and pregnancy prevention.”