When the birth control pill was first introduced in the 1960s, it was met with not only great controversy, but also much confusion. With the passage of time, controversy and confusion have eased, but all mystery surrounding “the Pill” has not disappeared. In honour of National Family Planning Week, celebrated October 26 to November 1, check out these 4 common misconceptions about birth control pills and the reasons why they are not necessarily true.
But first, a word on what the birth control pill is and how it works.
Today, the types of birth control pills fall primarily into two categories: combination pills and progestin-only pills. Combination pills have a combination of hormones- estrogen and progestin- in their make-up. Progestin-only pills are comprised solely of progestin. According to Planned Parenthood, these pills stop pregnancy in two ways:
- By making cervical mucus thicker- therefore impeding the mobility of sperm
- By stopping eggs from leaving the ovaries
With this basic understanding of the pill established, we can move on to the misconceptions surrounding its usage:
- Birth control pills will work right after you begin taking them. This is not true of all types of birth control pills, and even so is only true within a certain time frame. According to Planned Parenthood, combination pills can be effective immediately, but only when taken within 5 days of the start of a period. If you begin a regimen of combination pills outside this window of time, the pill does not become effective until 7 days after starting. The progestin-only pill, on the other hand, does not become effective until after 2 days of taking it. Nevertheless, some healthcare professionals suggest using a back-up contraceptive method for the first month of taking birth control pills to avoid unwanted pregnancy.
- Birth control pills will make you gain weight. While this may be true of birth control pills in the past, scientific study has not found substantial evidence that today’s pills, that contain much lower amounts of hormones than those in the past, cause weight gain. There is, however, proof that some forms of birth control will cause weight gain in some women. For example, a study found evidence that the Depo-Provera birth control shot was linked to weight gain in 25 percent of women in the study.
- Birth control pills must be taken at the same time every day. As per Women’s Health, this is true of progestin-only pills that indeed must be taken at the same time every day to prevent pregnancy. Combination pills are made no more effective by taking them at the same time everyday.
- Birth control pills can only be taken for a limited time. For those who are generally healthy, birth control pills can be taken from puberty to menopause, according to the Mayo Clinic. It is true, however, that certain groups of women are not recommended to take combination birth control, particularly without careful consultation with a medical professional. These groups of women include those 35 or over who smoke, and women with certain medical conditions such as uncontrolled high blood pressure and blood-clotting disorders.
For more information on myths surrounding reproductive health, read the National Family Planning Board’s post on Old Wives’ Tales & Pregnancy.