The contraceptive pill has been closely scrutinised ever since it first became widely available in the 1960s. As a medication that influences the hormone levels in the body, the pill can affect the body in a number of ways, including some minor but manageable side effects.
For many women who choose to take oral contraceptives, there is a long-standing fear that taking the pill when unaware of pregnancy may result in birth defects to their unborn child. Similarly, those women who take the pill for many years before coming off contraception to try for a baby have expressed concerns that this may somehow affect the health of any subsequent children.
Recent research has shown, however, that taking oral contraceptives does not increase the risk of children being born with defects. In fact, the number of birth defects recorded in the study found that those women who had never used oral contraceptives had the same likelihood of birth defects – roughly 25 in every 1000 – as those who had regularly used the pill.
There are a number of minor side effects traditionally related to the pill, including water retention, mood swings and decreased libido, as well as a slightly increased risk of blood clots due to the heightened levels of oestrogen in the body. However, this risk is relatively small. Any woman already at risk of blood clots or stroke – such as women over the age of 35 who are heavy smokers – are typically recommended to use alternative forms of contraceptives.
While it is unusual for women to continue to take the contraceptive pill during the course of pregnancy beyond the first trimester, when it is possible to be unaware of the baby, there are some cases where women have cause to continue with the medication. The oral contraceptive’s ability to manage hormones can be important to women with conditions such as acne.
What does this mean for women on the pill looking to conceive in the future?
The findings of the research into the oral contraceptive should reassure women that there is no proven link between the pill and birth defects in children. From this standpoint, the oral contraceptive can still be considered one of the most effective, convenient and safe solutions for women looking to control their cycle and fertility.
While the study also suggests that there is little reason for women to stop taking the pill during pregnancy, most medical professionals would still advise coming off the pill upon confirmation of a pregnancy.
Historically, it has been common practice for a woman to come off contraception a number of months before trying for a baby to avoid any adverse hormone effects. This study shows that there is no proven reason to do so, however, and so it may be considered safe to continue with the pill right up until a couple begin to try for a family.
Evidence does suggest, however, that conception is more likely if the menstrual cycle is given time to return to a more natural pattern, however, so this may still provide a reason to stop the oral contraceptive some months before trying.