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Challenging misconceptions about birth control

Posted in: Women's Health 24 Feb, 2012

Birth control has been in the news a fair amount recently, particularly in the United States, as debates rage on relating to whether contraceptives should be covered by health insurance. The contraceptives in question are hormonal contraceptives like birth control pills, though also subject to continuous debate is the problem of the morning-after pill. What these debates often throw up is the fact that there are an awful lot of misconceptions out there about contraceptive methods. Let’s take a look at just five of the most common.

Hormonal contraception isn’t safe

A persistent belief is that the hormones contained in contraceptives like the combined pill are in some way harmful, and will cause problems later on. This is simply not the case. Hormonal contraceptives have been used by women safely for decades. Though, as with any prescription medication, there is a risk of side effects, such effects are usually extremely mild and only temporary. No causal link has ever been established between long-term use of the pill and any health condition. In fact, long-term use of oral contraceptives has been linked with a decrease in the risk of ovarian cancer and endometriosis.

Hormonal birth control will have an impact on your long-term fertility

It is easy to see where this particular misconception comes from, as it seems logical to assume that altering your reproductive environment to discourage pregnancy will have a long-term effect on your fertility. Fortunately, this is not the case. After several decades’ use by millions of women worldwide, there is no evidence at all that the pill has any effect on fertility.

You’ll put on weight if you take the pill

This is an extremely common fear that actually causes many women to decide not to use the pill. This misconception most likely has its roots in the early history of the oral contraceptive. When the pill was first produced, the levels of hormones contained in it were considerably higher than they are today because the appropriate balance had not yet been achieved. These unnecessarily high dosages of hormones sometimes did lead to slight weight gain. Today, the dosages of hormones are far lower and do not cause weight gain, though some women may experience some water retention as a side effect of a particular pill.

You should take regular breaks every few months if you’re on the pill

There is no medical reason why you would need to take a break from the pill at any stage during your course of treatment. You can actually take the pill for as many as 15 consecutive years without facing an increased risk of any kind.

The morning-after pill is an abortion pill

It is perhaps understandable that some confusion persists surrounding the morning-after pill. Misconceptions are usually due to a lack of understanding on the role the morning-after pill plays in preventing pregnancy. However, the morning-after pill is not an abortion pill and is not designed to end a pregnancy that has already occurred, and is not capable of doing so. The morning-after pill has the ability to prevent a pregnancy from occurring in a similar way to a normal oral contraceptive. It differs from daily oral contraceptives because the dosage of synthetic hormones are much higher, but the role they play within the reproductive environment is actually very similar. You can find out more about how these pills prevent pregnancy by visiting our contraception page.

Though an “abortion pill” does exist, it is not the same as the morning-after pill and is not part of the group of emergency contraceptives. It is called RU-486 and is designed to terminate an existing pregnancy.

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