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The decision to stop birth control can be a personal one. While it may mean you’re ready to start trying for a baby, people stop birth control for many different reasons, including wanting to try a different contraceptive method or experiencing a change in insurance that affects the price of a birth control prescription. Whatever the reason, it’s important to understand your body so you aren’t shocked by a pregnancy, or disappointed that it didn’t happen immediately.
“I tell my patients not to stop their birth control until they’re ready to get pregnant,” says Dr. Leena Nathan, an OB-GYN at the University of California, Los Angeles. Whether it’s the IUD, or the pill, most people return to their normal fertility “pretty much immediately,” Nathan says.
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Some patients who stop birth control conceive before their first period off the pill, Nathan says. And while everyone’s body is different and not everyone will get pregnant the month they stop the pill or remove their birth control device, there’s no fertility latency period for the majority of birth control methods.
There are many different types of birth control: pills, patches, condoms, sponges and T-shaped devices that sit in your uterus (IUDs). And like always, no two people are alike, and factors other birth control use play into someone’s chance of conceiving. So how can you know when you’ll be fertile after foregoing birth control and letting your reproductive system do its thing?
can either have a combination of two hormones, estrogen and progestin, which work primarily by stopping ovulation, or progestin-only pills (also called the “mini pill”) which mostly work by disrupting fertilization through changes to the cervical mucus and uterine lining. With either pill, you’re safe to start trying to conceive immediately after you stop taking the pill, Nathan says. (In other words, the claim that you need to wait three months is a myth.)
Because ovulation resumes quickly after birth control pills, you should start another birth control method immediately if you don’t want to get pregnant (and are having sex with). Also, if you’re starting a new hormonal birth control method, like the pill or a hormonal IUD, they can take up to a week to become effective at preventing pregnancy.
In addition to stopping conception, birth control pills are also used to lessen painful or heavy periods, regulate cycles or help with other hormone-related concerns. Dr. Shari Lawson, assistant professor of gynecology and obstetrics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, says that sometimes patients have been on the pill for so long, they forget the reasons they started it in the first place.
“The pill is just engineered to give you a regular period, but that’s completely manufactured,” Lawson says. “So once you stop taking the pill, your body’s going to go back to what its normal cycle is.” This means that if you had irregular periods before going on the pill, and then regular periods with the pill, you should expect your periods to be irregular again once you stop taking the pill.
Whether it’s the copper IUD (Paragard) or one of the hormone-releasing IUDS, you can get pregnant right away after your IUD comes out. The copper IUD prevents fertilization because the copper it releases is toxic to sperm, so it never stops ovulation or your “real” menstrual cycle. The IUDs with hormones, such as Mirena, sometimes stop ovulation but mostly work because the progestin they release thickens the cervical mucus and thins the lining of the uterus.
The only method that can delay someone’s return to fertility is Depo Provera, Nathan says, which is an injection or shot of progestin you get at a doctor’s office. According to the Mayo Clinic, it might take as long as 10 months for ovulation to resume after stopping the shot (but it could start much sooner).
In terms of other birth control methods: Barrier methods such as condoms don’t prevent pregnancy once you stop using them. As far as the NuvaRing or “the patch” is concerned, these methods release the same hormones as combination birth control pills, meaning they temporarily stop ovulation and it will quickly resume again for most people. Fertility after removing your birth control implant, Nexplanon, also resumes as soon as it’s taken out.
The copper IUD (Paragard) doesn’t use hormones to prevent pregnancy. Other IUDs release small amounts of the synthetic hormone progestin, which mimics the natural hormone progesterone.
If you have regular cycles (occurring every 24 to 34 days), Lawson says, and you’re engaging in “,” you have an 85% chance of conceiving within a year. For a person under the age of 35, conceiving in the first month of trying, or the 10th, can be considered normal. Patients in this group are given a year of actively trying to get pregnant before an evaluation for infertility is recommended.
For patients who are age 35 and up, the recommendation is to try for six months, then go in if pregnancy hasn’t happened. That’s because someone’s egg quality starts to decline around age 35, making pregnancy, on average, a little more difficult.
Age alone is definitely not the only factor impacting someone’s ability to conceive. Common conditions including polycystic ovary syndrome, endometriosis and having a past pelvic inflammatory infection can make pregnancy more difficult. Lifestyle factors, like alcohol consumption, smoking or even, can also impact someone’s fertility, according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists.
What’s more, health professionals estimate one-third of fertility issues stem from the other partner, most commonly with their sperm, according to the ACOG.
Chemical pregnancies, or very early miscarriages, are also common and can happen before someone even realizes they were pregnant. Such early miscarriages most commonly happen because of problems in the embryo.
Aside from chemical pregnancy, early pregnancy loss in general (also called miscarriage or spontaneous abortion) occurs within the first trimester (13 weeks) of pregnancy, and happens in about 10% of known pregnancies, according to the ACOG.
Lawson says that while it’s not likely, there’s information that suggests that being on a combination birth control pill that suppresses your ovaries raises the “possibility that you may have more than one ovulation event,” meaning two eggs could be released and the likelihood of at least one of them getting fertilized is greater.
Infertility doctors may also put their patients on birth control pills to keep their uterine lining “nice and clean” prior to pregnancy initiation, Nathan says. But for the average patient? “That’s a myth,” she says.
Read more to find out what happens each month and trimester of pregnancy, and what doctors say about COVID-19 vaccines and future pregnancy.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.