crankyT/iStock(NEW YORK) — Birth control is used by millions of women but the questions around it are never ending for women — from whether it will cause cancer or help prevent cancer to whether it can be taken forever or should not be taken at all.
Search “birth control pill” in particular online and you’ll get more than 100 million results. Since it is a pill taken every day by women, women want and deserve clear answers.
ABC News’ Good Morning America spoke to three leading women’s health experts to debunk the most common myths about the birth control pill.
All three experts agreed the most important thing for women to know is that birth control is a very personal decision that should be individualized to each woman, under the care of a healthcare practitioner.
Here are five other things to know:
Myth 1: You have to take the pill at the exact same time every day
For most pills, there is no need to set a timer to take the pill at the exact same time down to the minute every day, the experts say.
If you are taking the pill for pregnancy prevention and miss taking it, you can catch up on your pills and still be protected, according to Dr. Alyssa Dweck, a New York-based OBGYN. For example, if you miss taking your pill on Monday and Tuesday, you can take two pills on Wednesday (Monday and Wednesday’s pills) and two pills on Thursday (Tuesday and Thursday’s pills) and be okay.
If you are just a few hours late taking the pill you may though experience some breakthrough bleeding, noted Dweck.
“There is a lot of wiggle room in terms of pregnancy prevention but the side effects like bleeding can be annoying,” she said. “We try to tell people to take the pill at the same time every day so that they’re in the habit of taking the pill.”
The one caveat is progestin-only pills, which should be taken within the same 3 hours each day to keep contraceptive coverage ongoing.
Myth 2: You have to stop taking the pill in your late 30s
If women are in good health and don’t smoke, they can stay on the pill until menopause. In fact, being on the pill may actually prevent some perimenopause symptoms, according to Dweck.
“This is a big change from even 25 years ago when I first started practicing where we used to say every five years take a break or don’t take it after age 35,” she said. “We have so much [research] behind the pill and they are so low dose [estrogen] now that we will keep women on birth control in the right doses until menopause.”
Myth 3: Hormonal birth control fixes your hormones and periods
Taking hormonal birth control like the pill can help women with symptoms (like heavy bleeding and irregular periods) but it does not fix their hormone and menstrual cycle issues, according to Jolene Brighten, a Portland, Oregon-based functional medicine naturopathic medical doctor and author of Beyond the Pill.
“I call it ‘the pill for every female ill,'” she said. “If a woman has fill in the blank – acne, migraines, headaches, cramps, heavy bleeding – [the pill] is what a lot of doctors go to first, and to their credit it’s because it can help, but in reality it’s just addressing the symptoms.”
Brighten gives the example that if a woman has heavy bleeding it could be because of an iron deficiency, or menstrual cramps could be due to a magnesium deficiency. Taking the pill may ease the bleeding but not solve the nutrient deficiencies.
She recommends women come to their doctors armed with quantifiable data, like how often they have to change their tampons and for how many days their heavy bleeding lasts. Women should also be empowered to ask questions, like the type of lab testing they can have done to understand the cause of their symptoms.
“This is all about what is going to work the best for you and at no point should you take a backseat to your reproductive health,” she said. “You should always be vigilant.”
Myth 4: Taking the pill will hurt your fertility later on
Women who take the pill for 10 years and then go off of it are 10 years older than when they started on the pill, and it is that increase in age more than the pill that affects their fertility, according to Dweck.
In addition, women who take the pill to treat symptoms, like irregular periods, and then go off the pill to try to get pregnant still have the underlying menstrual issue that may affect their fertility, she explained.
“In general, any birth control method you’re on doesn’t impact your fertility because as you stop that method, your fertility comes back,” said Dr. Neha Bhardwaj, an OBGYN at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “I’ve had patients who get pregnant the same day I remove their IUD, for example.”
Bhardwaj noted the exception is the birth control shot, or Depo-Provera, because that can delay a woman’s fertility by more than three months.
Myth 5: Birth control is one size fits all
“This is not the birth control of your grandmother,” said Bhardwaj. “This is a very different birth control formulation and we have a lot of birth control options available.”
When the pill first became available, it had three times the estrogen that pills contain today, according to Bhardwaj. The diversity of birth control options now available means women can find the option best tailored to them.
Women can choose birth control pills, in particular, with lower doses of estrogen or ones that are designed to help decrease bloating or prevent acne.
“There is no best birth control,” said Bhardwaj, who advises women to find a doctor they are comfortable having open conversations with in order to find the best fit.
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