While the birth control pill has been around since the 1960s, there’s still so much confusion and misinformation surrounding its mechanics and effects. We’re all guilty of consulting Dr Google once in a while, but now it’s time to find out the fact and fiction of this medication.
We spoke to Belinda Kippen, a health education team leader at Women’s Health Queensland Wide to debunk the common myths associated with the Pill. So here's the stuff you need to know before choosing your method of contraception.
MYTH: The Pill Makes You Fat
“Research doesn't support that the Pill is responsible for weight gain in fat,” says Belinda. “However, you may retain extra fluid, which can contribute to slight weight gain. But we’re talking less than one kilo here!”
If your pill prescription has higher estrogen levels, it can be responsible for water retention, including tender breasts and bloating.
FACT: You have some leeway when you miss a pill
It can be tricky to take the Pill at the same time every day, even if you have an alarm set to blare though the office every lunch hour (sorry, guys!). But, Belinda says there is leeway in making up for a missed pill depending on the timeframe.
“If it’s more than 24 hours late but less than 48 hours late, take that pill straight away and you're covered. Sometimes it means you might take two pills at once and that’s OK as long as you’re less than 48 hours between missed pills.”
Belinda also says if more than 48 hours has elapsed since you last took the Pill, then you should take the one you’ve most recently missed, plus one other. Then you should discard all other missed pills and use additional methods of contraception for seven days to be safe.
MYTH: The worst time to miss a pill is in the middle of the packet
The critical time for missed pills is the beginning and the end of packet, because you require seven pills in a row to be covered.
FACT: Antibiotics and natural remedies can reduce the Pill’s effectiveness
Antibiotics that affect the way our liver metabolises drugs, such as liver enzyme-inducing medications, rifampin, rifabutin, and natural medication St John’s Wort can skew with the effectiveness of the Pill.
Belinda suggests abstaining from sex or using additional contraceptive methods for seven days after finishing a course of antibiotics, or to “speak to your GP about what to do while your liver is metabolising the Pill differently.”
MYTH: You need to take the sugar pills
For the first three to four months on a new prescription, it’s best to follow the guidelines with the sugar pills. But Belinda says “there's no research to suggest there is any harm for women taking the pill continuously without the break, back to back.”
Some women will notice bloating, fluid retention or spotting after a while on the Pill. Belinda says to use those triggers as a time to realign your hormone levels and have a break or bleed.
FACT: You never have a period while you’re on the Pill
"But hang on," we hear you say, "I have one in the middle of my pill cycle!" Nope. The Pill was designed to mimic normal cycles, but your regular “period” isn’t what you think. After a break from the Pill, your hormone levels start to come down and the uterus begins to shed because it’s not holding that estrogen and testosterone anymore. Although it might look and feel like a normal period, it’s actually just a withdrawal bleed rather than your regular menstrual cycle.
MYTH: The Pill is linked to infertility
Belinda says the Pill itself does not cause infertility and when a woman stops taking the Pill their fertility can return straight away.
“The only thing that will effect your fertility when you’re on the Pill for an extended time is your age. The confusion lies in that most women might start the Pill as early as 16 and when they’re ready for pregnancy at 28-or-so, they’re expecting their periods to go back to how they were.” Belinda says from the age of 25 your fertility starts to decline and that’s the biggest thing working against us as women.
FACT: The rules around ovulation don’t apply on The Pill
…because you’re not actually ovulating if you’re taking the pill correctly! Belinda also states that the rules of periods no longer apply when you’re on the Pill. Which means if you go without a dose for more than 48 hours, you could trigger the start of an ovulation.
MYTH: You won’t bleed on your sugar pills if you’re pregnant
Belinda says a bleed should not be reassurance that you’re not pregnant. As we’ve mentioned, it’s a withdrawal bleed and NOT a period. But she also says there’s nothing to worry about if you’re taking the Pill while pregnant (before you become aware of your condition) – the Pill doesn’t pose any harm to a potential foetus.
If you’d like more information about the Pill, other contraceptive alternatives or general women’s health issues, visit the Women’s Health Queensland Wide website or call their free health information line (07) 3216 0376 to speak anonymously to a midwife or nurse about any health questions.
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