Will the pill make me gain weight? And other common birth control pill questions

Pack of birth control pills - will these make you fat?

Will these make you gain weight?

The pill is one of the most studied medications in history, and taking it is far less risky for most women than giving birth(1).  However, up to 20% of unplanned pregnancies may be the result of common misconceptions about its safety (2).  So, we decided to continue this week’s birth control theme by addressing some of the most common concerns about birth control pills. 

1. Will the pill make me gain weight? Not necessarily 

Most women – 60% – don’t gain or lose weight while on the pill.  Between 15-20% actually lose weight, while 20-25% gain more than 4.5 pounds.  Pills with more estrogen may cause water retention, and progesterone in some pills may increase appetite, both of which may lead to weight gain. Switching to another brand may solve these problems.

2. Does the pill cause cancer? Not necessarily

Here’s what the research shows:

  • Taking the pill for at least three years reduces ovarian cancer risk by 30%-50%;
  • Women who use the pill are 1/3 less likely to get uterine cancer than those who don’t;
  • Ever using birth control pills may reduce colorectal cancer risk by up to 20%;
  • The jury is still out on breast cancer.  Women with a family history of breast cancer should discuss this with their clinician when considering the pill. 

3. Aren’t all birth control pills the same? No

There are many different brands and varieties of the pill.  Each type has its own combination of estrogen and progesterone and so can affect an individual woman’s body chemistry differently.  That’s why you might have troublesome side effects on one type of birth control pill, but not on another.

4. I smoke.  Does this mean I can’t use the pill? Not necessarily

While some pill brands are suitable for smokers, most doctors will not prescribe combination pills (those with estrogen and progesterone) for smokers who are age 35 or older. Women who smoke and take the pill have a higher risk for both stroke and blood clots.  Both of these risks increase even more in smokers who are age 35 or older.  

5. Don’t I need to take a breaks from the pill ? No

There’s no medical reason for a healthy woman to take a break.  Since most side effects occur during the first months of pill use, women who go on and off the pill may experience side effects repeatedly.  Doctors do advise women to review their contraceptive needs after 15 years of being on the pill or at age 35. 

6.  Can taking the pill make it harder for me to get pregnant? No

There is NO connection between taking the pill and infertility. Fertility can return almost immediately after stopping the pill, which is why it’s important not to miss pills.

7. Does the pill have other benefits besides preventing pregnancy? Yes

The pill may provide many additional health benefits, including:

  • More regular periods
  • Control over when you get your period
  • Stopping ovulation pain
  • Reducing menstrual cramps
  • Minimizing PMS symptoms
  • Lowering the risk of anemia (which can result from having heavy periods)

Additionally, pill use can provide protection against:

  • Ectopic pregnancy
  • Acne
  • Non-cancerous breast growths
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease
  • Osteoporosis
  • Excess facial and body hair
  • Some types of migraine

8. If under 18, don’t I need my parents’ permission to take the pill? No

In California you do not need parental permission to get birth control.  California teens, click here to find a teen friendly clinic near you.

Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/birth-control-pill/WO00098
Planned Parehnthood: http://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-topics/ask-dr-cullins/cullins-bc-5398.htm

Coming Tomorrow:
Our favorite web resources on birth control

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