Birth control pills are believed to be one of the most effective birth control methods. Options for Sexual Health states that the pill is 99.7% effective when used properly, and even with some human error taken into consideration it should still be around 92% effective.
This makes the pill a very popular birth control choice. In fact, Wikipedia states that over 100 million women worldwide and nearly 12 million women in the United States alone use birth control pills.
So what happens when you’re taking oral contraceptives but still managed to get pregnant? Will continuing to take the pill have any negative effect on your developing baby?
Luckily, there is no current evidence showing that birth control pills will harm your developing baby in early pregnancy. However, it is best to stop taking your birth control pill immediately after finding out that you are pregnant.
Types of Birth Control Pills
Combination pills contain two kinds of hormones: estrogen and progestin. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services explains that, “These pills are taken every day and prevent pregnancy by keeping the ovaries from releasing eggs. The pills also cause cervical mucus to thicken and the lining of the uterus to thin. This keeps sperm from meeting with and fertilizing an egg.”
Progestin-only pills are more often referred to as the minipill and contain only one kind of hormone, a progestin. They work the same way as combination pills, causing cervical mucus to thicken and the lining of the uterus to thin, thus keeping sperm from reaching an egg.
Bedsider compares the common side effects of taking a combined pill vs. progestin-only pills. Your birth control method can have an effect on periods and spotting, weight gain, acne, sex drive, headaches and migraines, as well as a number of other side effects.
You may have to try multiple pills before finding one that works for you. Bedsider reminds us that, “you know your body best, so if you don’t like the way your birth control method is making you feel, try a different one.”
Wait… How Did I Get Pregnant While Taking the Pill!?
There are a few reasons why your birth control pills may have failed, aside from them not being 100% effective to begin with.
- It is important to take birth control pills at the same time every day to maximize effectiveness. Healthline explains that, “Birth control pills are designed to maintain a constant level of hormones in your body. If you skip or miss a dose, your hormone levels can drop quickly. Depending on where you are in your cycle, this may cause you to ovulate. Ovulation can increase your chances of becoming pregnant.”
- Vomiting shortly after taking your pill may mean that your body didn’t absorb the hormones, thus putting you at risk of getting pregnant.
- Certain medications and antibiotics can also alter your pill’s effectiveness. Supplements such as St. John’s Wort may also make the pill less effective. Always check with your doctor or pharmacist before starting any new medications to see if an additional birth control method will be necessary.
Preventing Birth Control Failure
According to Planned Parenthood, less than 1 out of 100 women will get pregnant each year if they take the pill exactly as directed daily.
Healthline outlines how you can avoid birth control failure and help prevent unwanted pregnancies. Check out some of the tips below:
- Take your pill at the same time every single day. Set a reminder in your phone so you don’t forget!
- Missed a dose? Use a backup birth control method for at least one week or longer.
- Don’t skip the placebo pills. Although they are not medically necessary to take, they may help you stick to your routine.
- Don’t use St. John’s Wort, a supplement known to interfere with the effectiveness of birth control pills.
- Taking antibiotics or starting a new medication? Double check with your doctor or pharmacist to make sure it won’t interfere with your birth control pill.
Risks of Taking the Pill While Pregnant
Taking combination pills or progestin-only pills during early pregnancy isn’t believed to be harmful. However, it is also not recommended and you should discontinue use of your birth control pills as soon as pregnancy is confirmed.
According to Mayo Clinic, “some research has suggested a link between the use of birth control pills near conception and an increased risk of low birth weight, preterm delivery or congenital urinary tract abnormalities, [but] these concerns generally haven’t been observed in clinical experience.”
However, conceiving while taking the minipill (progestin-only pills) can increase the risk of ectopic pregnancy. The American Pregnancy Association explains that, “An ectopic pregnancy occurs when the fertilized egg attaches itself in a place other than inside the uterus. Almost all ectopic pregnancies occur in the fallopian tube and are thus sometimes called tubal pregnancies. The fallopian tubes are not designed to hold a growing embryo; thus, the fertilized egg in a tubal pregnancy cannot develop properly and must be treated.”
An ectopic pregnancy is a very serious and potentially life threatening complication, and thus needs to be treated immediately.
There is no evidence that using oral contraceptives while pregnant will increase the risk of birth defects or miscarriage. The hormones in birth control pills stop ovulation and help prevent pregnancy, but they will not terminate a pregnancy.
Although it is very rare that you will become pregnant while properly taking birth control pills, it is still possible.
If you do not wish to conceive, make sure you are taking your pill at the same time every single day, use caution when taking any medications or supplements that may alter your pill’s effectiveness, and use a backup birth control method when necessary.
If you have been taking birth control pills while you were unknowingly pregnant, do not worry. There is currently no hard evidence suggesting that taking birth control pills during early pregnancy will have any negative effect on a developing fetus.
However, it is recommended that you stop taking any oral contraceptives immediately after pregnancy is confirmed and of course consult with your doctor as soon as possible to begin proper prenatal care.