Possible Effects of Taking Birth Control While Pregnant

Medical contributions by Dr. Chemen Neal, OB-GYN
Woman looking at pregnancy test

If you've been using a hormonal form of birth control and suddenly discover you're pregnant, you're first concern might be whether or not the birth control could have any harmful effects on the pregnancy or your developing baby. According to Dr. Chemen Neal, an OB-GYN with IU Health, when using birth control appropriately, the chances of getting pregnant are extremely low, therefore, if pregnancy does occur it is really risk-free.

No One Form of Birth Control Is More Harmful

One type of birth control does not increase potential effects more than another. Dr. Neal notes, "The hormones are the same as those that are present during pregnancy. In fertility drugs, the doses of these hormones are much higher than the doses in contraception. They are safe. The same hormones that prevent pregnancy also support pregnancy."

These forms of birth control include:

Not only does the type used not matter in terms of risk to your pregnancy, the duration of time you continued to use your birth control will not increase the chance of risk to your baby.

Pregnancy Tests and Hormonal Birth Control

If you take a pregnancy test, there's no need to worry the results will be affected by the hormones (estrogen and progesterone) found in your birth control. Dr. Neal notes that a pregnancy test is testing for a specific hormone, hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin), which is only made during pregnancy. So even while using birth control, if a woman becomes pregnant, hCG will still be detected. Also, the hCG hormone is responsible for pregnancy symptoms, not estrogen or progesterone. Therefore, the mother's pregnancy symptoms will not change in any way if she becomes pregnant while using birth control.

Taking Other Medication or Supplements

While there is no need to worry whether or not taking other medication or supplements, in addition to birth control, will cause issues, Dr. Neal strongly recommends that women always tell their doctors about all medications and supplements they are taking.

The medications and supplements that are most concerning are anything that has been shown to decrease the effectiveness of birth control, such as antibiotics and some supplements that are processed by the liver. She also notes that supplements are not tested and regulated the way antibiotics are so there is not a lot of information on it.

Miscarriage and Other Risks

It is a myth that being on birth control while pregnant will cause miscarriage or stillbirth. In fact, doctors will actually supplement fertility patients with very high levels of progesterone until 12 weeks gestational age to promote a healthy pregnancy.

Not Enough Evidence

While there is no link between preterm delivery or low birthrate and hormonal birth control, Dr. Neal states that this is actually difficult to study because so few women get pregnant while using birth control when it's used properly. Also, preterm birth and low birthrate are multifactorial, making it difficult to make an association. There is just not enough research.

Pregnancy and IUD

While there appears to be no link to birth defects, conditions, pregnancy complications or ectopic pregnancy when using birth control while pregnant, if pregnancy occurs with an IUD, which is extremely rare, there is a slightly higher risk of miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy. This would be due to the presence of the IUD itself and not associated with the hormones it emits.

The Risks Are Low

The risk of using birth control is relatively low. If you find out you're pregnant while using hormonal birth control, you can be reassured that the risk of any effects on your baby and your pregnancy is low. Once you find out you're pregnant, stop the birth control immediately and talk to your doctor. The most important step going forward, according to Dr. Neal, is to receive good prenatal care.

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Possible Effects of Taking Birth Control While Pregnant