Doctors talk myth that birth control causes infertility

Posted at 8:45 PM, May 27, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-27 20:46:12-04

HOLLAND, Mich-- Sixty two percent of women between the ages of 15 and 44 use some form of birth control, whether that's a pill, or something like an intrauterine device (IUD). That's according to Dr. Laurie Birkholz, a women's health physician at Lakeshore Health Partners.

Not only is contraception a way to prevent unwanted pregnancy, it helps women plan when they want to have a child. It can even help with things like acne and heavy bleeding. While contraceptives are meant to prevent pregnancy while in use, some say they're flat out causing infertility.

Birkholz is putting those claims to rest.

"I really try to dispel that myth because I really think it's rampant especially in young women whose mothers or grandmothers might have had some experience with IUD’s back in the day, when that was a problem," she said.

Dr. Birkholz says placing contraceptives into categories is best. When talking to patients, she starts with the type she finds most effective.

She starts our conversation off with long-acting reversible contraceptives, like intrauterine devices or IUDS's.  An IUD is a small T-shaped device that contains either copper or progestin and is placed inside the uterus for a varying period of time.

"You really can't do much better than an IUD. Overall, what we’re seeing is that form of contraception in particular is really coming more and more popular," Birkholz said.

Birkholz says the device is good for ten years and once it's removed, you can get pregnant right away. She told FOX 17 that she finds that IUD's are the most effective. They require the least input from the patient as far as remembering on a day-to-day basis to take something.

"It’s effectiveness is really shown to be compatible to something like a tubal ligation or vasectomy, so very effective and very safe," she said. "It's really good for women who are looking for very long term contraception but also great for women who are spacing out pregnancies."

IUD's do not have effects on your skin, mood or menstrual cycles, because their effect is limited to tissues surrounding the device in the uterus.

Next up, it's a hormonal method; oral contraceptive pills.

A survey taken between 2011 to 2013 found that the most commonly used form of contraceptive was the oral pill, at 16.9 percent. That's according to Birkholz.

There are hundreds of types of oral pills a woman can take. They come in different dosages with different types of estrogen and progestin. Whether those goals are to prevent pregnancy, reduce acne or to control a cycle, Birkholz says certain contraceptives can often times be used to help patients get better control over their cycles.

"We may pick one or the other in a patient depending on when their goals are," Birkholz said.

The third most-effective type is an injectable form of birth control, similar to oral pills, but taken less often. The most common injectable contraceptive is Depo-Provera, according to Birkholz. It's given every three months and is a progestin only contraceptive.

Last, but not least, there are things like diaphragms and condoms.

"Doesn’t mean they’re not effective, just means they’re not as effective as the first choice, IUD's," she said.

In the end, Birkholz says the decision comes down to the patient, adding that there are some downsides to nearly every choice. For example Birkholz says a woman's cycle on the Depo-Provera injection could take several months to get back on track.

"So for somebody who’s looking to possibly start a family and try and become pregnant in the near future, it might not be a the best option. There are also some concerns for long-term usage and bone health," Birkholz said.

She says there are also some risks with contraceptive pills.

"If I’m speaking with a woman in her late 30’s who uses tobacco, we really want to steer clear of oral contraceptive pills. There’s some risk involved."

Smoking cigarettes during the use of oral contraceptives has been found to greatly increase the chances of these serious side effects occurring such as cardiovascular side effects, yellow skin or eyes, and stomach pains. For women with diabetes mellitus, oral contraceptives can increase the risk of blood sugar rising, nausea, pale skin or sweating.

For women with a history of breast disease, the pills can increase risk for lumps in breast. That's according to this article from Mayo Clinic.

Estrogen in high doses can also cause weight gain due to fluid retention, but it is rare.

As for those speculations that long term birth control use can be harmful to women, Birkholz is putting that to rest.

"That really doesn’t apply to the IUD’s we use today," Birkholz said.

She told FOX 17 that in the past there was a type of IUD with a slight risk of infection that lead to scaring and sometimes infertility but says birth control has since improved.

Again, Birkholz wants to emphasize how much birth control has improved over the years, not only in choices, but how safe those choices are.

If you think you might be interested in any of these options or want more information, talk with your gynecologist or family doctor.