7 birth control myths debunked, according to an expert

The efficacy varies depending on the type of birth control. (Photo via Getty Images)
Experts say you should speak with your doctor about which method of birth control is right for you. (Photo via Getty Images) (Mindful Media via Getty Images)

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Contact a qualified medical professional before engaging in any physical activity, or making any changes to your diet, medication or lifestyle.

Choosing the right birth control is an important decision many women make at various stages of their lives.

There are several different forms of contraception available. One option is long-acting reversible contraception that works around the clock, such as implant or intrauterine devices (IUD). On the other hand, barrier methods like the pill, patch, ring or injections work only while you use them.

Due to the high volume of information and potential side effects to consider when trying to choose which method of birth control is right for you, the decision can be overwhelming and daunting.

Dr. Carol Anne Valleé, a family planning fellow at the University of British Columbia, says there are common myths you may hear when it comes to contraception, and she's on a mission to clear them up.

1. Birth control causes weight gain

Many women may have heard that birth control will cause weight gain, but that’s not entirely the case.

Valleé confirms the one type of contraception that may cause a person to gain weight is the progesterone injection because it increases appetite.

"People who use [the injection] may gain up to 2.5 to four kilograms after one or two years and the more BMI [body mass index] you have when you start the injection, the more you are prone to gain weight," she tells Yahoo Canada.

Ottawa Public Health also lists water retention as a side effect of the hormonal birth control pill, which may explain why some women see weight changes when they use the oral medication.

2. Birth control will ruin your natural fertility

According to Valleé, birth control does not obstruct natural conception because "natural fertility is determined genetically at birth," including your timeline for menopause.

However, if you stop getting progesterone injections, which patients receive every three months, you may experience a delay in your ovulation resuming.

"Some women need to wait six to nine months before they can have their natural menstrual cycle back," Valleé warns. "Once it resumes, they will be able to get pregnant after that."

Aside from the copper IUD, most forms of birth control need about seven days to start working. (Photo via Getty Images)
The only contraceptive that works immediately is the copper IUD. (Photo via Getty Images) (Mariakray via Getty Images)

3. Birth control causes cancer

Overall, data surrounding cancer risks associated with hormonal birth control is mixed.

The Canadian Cancer Society says women who use the birth control pill may have an increased risk of breast cancer, cervical cancer and liver cancer.

However, Valleé explains that more recent data may prove otherwise.

"Many epidemiological studies have failed to demonstrate an increased risk of breast cancer or breast cancer mortality in COC [combined oral contraceptive pill] users," she says.

Valleé also notes that the pill has been shown to decrease the risk of endometrial cancer, ovarian cancer, and colorectal carcinoma.

4. You can’t get pregnant when taking birth control pills

Valleé says this is untrue — you can still get pregnant while taking birth control pills.

The birth control pill is 91 percent effective with typical use, while the injection is 97 to 99.7 percent effective.

However, the most trusted form of birth control is the IUD, which is at least 99 percent effective in preventing pregnancy.

In her opinion, Valleé believes the most effective method of birth control is one that you don’t need to think about daily.

"All the LARCS we call them, so the long-acting reversible contraception, which can be either the injection every three months, it can be the IUD every five years or it can be the implant every three years. Those are more efficient because you don't need to think about it every day," she explains.

According to Valleé, birth control pills are the least effective because a lot of women forget to take them at the same time every day or they may miss a dose, which affects their efficacy in preventing pregnancy.

HealthLinkBC, a government-funded telehealth service in British Columbia, lists all the different types of birth control methods and their effectiveness.

5. Birth control starts working as soon as you take it

This idea is not true for all types of birth control. The only contraceptive that works immediately is the copper IUD.

Valleé says that the pill, hormonal IUD, the implant, and the injection all take seven days to start working, which is an important fact to keep in mind.

While contraceptives are highly effective at pregnancy prevention, a woman can still get pregnant when taking birth control. (Photo via Getty Images)
Dr. Carol Anne Valleé says the most effective form of birth control is one you don't have to take daily. (Photo via Getty Images) (cerro_photography via Getty Images)

6. Birth control will cause mood swings

While there is some truth to this one, experts say more research is needed to confirm for sure.

Mood swings and depression are listed as side effects on many types of hormonal birth control labels, including the pill.

In an interview with City News, Dr. Ashley Waddington, an OB-GYN and contraceptive expert, says she's cautious of studies that have conclusively found a link between hormonal birth control and depression. She explains that because the use of contraception and the diagnosis of depression is so widespread, the two are bound to overlap.

"I wouldn’t caution people that they’re likely to experience a depressive or anxiety diagnosis because they’re on a contraceptive method, but if it happens to them, that should be taken seriously, and it shouldn’t be dismissed," she added.

Valleé agrees that reports of mood changes are common among contraception users, but says "studies show inconsistent effects on mood."

Valleé also adds that if someone is concerned about experiencing mood swings or has a history of depression or anxiety, she would focus on this possible side effect in terms of what type of birth control is prescribed for that patient.

"For people with mood swings that will try the same contraceptive device, they won't react the same, so sometimes you need to test it just to see if it fits you," she advises. "With let's say the progestin-only contraception, it's up to 2.5 to five percent of people who will have either emotional liability or mood swings."

7. Birth control will help with acne

Certain types of oral contraceptives may be prescribed to treat acne. Health Canada has approved Alesse and Tri-Cyclen for acne treatment.

Valleé agrees that if you use combined hormonal pills, they can help decrease acne.

However, she says if you choose a contraceptive that only contains progestin, either the pill, injection or IUD, it may actually worsen your acne.

Choosing birth control may be a trial and error process, expert says

Everyone will have different preferences when it comes to birth control and the effects will vary based on the individual. That’s why Valleé says it’s important to speak with your doctor about the various options available to you.

"There's no one birth control good for everyone, it really depends on individualized counselling," she adds.

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