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the pill – how it affects fertility and pregnancy

Original image via Flickr

Why the eggs? To me, eggs are the perfect picture of fertility. So much potential – all made up of the right stuff.

This is my third blog post on the pill – I don’t usually blog on the same topic, however this is probably the topic I am most passionate about as I see the effects the pill has on fertility every day in the clinic. If you’re not up to speed on the previous posts on the pill, please browse through them – you can find them here “the pill is it for you?” and here “more on the pill – p.c.o.s, endometrosis and the rest” .

There are a number of women who are fortunate enough to be able to come off the pill and fall pregnant easily – which is wonderful news. But in the clinic, unfortunately we see large numbers of women who find it difficult or are left sub-fertile once coming off the pill. It’s unfortunately something they didn’t realise or were not made aware of when they first started taking it.

So – how exactly does the pill affect fertility?

One of the most essential factors in successful conception is fertile cervical mucus. The cervix secretes this mucus to aid in transportation of sperm from the vagina to the uterus. The mucus actually feeds and nurtures the sperm – after the semen is ejaculated, sperm travel to the cervical crypts to be nourished, ready to make the next stage of the journey up into the uterus. The pill degenerates these crypts and in turn the cervical mucus is diminished. The good news for most women is that these grow back with time. These realities need to be considered when trying for a baby. I worry that a common misconception is that we can fall pregnant as soon as we stop the pill, and this means many ordinarily healthy woman panic when they can’t immediately fall pregnant – and it creates so much extra stress in an already stressful time. When planning to fall pregnant after coming off the pill, it is important to allow adequate time for a womens fertility to return to normal levels. It isn’t unusual for this to take months. I see so many healthy women consumed by the stress of not falling pregnant immediately. As you will read – falling pregnant as soon as you stop the pill isn’t ideal at all.

The pill knocks our hormones out of whack pretty badly – again adding a level of difficulty when it comes to falling pregnant when freshly off the pill. In 2004 a study ‘time to pregnancy’ 1 found that couples coming off the pill took 2-3 times longer to conceive than to those who were not previously taking it. It is important to factor in at least 6 months of supportive natural fertility treatment after taking the pill to best prepare your body for conception and to ensure that the mother’s body has everything it needs to be able to pass on to the baby – resulting in healthier babies.

Did you know the pill alters our senses? A pregnant woman (just ask me – I can vouch for this at the moment!) senses are heightened, especially smell – this means pregnant women smell and crave particularly odd foods. Research has found that women in their most fertile phase of their cycle are most sensitive to smell (especially that of male sweat), just as pregnant women had increased sensitivity to food and odours. This study went on to find the hormone mix in the pill is very similar to the first months of pregnancy meaning that women on the pill are consistently more sensitive to food smells and less sensitive to the smell of male sweat. Now if you are wondering what my point is here, lets put all that together. Our sense of smell, our own body smell and our immune system are all wired up together and therefore women who are not on the pill are attracted to males that smell differently from themselves. When partners who smell different from each other have children, their children have a wider range of immunity that if their parents smelt the same or similar – isn’t it fascinating! This study also went on to find because the pill reverses the usual smell-immune system signals that women who choose to mate with a male that has a similar immune system will have increased difficulty falling pregnant – and even when they do fall pregnant -the child may be born with a lessened immune system. 2

Many of you have already made the connection between their fertility and the pill and I commend you for being in touch with your body. Often women coming off the pill have long cycles or do not see a period return for on average six months. Unfortunately the pill also has an affect of the hormones during the menstrual cycle and ovulation. If these hormones aren’t acting in the correct way, a woman might find that she does ovulate during the right phase of her cycle but she doesn’t maintain enough hormone to support the growing embryo, giving her a short menstrual cycle. These issues sound daunting, but are most definitely treatable and respond very well to chinese medicine and natural fertility treatments.

In addition to all of the above – the pill changes how your body metabolises nutrients. Your nutritional balance is compromised whilst taking and whilst withdrawing from the pill. In the instance of pregnancy, this can be concerning as essential nutrients are necessary for healthily fetal development. A concerning example is folic acid levels, which is considerably reduced in pill takers. Women who conceive within 6 months of coming off the pill present with less red blood cells and plasma folate levels which can lead to recurrent miscarriage.

Zinc is also of equal importance and is stripped by taking the pill. Catching up of the adequate dose of zinc is imperative – low zinc can be linked to stretch marks, a less elastic perineums, cracked nipples and prolonged labours. I know I will be certain to keep my zinc up during this pregnancy! Importantly, zinc keeps our copper levels in check where high copper levels are said to be a contributing factor to post natal depression. Babies who are born registering zinc deficiency are said cry more and are difficult to console. Not a great mix for a mother suffering post natal depression. On top of this, zinc is also responsible for shaping a healthy immune system, brain, skeletal muscle and bones. In Australia, one in five children suffer from asthma, which is an immune dysfunction. It seems Zinc is one of the best things you can take for your body and something that needs to be considered well before conception. In addition to zinc, selenium and a host of other vitamins are essential to rebalance hormones -setting the body up for a healthy pregnancy and baby.

It clearly isn’t ideal to fall pregnant immediately after coming off the pill, however it does happen. In these instances, it is essential to be on a practitioner high grade multi vitamin, available from your practitioner. General multi vitamins are ok to support regular body function, however practitioner quality products have greater therapeutic effect and therefore are my recommendation in these circumstances as the levels and quality in these products make up for what the pill has zapped out of the system. You can read more about multi-vitamins here.

For those of you planning a pregnancy, we recommend our pre-conception health care program which sets about getting your body at the top of her game – ready and raring to go for when pregnancy occurs. Setting up the body in this way provides us with excellent results, speedy conception and extremely healthy babies and mothers. It’s the winning combination!

1. M. Hassan and S. Killick, ‘Is previous use of hormonal contraception associated with a detrimental effect on subsequent fertility?’, Human Reproduction, 19 (2): 344-51, 2004.

2. J.N. Lundstrom et al., ‘Effects of reproductive state on olfactory sensitivity suggest odour specificity’, Biological Psychology, 2005.

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12 Responses to “the pill – how it affects fertility and pregnancy”

  1. emma

    Thank you for these posts about the pill and what it does within the body. I had no idea 8 years ago when I started taking the pill what it really did to the body! As I’ve realized what the affects are I stopped taking the pill but I did not realize the body needed so much time to really be ready for baby. I like to know I need to not panic about get pregnant right away, seems some time before conception is actually better all around, helps me to relax- thank you. : )

    Reply
  2. rachel

    Thanks again for providing such valuable information, which I wish I had known YEARS ago. I have been off the pill for 6 months (after taking it for 11 years) and now taking herbs and having acupuncture to help regulate my cycle again. I can not believe how badly the pill affected my body – coming off it you realise how you are meant to feel!! Yes the pill is very handy, and my skin was great BUT I was depressed, had low libido, little to no periods and no connection at all to my body. Since coming off it my body has seen numerous changes, some skin issues but they are settling now, but more importantly I can now start to heal my body. I was not menstruating or ovulating at all at first and all the doctors I saw told me it was because I did too much exercise (I work in fitness) – when really it was because my body was so out of balance. With the help of my Chinese Medicine Practitioner, and your (and Sarah Wilson’s) e book and blogs I am starting to become more aware and more me again. THANK YOU

    Reply
  3. Steen

    Thank you for putting this information out there, I had felt pressured into taking the pill back when I was only 21. Even though I was fine with condoms, as usual boys aren’t. But after 2 years the side effects just got worse and worse.

    But then I got scared when I read more info on how most women do not ovulate at menarche, and that it takes years of menstruation hormones to actually make a woman fertile and start ovulating every month.

    So I quit taking the pill, but my menstruation was weird and rare for about a year after that. I thought maybe it was because of all my climbing and exercise, but I kept on climbing hard and soon my menstruation became very regular despite my constant exercise.

    But still, even though I was menstruating regularly like clockwork, it wasn’t until 4 years after quitting the pill that I’ve started having different types/textures of vaginal discharge at different time points in my menstrual cycle, and having what I consider normal fertile menstrual cycles.

    I have no way of proving this either way, but my hypothesis is that either I didn’t return to fertility until now (4 years later), or that I wasn’t actually fertile yet at 21 and taking the pill delayed my development.

    So it scares me when young women turn to the pill so readily because it is easy, because their young bodies might not even be fully developed yet.

    Reply
  4. Kristy

    These post are great a lot of good information but I’ve been off the pill for 7 months me and my husband are trying for a baby and nothing is happening I’m very worried

    Reply
    • mnfadmin

      That’s great that you’ve been off the pill at least 6 months before conception so you give your baby the best chance of being super healthy. Try not to despair – there is so much you can do to increase your chances x

      Reply
  5. Nicole

    I was on the pill for a year.. ive been off it for about a year and a few months now. I have periods and ive got a calender app on my phone to show me when i should ovulate. Me and my other half have regular sex and nothings happened in a year or so? Starting to get worried now. Can you help?

    Reply
  6. Ruby

    What are your thoughts on the pill and it’s affects on high copper levels and its correlation with hair loss? I have been on the pill for 6 years and recently started having hair loss. My pathology showed a high copper level. I have since stopped taking the pill and my copper levels have dropped (but my hair is still falling out).

    Reply
  7. Bron

    Hi thank you for all the information. I came off the pill nearly 2 years ago as I decided to take a more holistic approach to health, also deciding to turn vegan. But since stopping the pill I have not yet had a period. I have been to see a gynaecologist and the only solution they have offered me is to go back on the pill to help my low oestrogen levels. Just wanted to know if this was a common thing you find for women coming off the pill and if you have any suggestions to help, as I do not want to go back on the pill. I am 24 and was on it for 5 years.

    Thank you

    Reply
  8. มาร์คหน้า

    You ought to take part in a contest for one of the greatest websites online.
    I’m going to recommend this blog!

    Reply
  9. Thinking about coming off the Pill? | Its Mostly Okay

    […] If you’re interested, here are two more good posts that she has written that I found useful: Here and […]

    Reply
  10. Laila khoder

    Been off the pill for two years and not falling pregnant

    Reply