No, Birth Control Pills Probably Won't Cause Birth Defects

Photographed by Jessica Nash
There are a lot of myths about birth control out there, but thankfully, we can now cross a big one off our list: A new study suggests that taking oral contraception just before or during pregnancy likely does not cause birth defects.

For the study, published in the British Medical Journal, researchers analyzed 880,694 births in Denmark between 1997 and 2011, cross-referencing data from the Danish Medical Birth Register, the National Patient Register, and the Danish National Prescription Register.

The researchers first checked if any of the infants had major birth defects, and then figured out which of their mothers had taken birth control pills during the three months prior to and during pregnancy. (They assumed that women took all of the pills they were prescribed, and they didn't differentiate between various pill formulations.)

Turns out, the risk of major birth defects didn't significantly increase if a woman had taken oral contraceptives in the months before or during pregnancy. Meaning: Birth control didn't lead to birth defects, even when mothers took it in the early months of pregnancy.

Previous studies — which relied on self-reports from women — have found links between birth control pills and birth defects. But this new research relied on actual medical records, which aren't affected by recall bias.

Birth control pills are the most popular form of contraceptive, so quite a few women can breathe a little easier now (in terms of this specific issue, at least). While it's unlikely women are choosing to take oral contraception while pregnant, some women experience what the researchers call "breakthrough pregnancies" while they're taking contraceptives. This could happen because the pill's effectiveness is compromised by missed doses, an illness, or other medications taken at the same time. Meaning, women who think they're protected end up getting pregnant, and it may be a while before they realize it — so they keep taking the pill.

But don't stress too much about this — oral contraception is considered 91% to 99% effective if used correctly, and only 9% of women get pregnant within their first year on the pill.

With all of the misleading (and completely bogus) information floating around about contraception, the nearly 10 million women taking birth control pills can now rest assured that their method of choice probably won't lead to birth defects — which is yet another health-related reason to get-it-on as much as you want.
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