The Truth About Fertility After Birth Control

By Kendall McKenzie
How long does it take fertility to resume after stopping birth control?
Myths that birth control makes you infertile abound, but they’re total bunk. Though 99% of women will use birth control at some point in their lives, many of them also want to get pregnant eventually. The good news is, birth control only prevents pregnancy when you’re using it.
All forms of birth control (except for sterilization) are completely and totally reversible. Once you stop using birth control, your ability to get pregnant returns — regardless of how long you’ve been on it. That’s why you hear stories about people getting pregnant after missing only a few pills, and why it’s so important to use your method correctly and consistently. This all applies to emergency contraception (aka the morning-after pill or Plan B) as well, no matter how many times you’ve taken it.
Even long-term methods like IUDs allow you to get pregnant very quickly after they’re removed. Because older, poorly designed IUDs sometimes caused problems leading to infertility, stigma about this risk still looms. But, today’s redesigned IUDs have been used safely for decades, and complications that can affect your ability to get pregnant in the future are really, really rare.
It’s normal for periods to be wonky or nonexistent for a few months after going off hormonal methods (and if your cycle was irregular prior to starting birth control, it will likely be irregular again once you stop). But, this does not mean you’re protected from pregnancy. Ovulation happens about two weeks before bleeding in the menstrual cycle, so the time you’re most likely to get pregnant happens before your period comes. The ability to get pregnant returns very quickly after going off nearly all birth control methods, even if your period is irregular for a few months.
The birth control shot (Depo Provera) is the one exception: While pregnancy is possible anytime after the shot’s 12-week expiration date, on average, getting pregnant after stopping Depo takes about six months longer than it does with other hormonal methods. For that reason, the shot isn’t usually recommended for people who want to get pregnant in the near future.
Everyone’s body is different, so it’s impossible to know when, exactly, your fertility will return after going off birth control. Therefore, if you stop using birth control but don’t want to get pregnant, you MUST start using another method immediately. Basically, if you’re not using birth control, assume you’re at risk for pregnancy.
On the other hand, if you’re lookin’ to make a baby, you can start trying as soon as you stop using your method. Don’t stress if it doesn’t happen right away; the vast majority of people (85%) are able to get pregnant within the year. Studies have shown there’s almost no difference between the rates of pregnancy after stopping hormonal birth control vs. hormone-free methods (like condoms and fertility awareness). It’s normal for anyone to take up to a year to get pregnant, regardless of their birth control history. But, if you’ve been trying to get pregnant for longer than that with no luck, talk to your doctor to see what’s up.
One final note: While birth control doesn’t impact your future ability to get pregnant, sexually transmitted infections can. Certain STIs may cause infertility if they’re left untreated. So, make sure you’re protecting yourself by using condoms and getting tested regularly.

More from Sex & Relationships

R29 Original Series