Aug 5, 2021

You have done all the right things in planning your family and now you're ready to have a baby. How long after stopping birth control before you try to get pregnant? How long does it take to be fertile again? And how long is too long?

Start from the top. How do you stop your method of contraception? Well, that seems like an easy question, but sometimes it isn't. You can stop using your condom or diaphragm or contraceptive foam right now and you can take off your patch, take out your ring or stop your pills today.

Taking out your implant or your IUD takes a medical appointment with your clinician or your family planning clinic. Really now, we don't recommend that you or a friend try to take out these medical devices on your own, so getting an appointment may take a few weeks.

Now, how long does it take after stopping birth control before you're fertile? Well, it sort of depends. If you're using barrier methods, such as condoms or diaphragms or foams or jellies, you could get pregnant the next time you have sex without your protection. Of course, you have to ovulate, and that will be on your regular schedule, but barrier methods don't change that.

If you're on birth control pills or patches or rings, the hormones in these methods are gone from your body within a week. And in the case of the progestin-only mini-pill, it may just be a couple of days then your body will get back to ovulating, so it may be a month or two before you ovulate.

Now, if you don't have regular periods or have a period on your own in three to four months, you should see your doctor. Maybe you weren't regular before you started hormonal contraception or maybe something in your body has changed, but it's not due to your method that you were using.

If you use an implant, the hormones from the implant will be gone in a couple of days, and then your body will get back to ovulation in a month or so, or sometimes in a week. If you're using a copper IUD, you'll be fertile the first time you have sex after it's removed if you're ovulating that day, but you probably won't be fertile on exactly the day that you have it removed, but maybe the next day.

If you're using a hormonal IUD, the hormones will be gone from your body in the week after it's removed, and you should be back to ovulating either next day or next week with a normal uterine lining within a month or so. Of course, there are very rare cases in which the IUD or the implant didn't come out all the way or you thought it was out and it wasn't. And in those situations, there may be a delay in fertility until the implant or the IUD is completely removed, but this is very rare.

If you're using the Depo-Provera shot, the hormone in the shot is in your muscle for months, and it may take as many as 10 months from the last shot before you ovulate again. Of course, as the shot is designed to be given every three months, you may be fertile in as little as four months after the last shot. Because return to fertility is delayed and a little compared to other methods, we usually counsel women who are hoping to get pregnant in the next year but don't want to get pregnant right now to use a method other than Depo-Provera.

Now, when can you try to get pregnant? Do you have to wait a while? We used to think that women were less fertile or more likely to have a miscarriage if they got pregnant immediately after discontinuing a hormonal contraceptive method. We have clinical data that says now it's not so. So you can start to try to get pregnant right away, even though it might be a couple of weeks before you ovulate.

Now, how long is too long? If it's been a year since you stopped your birth control and you aren't pregnant, you should see your OB-GYN. For women over 35 who have lower fertility related to getting older, maybe you should seek some help in evaluation if it's been six months. Is it your birth control that's contributing to not getting pregnant? The answer is no. Using birth control in the past doesn't contribute to fertility problems, but you did get older while you were using birth control so you naturally would be less fertile when you stopped.

How can we be so sure that birth control doesn't cause fertility problems? We don't have a randomized controlled trial of women using different kinds of birth control compared to women who are abstaining from sex, and then seeing which group of women got pregnant first, but that would be an amazing study to do. However, 22 studies that enrolled a total of 15,000 women who discontinued contraception were looked at, and the rate of pregnancy was 83% within the first 12 months of contraceptive discontinuation.

Now that's not significantly different for hormonal methods and IUD users, and it's not significantly different than women who weren't using birth control before they started to try to get pregnant. The study also showed that how long a woman used contraception did not significantly affect the time to fertility when you take into account the age of the woman.

The amount of time it takes to get pregnant is a function of a lot of things. It's your age, your weight, conditions in your pelvis, such as infections or endometriosis, how regularly you ovulate, how often you have sex, and of course the fertility of your partner.

So make decisions about when to start your family or increase your family based on conditions that matter to you and your family, and not because you're afraid that your longer use of birth control will make a difference. Longer use of hormonal contraception may actually decrease the risk of your having problems because it lowers your risk of conditions in the pelvis, such as endometriosis, and some types of ovarian cysts. And here's hopes for the family of your dreams and thanks for joining us on The Scope.

For Patients