You’ve decided the time is right to try to have a baby. But if you’ve been using birth control, you might be worried about whether it will affect your ability to get pregnant. In some cases, it can take a little longer to conceive after you stop using a method that has the hormones estrogen or progestin. But in the long run, there’s no negative effect on your fertility. Here’s what you need to know.
When Should You Stop Using Birth Control?
Don’t stop until you’re ready to get pregnant. Your body doesn’t need to time to “clear” birth control hormones. In fact, it’s possible for you to conceive within a month or two of stopping most types. If you want to go off hormonal birth control but aren’t ready to get pregnant, use another method, like condoms, until you are ready.
How Long Does It Take to Get Pregnant?
If you’re using a barrier method, like condoms or a diaphragm, it’s possible to get pregnant as soon as you have sex without it. Most women are able to get pregnant a few months after they stop birth control that has hormones, such as pills, patches, or an intrauterine device (IUD). But your health -- including your lifestyle habits and your genes -- play a role in how long it will take. And some types have more of an impact on fertility than others. Here’s a breakdown:
Birth control pills. You may be able to get pregnant within 1-3 months of stopping a combination pill -- meaning those that have estrogen and progestin. But most women can get pregnant within a year. One study even found that women who took the pill for more than 4 or 5 years were more fertile than those who used it for 2 years or less.
If you’ve been using the progestin-only pill, called the “minipill,” it’s possible to get pregnant days or weeks after you quit. That’s because the minipill doesn’t consistently stop ovulation the way pills with estrogen do. Instead, it thins the lining of your uterus. The lining starts to thicken again as soon as you stop taking the minipill, making it possible for you to get pregnant.
Intrauterine device (IUD). It’s possible to get pregnant right away after your doctor removes your IUD. Women usually begin to ovulate within 1 month after removal. For most, pregnancy happens within 6 months to a year.
Implant. Like an IUD, it’s possible to get pregnant right after your doctor removes this device. Most women start ovulating again in the first month.
Birth control patch. You should begin ovulating 1-3 months after you stop using the birth control patch. That doesn’t guarantee you’ll get pregnant, but you have to ovulate in order to conceive.
Vaginal ring. Most women are able to ovulate 1-3 months after they remove it.
Injectable birth control (Depo-Provera). Unlike other forms of hormonal birth control, it may be harder to get pregnant after you stop getting these shots. It may take 10 months or more before you ovulate again. For some women, it will take up to 18 months for periods to start again. That’s why experts don’t recommend this method for women who hope to have children within a year of using birth control.
Is It Safe to Get Pregnant Right After You Use Birth Control?
Yes. Experts used to think women had a higher risk of miscarriage if they got pregnant soon after they stopped birth control. But newer research shows that it’s safe to conceive right away.
Does It Matter Whether You Get Your Period?
Not necessarily. Some women don’t get their period for a few months after they stop hormonal birth control. That’s because these forms of birth control impact your hormonal balance, and it may take your body a little while to go back to a pre-birth control-state.
But you can get pregnant before you have your period. In fact, if you started ovulating right after you stopped birth control, and had unprotected sex, you may have gotten pregnant -- which would keep you from having your period. If you haven’t had a period since going off your birth control, and you’ve recently had unprotected sex, take a pregnancy test.
Whether you ovulate is far more important than whether you get your period. You can’t get pregnant unless one of your ovaries releases an egg.
How Can You Tell if You’re Ovulating?
The surest way to know is to take an ovulation test. They test your pee for levels of luteinizing hormone (LH), which rise 24 to 36 hours before you ovulate.
Your body may also show signs that you’re ovulating or that you will soon. For example, your body temperature rises slightly around the time of ovulation. And mucus that comes from your cervix may become stickier or feel more like raw egg whites.
What if You Can’t Seem to Get Pregnant?
It’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor about getting pregnant before you start trying. While most women conceive within a year of trying, there are many different factors -- like age, health history, and weight -- that can impact your fertility. If you’re under 35 and it’s been more than a year since you stopped using birth control and you haven’t been able to get pregnant, it’s a good idea to let your doctor know. If you’re 35 or older, you should see your doctor after 6 months of trying. An OB/GYN, family practitioner with experience in women’s health, or a fertility specialist can evaluate you and make suggestions that may up your odds of getting pregnant.