Taking Birth Control Pills While Pregnant: Is It Safe or Is It Dangerous?

We all know about the many types of birth control methods that come in handy when we’re not really looking to conceive at the time. Responsibilities might be at an all time high and you could find yourself with barely any time available to take care of a kid, or you may just not want to give birth to a child at the time being.

Whatever the case may be, contraceptives come in handy in all their different forms.

However, what if you actually did get pregnant? Assuming you didn’t know of your pregnancy at the time, you continued to use birth control pills, up until the point you knew you had conceived.

Now what? Is this bad news for you and your pregnancy? Is anything bad going to happen to your baby? Or is there nothing for you to worry about?

An Important Note About Limited Research

Before you continue reading the rest of this article, a very important note must be made about research concerning taking birth control pills during early pregnancy.

Even though there has been some research conducted about this, it’s very limited in nature and not many tests have been conducted.

Why? It’s simple. Most medical experts refuse to conduct tests on actual pregnant women when they’re unsure whether or not these tests would harm the mother-to-be or the baby she’s pregnant with.

If a baby has a birth defect because of such a test, or – even worse – a miscarriage happens, that’s neither ethical nor something most (if not all) researchers would want to take responsibility for.

So, most of the scientific data that experts in the field base their answers on when it comes to taking birth control in early pregnancy is based on research that compares women who used birth control pills during early pregnancy with women who didn’t do so.

The majority of mothers who have taken birth control pills during early stages of their pregnancy in these studies have done so without knowing they were pregnant at the time.

Will Taking Birth Control Pills Affect My Pregnancy?

For most cases, research available on this issue has shown that there’s usually nothing to worry about, especially if you’ve only been taking these pills during the first 4 weeks to 8 weeks of your pregnancy1.

Using birth control pills during early pregnancy stages is more common than you’d imagine, as not all women out there know about their confirmed pregnancy as soon as it happens.

Research comparing mothers who continued to take birth control pills during early pregnancy to mothers who didn’t showed very little to no differences between the two when it came to issues such as birth defects and miscarriages.

With that being said, this is not to say that you’ll be fine if you continue taking birth control pills even though you know that you’re pregnant (or at least suspect that you are).

There’s no real reason for you to do it or benefit from doing so, so why put your pregnancy and baby’s well-being at risk? That’s just one additional drug you’ll be passing on to your baby, along with a handful of others you might be taking at the time for different reasons.

If you’re worried that something bad might happen to you or the baby you’re pregnant with because you continued to take birth control pills during early pregnancy before you even knew you had conceived, talking to your doctor about this for reassurance purposes is the best route you can take.

They’ll then let you know whether or not your pregnancy is facing any increased risks because of this – but in most cases, there’s usually nothing for you to worry about and stress over.

1) Birth Defects

A very common worry many moms-to be have is that taking birth control pills during early stages of a pregnancy will end up causing birth defects.

However, studies have shown that there’s no correlation between taking birth control pills during early pregnancy and the increase in risk of birth defects2.

At least not in today’s common birth control pills that contain fairly low doses of progestins. The following list discusses some of the most common risks you’ll face when taking birth control pills with high levels of progestins during early pregnancy.

2) Ectopic Pregnancies

Clinical research has observed that women who do manage to conceive while taking progestin-only birth control pills (also referred to as minipills, ones that don’t contain estrogen) are slightly more likely to experience an ectopic pregnancy.

3) Hypospadias

Research has also shown that continuing to take progestins during early pregnancy puts your baby at a slightly higher risk of being born with a birth defect called hypospadias.

This condition only exists in males, though, so if you’re pregnant with a baby girl, this will not affect her.

Hypospadias is a birth defect that causes a baby boy to be born with the opening of their urethra is on the underside of their penis instead of being on the tip of it3.

4) Miscarriages

Another very common worry women are stressed out about is that they’re going to have a miscarriage because they were taking birth control pills before actually knowing they were pregnant.

In reality, though, research has shown that the chances of this happening are very low, as there’s just no relation whatsoever between the function of a birth control pill and having a miscarriage.

A birth control pill has hormones that work on preventing a male’s sperm from entering a female’s uterus so that no implantation happens and pregnancy is avoided as a result.

When a male’s sperm has entered a female’s uterus already and implantation has already occurred, it’s too late for a birth control pill to do anything anymore – what’s done has been done.

It’s going to take something completely different than a birth control pill to cause a miscarriage, such as medical abortion pills. There’s no way a birth control pill will cause fetus abortion on its own.

An example medication that could end a pregnancy and cause an abortion is called Mifepristone, by blocking hormones needed to keep a pregnancy going.

Another medication is called Methotrexate – but that’s enough for now, you get the point we’re trying to make clear here.

With all that being said, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration aims to classify different birth control pills into different categories depending on how likely they are to cause a miscarriage. No testing has been done on humans to determine the chances these different pills have on causing miscarriages in humans, but conclusions are derived based on testing that has been performed on animals and results found in that context.

If one birth control pill has been found to cause miscarriages in animals, it’s placed in a different category by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration than another pill that hasn’t been found to cause damage to the fetus and cause miscarriages in animals.

5) Fetal Development

Research has not found any connection between taking birth control pills while pregnant and a delay or problems in fetus development.

How Can I Play It Safe?

1) Taking A Pregnancy Test

If you think you may be pregnant, the first thing you should do is take a home based pregnancy test as soon as you can do so while getting an accurate result. Don’t take a pregnancy test too early on, since that’s much more likely to give back a false-negative result.

If you take the test and get back a positive result, that’s your cue to immediately stop taking birth control pills.

If you test negative, however, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about and should be able to continue using birth control pills since a pregnancy is now ruled out.

Again, it’s extremely important that you don’t take a pregnancy test earlier than you’re supposed to, because you’re most likely to get a false negative result, continue using birth control pills thinking you’re not pregnant while you actually are, and opening the door to a whole world of problems coming your way (and your baby’s way).

2) Doctor’s Confirmation

If, for any reason that may be, you’re not able to take a pregnancy test at the time, discontinue use of birth control pills until your doctor confirms that you’re pregnant or dismisses it.

3) Other Birth Control Methods

Until you get accurate and reliable confirmation about whether or not you’re actually pregnant, you should stop taking birth control pills for the time being.

Instead, use other birth control methods during intercourse such as condoms or contraceptive sponges.

It’s Not Only About Birth Control Pills

When you’re pregnant, it’s not only birth control pills you should be worried about taking because of potential negative effects on your pregnancy and the baby-to-be.

You should be wary of any other medication and supplements you’re taking as well, regardless of whether or not you can easily get them over the counter.

Just like birth control pills, these medication and supplements may or may not be putting your pregnancy and your baby-to-be at risk.

Does Taking Birth Control Pills Make Pregnancy Tests Inaccurate?

One very common question that gets asked is “what if I’m indeed pregnant but pregnancy tests I’m taking at home claim that I’m not? Is it possible that the birth control pills I’ve been taking messed something up in my body?”.

The quick and short answer to this question is – not really. Regardless of what kind of birth control pill you’re using at the time, it almost never influences the result of a pregnancy test taken at home.

Birth control pills work on increasing the levels of the hormones estrogen and progestin in the body, which leads many people to think that elevated levels of these two hormones causes a pregnancy test to give back inaccurate results.

In reality, though, this is not the case, since pregnancy tests you take at home do not rely on the levels of these two hormones whatsoever to detect a pregnancy.

The only thing a pregnancy test taken at home needs to detect in order to confirm or dismiss a pregnancy is increased levels of a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) found in the urine of a woman that has conceived4.

So How Did I Get Pregnant Anyways?

Just because you’re taking birth control pills doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to not get pregnant.

Statistics show that 1% of women who take birth control pills end up getting pregnant every year, even though they were doing everything right and followed all set instructions.

References:

  1. Do birth control pills cause birth defects if taken during early pregnancy? https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/expert-answers/birth-control-pills/faq-20058376. Accessed June 30, 2019.
  2. Do birth control pills cause birth defects if taken during early pregnancy? https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/expert-answers/birth-control-pills/faq-20058376. Accessed June 30, 2019.
  3. What is Hypospadias? https://www.urologyhealth.org/urologic-conditions/hypospadias. Accessed June 30, 2019.
  4. Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (HCG): The Pregnancy Hormone. https://americanpregnancy.org/while-pregnant/hcg-levels/. Accessed June 30, 2019.

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Medically Reviewed By: Christine Traxler M.D.

Medically Reviewed By: Christine Traxler M.D.

Christine Traxler MD is a retired family practice physician and graduate of the University of Minnesota School of Medicine in 1986. She has worked with patients in rural Minnesota for two decades.

She has written several books on medical topics, and has extensive experience caring for women of childbearing age, women in pregnancy, and menopausal women.

As a writer and editor, she specializes in writing coursework for medical students and other healthcare providers, with a predominance of writing on general medical topics and premedical scientific topics.

She has more than a decade of experience in the writing field, having written books on dermatology, medical assisting, nursing, and pregnancy.

She has written thousands of articles for laypeople and professionals alike on a variety of medical subjects.

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