Lack of information makes anything a little more scary, and that is true with birth control. The Pill is the most common form of birth control, and what it does is release synthetic sex hormones that stop ovulation, and therefore stop the fertilization process. Some mothers wonder what effect these circulating sex hormones have on a developing child in the womb.
There a few scenarios where this exposure can occur. In some cases, the woman becomes pregnant despite using birth control, and doesn’t realize it until, well, until she realizes it. So until the woman discovers she is pregnant, she is still taking birth control. In other cases, a woman purposely stops taking birth control, and becomes pregnant quickly, when these synthetic hormones are still in the body.
Should I Be Worried?
A recent study of women in Denmark found that risk of birth defects didn’t rise for women who’d used oral contraceptives less than three months before pregnancy or during pregnancy.
See original study: http://www.bmj.com/content/352/bmj.h6712
This confirms past research, though researchers of this new study point out that much of the past study is decades old, so this new research was needed. Furthermore, they write, some of these old studies had less than ideal research techniques. Some studies in the past associated oral contraceptive use with birth defects like hypoplastic left heart syndrome, gastroschisis, limb defects and urinary tract anomalies. Many more studies did not support this association.
This most recent study of almost 900,000 Danish women also found no such association with The Pill and birth defects.
“Overall, our study confirms the bulk of the previous work documenting no increase in birth defects following oral contraceptive exposure,” authors wrote.
Dr. Mark Saunders, an OB/GYN in American Fork, Utah, says that the large sample size in the study from Denmark should be reassuring.
“The study from Denmark of 900,000 women is very large and the conclusions are verified in that the pill has never been shown to increase birth defect risk,” he says.
How Common Are Birth Defects?
In this study of Danish women, 2.5% of children were diagnosed with a major birth defect within the first year of life. This percentage was consistent for women who used oral contraceptives just before and during pregnancy.
The CDC reports that birth defects (major and minor) affect 1 in every 33 babies born in the United States each year. Most birth defects occur in the first three months of pregnancy, which is when a baby’s organs are forming.
Birth defects can be caused by a variety of things. Genetic factors can be at the root. Problems with chromosomes are another contributor. Exposure to rubella while pregnant is another leading cause of birth defects. Exposure to drugs, cigarettes or alcohol while pregnant is very dangerous as well.
But in reality, in most cases the cause of a birth defect is unknown, according to the CDC. Women can take precautions however, by getting prenatal care early, getting enough folic acid even before pregnancy starts, talking to a doctor about medications or supplements they’re using and by learning how to prevent infections during pregnancy. Women should also be aware that controlling diabetes and obesity before pregnancy can decrease the risk of birth defects.