Can Taking the Birth Control Pill While Pregnant Hurt My Baby?

Research suggests that it's all right in most cases

Young woman holding birth control pills
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Let's say you have been taking the birth control pill and—surprise!—you suddenly discover you are pregnant and decide to continue the pregnancy.

Since you took the pill during early pregnancy, can it cause ​harm to your baby harm? Or is there a chance that it may lead to a miscarriage or stillbirth?

Most research suggests that you need not worry. There are some types of birth control that may cause complications, but, for the most part, it seems that using birth control pills or other hormone delivery devices (such as the Patch or NuvaRing) is relatively safe.

Birth Control Pill and Birth Defects

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there is no evidence that taking combination birth control pills or progestin-only pills while pregnant will harm your baby in any way, either by increasing the risk of birth defects or causing pregnancy complications.

With that being said, it is not recommended that you continue taking birth control if you that you are pregnant. In the end, every drug you take will be "taken" by your child, as well. So if you think you may be pregnant, take a pregnancy test to know for certain. And, if you can't for any reason, consider using other forms of contraception (such as condoms or the sponge) until such time as you can.

So does all this mean we have nothing to worry about? Not exactly. Some studies have suggested there is an increased risk of ectopic pregnancy (when the fertilized egg implants outside of the uterus) if taking progestin-only pills at the time of conception, as well as a slight risk of hypospadias in boys (a birth defect where the opening of the urethra is not located at the tip of the penis).

This only highlights the need to stop birth control medications the moment learn (or believe) you are pregnant.

Birth Control and Miscarriage Myths

Some women believe that if they continue to take the birth control pill while pregnant, they may have a miscarriage. This is not true, and there has never been any evidence to suggest that.

The hormones in the pill work by stopping ovulation as well as the thickening of your cervical mucus key to implantation. Neither of these things contributes to either a miscarriage or stillbirth.

Another myth is that using emergency contraception (such as Plan B One-Step or the AfterPill) while you are pregnant may cause the spontaneous termination of your pregnancy. This is again not true. These pills really have no effect once a fertilized egg has implanted.

There are specific medications that can end a pregnancy if desired. However, these are not considered birth control but a form of medical abortion. Known as Mifepristone (RU486), the abortion pill has been FDA-approved in the United States since 2000.

IUD and Miscarriage Risk

If you have an intrauterine device (IUD) and become pregnant, there may be complications. Research, in fact, suggests that if a woman chooses to leave her IUD in during pregnancy, her miscarriage risk will increase to around 40 percent. Moreover, it can raise the likelihood of preterm birth by some 500 percent.

With these risks in mind, you should call your doctor immediately to have your IUD removed if you find yourself pregnant and decide to continue the pregnancy.

Removing the IUD early in a timely fashion can largely reverse those risks.

A Word From Verywell

While research has shown that taking birth control will not harm either to the pregnancy or fetus, it is important to note that there has not actually been a lot of research on this subject. This is not because of oversight or lack of interest. Medical ethics would simply not allow anyone to conduct research that may place a mother or her unborn baby in harm's way.

As such, most of the data is derived from epidemiological research comparing mothers who have used the pill during early pregnancy against those who haven't.

In this regard, there has been little difference in either the number of birth defects, miscarriage, or stillbirths between either group.

This is not to say that there is no risk associated with the unintended use of birth control during pregnancy. It simply tells us that you have to use the best judgment whenever it comes to any substance you may be taking during pregnancy, including birth control pills.

Sources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Research | Treating for Two." Atlanta, Georgia; updated March 18,2016.

Charlton, B.; Mølgaard-Nielsen, D.; Svanström, H.; et al. "Maternal use of oral contraceptives and risk of birth defects in Denmark: prospective, nationwide cohort study." BMJ. 2016;352:h6712.

Waller, D.; Gallaway, M.; Ramadhani, T.; et al. "Use of oral contraceptives in pregnancy and major structural birth defects in offspring." Epidemiology. 2010; 21(2):232-239.

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