The truth about birth control use and infertility
It's a fact: Infertility rates are rising. In 2013, the Centers for Disease Control reported, "The general fertility rate declined 1 percent in 2013 to 62.5 births per 1,000 women aged 15-44, reaching another record low for the United States."
What are we doing differently than our mamas and grandmas? It would be easy to assume that infertility is linked to our increasing use of oral contraceptives — since, ya know, the whole point of them is to not cause pregnancies.
In 1962, just two years after the pill was approved, 1.2 million American women were on board, according to PBS. Three years later, that number doubled to 2.3 million. Now? The CDC reports between 2008 and 2010, 10.7 million American women were on the pill — and that it has been the most popular form of birth control since 1982.
But we can't just go on making assumptions. Dr. Hal Danzer — a reproductive endocrinologist, who is board certified in obstetrics and gynecology and a co-founder of the Southern California Reproductive Center — elucidates the facts for us.
Why are we so infertile?
"Age is the biggest factor of infertility, so the longer pregnancy is delayed, the higher their infertility rates are," Danzer tells SheKnows. He confirms that infertility rates are rising, but that it really does come down to age: "In our mothers' and grandmothers' generations, women were getting married right out of high school, and today women are delaying pregnancy till their late 30s."
That's true. Baby Center reports, "In 1970, the average age of a first-time mother was 21.4. In 2013, the average age was 26." And, that's just for the United States. Daily Mail disclosed the average age of new moms hit 30 for the first time in the U.K. last year. Interesting.
"Age is the founding factor of infertility," Danzer continues, "but polycystic ovary syndrome and an irregular cycle can also be a factor. Low sperm count can account for 25 percent of infertility, and abnormalities of the uterus and fallopian tubes can also account for 25 percent of infertility rates."
So, birth control isn't a factor?
"Yes, and no," Danzer begins. "Obviously there are complications with pregnancy and certain birth control methods, with women using condoms, diaphragms or IUDs — there are certain health factors that come along with using those."
But, ladies, listen to this: "Generally speaking, birth control, especially the pill, can preserve a woman’s fertility," he explains. "Birth control protects a women’s fertility and ovaries against ovarian cysts, which then can require surgery."
Ha! If Ponce de León could see us now! The Fountain of Youth is in our birth control pills, silly. (I wonder if I can use the pill on my face....)
But oral contraceptives can't be good over the long term, right?
Wrong. "The length of time on the pill does not seem to have an effect on fertility," Danzer notes. "Years ago there were claims that it was better for your body to go off the pill for a month or so, and then resume taking it again, but this resulted in a lot of unplanned pregnancies..." #JohnandKatePlus8
So, in all seriousness, birth control really doesn't seem to be linked to the growing infertility rates. I guess we all just need to get in the sack a little sooner.
If you're worried about your fertility, Danzer advises, "I would recommend women in their 30s have an Anti-Mullerian Hormone (AMH) test. The level of AMH in a woman's blood is generally a good indicator of her ovarian reserve. Women with a low reserve should consider starting a family sooner or consider freezing her eggs. You can have this test done by your OB/GYN even when on birth control."