Can You Get Pregnant While on Birth Control?

Chances of Getting Pregnant on Birth Control

Medically Reviewed By
Dr. Sabiha Anjum (Gynecologist/Obstetrician)
View more Gynecologist/Obstetrician Our Panel of Experts

Taking birth control pills is the most popular and highly effective way to prevent unplanned pregnancies. If taken correctly as prescribed, birth control pills are 99% effective in preventing pregnancies. That means taking them every day at the same time without fail. However, if you miss a dose, the chances of getting pregnant increase dramatically from 1 in 1000 to 1 in 20.

Can You Get Pregnant On Birth Control?

It is possible to get pregnant while taking birth control pills. If taken exactly the way the doctor prescribed, it is very effective in preventing pregnancy. How you take the pill depends on what kind of pill it is.

There are 2 types of birth control pills, the combined pill and the progesterone-only pill. The combined contraceptive pill is taken for 21 days and then stopped for 7 days. In these 7 days, you will have your menstrual period. Combined pills should be taken in the right order at around the same time each day. If you forget to take one, you have a 24-hour window to make it up and still be protected against pregnancy. The effectiveness decreases only if you miss 2 or more pills.

The progesterone-only pill should be taken in the order specified on the pack. They have to be taken without fail within 3 hours of the same time each day. If you miss it, you will not be protected from pregnancy.

Can You Get Pregnant On Birth Control?

What Affects the Effectiveness of Birth Control?

Following are the reasons that can reduce the effectiveness of birth control pills:

1. Not Taking It at the Same Time Every Day

Birth control pills contain a low dose of the hormones oestrogen and progestin that work together to prevent pregnancy. For this to be effective, the pills have to be taken at the same time every day. Missing a dose can render the pill ineffective.

2. Medication

Certain medications affect the ability of the body to absorb the birth control pill. These include antibiotics, neurological medication, herbal supplements, and antidepressants.

3. Vomiting and Diarrhoea

If you vomit within 2 hours of taking a birth control pill, it should be treated as a missed pill, and you have to take another one. If not, you could get pregnant. It is the same if you have diarrhoea or loose stools for 24 hours. The pill is not absorbed, and birth control becomes ineffective.

Vomiting and Diarrhoea

4. Exposing Them to Heat and Sunlight

If you leave your birth control pills exposed to heat and direct sunlight, the pills start to degrade and become ineffective. Store them away from direct sunlight in temperatures less than 25 degrees Celsius.

5. Missing a Dose

Missing a dose of the pill reduces its ability to prevent pregnancies. If you forget to take more than two pills, you should use a backup method of birth control such as spermicide or condoms and ask your doctor for advice.

6. Alcohol

Alcohol is metabolised by the liver. Anything that affects the liver can alter the way the pill is absorbed by the body. The more alcohol you consume, the less effective the birth control pill will be.

Tips to Prevent Birth Control Failure

Here are some tips to prevent birth control failure:

  • Take the pills at the same time every day without fail. Combine this activity with something that you do every day at the same time, such as brushing your teeth or having breakfast. That way, you will not forget to take it at the same time each day.
  • Use backup methods of birth control. If you miss one pill, take it as soon as you remember, but also use a backup contraceptive like spermicide to be safe. If you miss 2 or more pills, talk to your doctor for advice about missed doses, and use backup contraception for at least a week.
  • If you just started taking birth control pills, many doctors recommend using backup contraception for a week to a month after starting the pills.
  • Take the placebo pills. Birth control pill packs contain 3 weeks of active pills and 1 week of placebos, or inactive pills. If you do not take the placebo pills, you may forget and get late in starting the next pack. This can make the pills less effective.
  • Do not mix medications. Do not mix over-the-counter and prescription medications while taking the pills. Always ask the doctor if you need a backup contraception if you have been prescribed any other medication. Do not use herbal supplements while taking pills. All this can make pills ineffective in preventing pregnancy.

Signs You Might Be Pregnant While on Birth Control

Sometimes, things may go wrong, and you may get pregnant while on the birth control pills. If you suspect that you are pregnant, take a home pregnancy test and confirm it with a blood test to make sure. Look out for these pregnancy symptoms while on birth control:

1. Tender Breasts

Tender or swollen breasts are an early symptom of pregnancy which is due to hormonal changes.

2. Morning Sickness

Morning sickness is a symptom of pregnancy characterised by nausea, vomiting, and fatigue.

Morning Sickness

3. Aversion to Specific Foods

If you have any sudden food cravings or feel an aversion to specific foods unexpectedly, it may be a sign that you are pregnant.

4. Missed Period

A late or missed period is the first indicator of pregnancy for most women. However, some women do not have periods while on birth control. So, this is not a good indicator of pregnancy for them.

What to Do If You Are Pregnant While Taking Birth Control?

Getting pregnant on birth control pills can be highly unexpected. If you discover that you are pregnant while on birth control pills, you should consult a doctor right away. You should stop taking the birth control pills immediately. If you decide to keep the pregnancy, you have to start eating healthy and taking folate supplements and prenatal vitamins right away.

If you decide to terminate the unplanned pregnancy, it is important to act as soon as possible because the laws in your city may prevent medical termination of pregnancy after a certain point depending on where you live.

Can Birth Control Be Harmful for Your Baby?

You can get pregnant on birth control pills. Research has shown links between birth control during early pregnancy and abnormal urinary tract, premature delivery, and low birth weight. However, these have not been proven beyond doubt. It is still very important to stop taking birth control pills immediately after you realise that you are pregnant.

Birth control pills are a highly effective way of preventing unplanned pregnancies if taken correctly. These pills also help in treating other conditions like painful menstrual cramps and acne. If not taken correctly, the pills become ineffective. Being well informed about all the reasons that can make the pills ineffective can help you avoid birth control failure.

Also Read: How To Prevent Pregnancy: Birth Control Options, Precautions & more

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