Even if you want children in, like, 20 years, or you’re unsure about having them at all, not having the option can worry you right now. We talked to fertility experts to help alleviate any concerns you may have; here’s what they had to say. Spoiler: It’s mostly good news.
1. Can the pill cause infertility?
Simply put, probably not. Although there can always be exceptions and extreme cases with any sort of prescription, doctors all seem to agree on this subject. “No studies have ever confirmed or shown any effects of birth control on long-term fertility,” says Dr. Shahin Ghadir, an assistant clinical professor at UCLA and USC.
This comes as pretty welcome news for many collegiettes who have been concerned about pill-induced infertility. “People often ask me if I’m worried about infertility since I’ve been on the pill for a few years, and I definitely used to be,” says Rachel Petty, a junior at James Madison University. “However, I’ve done some research and talked to my gynecologist about it, and she said not to worry. Many risks of infertility are no longer problems with new birth control pills, and I feel better knowing that I’m safe now!” That’s one less thing to stress out about.
2. What are some signs of infertility?
Approximately 11% of reproductive-age women in the U.S. are infertile. Dr. John Jain, a reproductive endocrinologist at Santa Monica Fertility lists the following symptoms as possible indicators of infertility:
- Irregular periods
- Abnormal weight gain
- Thyroid enlargement
- Excessive hair growth
- Milk discharge from the breast
- Visual disturbances and/or headaches
If you consistently notice any of these symptoms, consult your physician to stay on the safe side. You might be at risk for hypothyroidism, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) or diabetes, all of which are associated with fertility problems. On the bright side, “most of the conditions listed can be treated effectively,” Dr. Jain says.
Whether you plan to have children in the near future or you just want to be a mother someday, infertility can concern any collegiette. “Becoming a mother one day has always been something that means the world to me,” says Lydia*, a senior at the College of William & Mary. “Unfortunately though, when I was experiencing extremely irregular periods, two different doctors expressed to me that I might be suffering from PCOS.” For Lydia, this would have meant that conceiving would be difficult, but not impossible. Luckily, her tests came back negative.
It goes without saying that if you already carry a disease that can cause infertility, having children may be a greater source of anxiety. “I have endometriosis, which is a health problem in the uterus area that leads to extreme pain, nausea, painful periods, diarrhea, and very often, infertility as a side effect,” says Alaina Leary, a first year graduate student at Emerson College. “I’m dating a woman, so the fear of pregnancy is out of the question, but I am very concerned about infertility.”
3. What can you do to preserve your fertility?
Don’t have unprotected sex—c’mon, you shouldn’t be doing that anyway. “Avoid activities that increase sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia or gonorrhea as these two STDs can damage fallopian tubes,” Dr. Jain says. “Try to avoid unintended pregnancies as surgical termination of pregnancy can lead to infection and damage to the uterus which may impact future attempts at fertility.”
There are a few more things you can do to prevent any fertility issues. “Routine gynecological exams and maintaining good general health, such as eating healthy, and refraining from smoking and alcohol use, will help maintain and improve fertility,” says Dr. Mark Surrey, a reproductive surgeon and associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at UCLA.
Although you should definitely exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle, “excessive exercise, or eating irregularities, can lead to significant weight loss and lack of ovulation, although such loss is not usually permanent,” warns Dr. Jain. This is just something to keep in mind.
4. What steps should you take if you’re worried about being infertile?
No test can truly predict your future fertility, but you can definitely find out if you are fertile right now. “We do recommend getting a fertility screening in your early twenties,” Dr. Surrey says. “It is helpful to get an anti-mullerian hormone (AMH) test which is measured through the blood and is a marker for the ovarian egg reserve.” Other helpful tests include sex steroid hormone (SSH), luteinizing hormone (LH) and Estradiol blood tests, according to Dr. Ghadir.
Doctors disagree about the necessity of these tests at a young age. Dr. Surrey recommends them for women in their early twenties, while Dr. Jain only encourages women with serious health concerns to undergo testing. “The question about infertility is more relevant for women who are experiencing menstrual disturbances or other changes in their health,” Dr. Jain says. “In other words, healthy women are probably fertile. Women who have mental disturbances or new onset health problems, in addition to addressing their main health concerns, should also discuss the impact of such health issues on future fertility.”
If you are generally healthy, there is a very strong chance that you are fertile, but it can never hurt to see a doctor if you’re at all worried. And even if you have a condition associated with infertility, treatments do exist. So don’t stress, collegiettes, you’re doing enough of that already.