Scrambled eggs?

Dear Lucy: If a woman is on oral contraceptive pills for a year, does this mean that no eggs are released for that year? Could this hurt her chances of conceiving later, in her late 20s, 30s, or 40s? —All In One Basket

Illustration of a pack of birth control pills with a smiley face on the front of each pill

Dear All In One: Thank you for an interesting question. Contraceptive choices can be difficult enough without worrying that the right choice for right now could have adverse long-term ramifications. To get the most accurate answer possible, Lucy turned to the chief of MIT Medical’s OB/Gyn Service, Chana Wasserman.

Wasserman tells Lucy that oral contraceptives prevent pregnancy through a variety of mechanisms, but, as you surmised, they work primarily by preventing ovulation. “They do this by inhibiting the mid-cycle surge of luteinizing hormone—or LH—which, otherwise, would trigger the release of an egg from a mature follicle,” she explains. “And while the ovaries still develop small follicles while a woman is taking oral contraceptives, the secretion of follicle stimulating hormone, FSH, is also suppressed. This prevents follicles from maturing completely.”  

Wasserman notes that oral contraceptives can help to prevent gynecologic disorders such as endometriosis, which could lead to infertility. And she assures Lucy that oral contraceptive use does not affect one’s ability to conceive later in life. But, she reminds readers, fertility naturally declines with age. “Whether a woman has used oral contraceptives previously or not, one’s chances of conceiving are inversely related to one’s age,” she explains. “As we get older, the chance for conception declines.”

With that in mind, Lucy reminds all her readers to plan ahead when it comes to, well, family planning. You might also want to check out this previous Ask Lucy column on non-hormonal birth control methods. —Lucy


Back to Ask Lucy Information contained in Ask Lucy is intended solely for general educational purposes and is not intended as professional medical advice related to individual situations. Always obtain the advice of a qualified healthcare professional if you need medical diagnosis, advice, or treatment. Never disregard medical advice you have received, nor delay getting such advice, because of something you read in this column.