A Practical Guide to Stopping Birth Control

Pregnant Couple Sitting on Bed

How soon can you get pregnant after stopping birth control? Is there anything special you should know? Here's some information about what to expect.

Timing Your Conception

Most healthy couples who are trying to get pregnant will conceive within a year. Some women get pregnant almost immediately after stopping birth control. Others take longer.

It's possible to get pregnant even if you haven't really "stopped" birth control. For example, missing just one or two birth control pills can be enough to allow a pregnancy. And, many women have discovered they were pregnant after one act of unprotected intercourse.

When you're ready to plan a pregnancy, you'll probably want a little more control over when you conceive. Deciding when to stop birth control will depend on what method you're using.

Tossing the Condoms

If you've been using condoms for birth control, there's no lag time before you can get pregnant. Just stop using them, and you're all set! Make sure you stop using any spermicide gels and creams, too.

The same goes for diaphragms, cervical caps, sponges, and other barrier methods. None of these methods interferes with normal ovulation or periods, so they don't change your ability to conceive. All they do is stop sperm from reaching your eggs.

Stopping Birth Control Pills

Women like birth control pills for their convenience and reliability, but some women worry about being able to get pregnant later on. The good news is that, most of the time, your fertility will return to normal quickly.

In one study, women who had been on the pill took an average of eight months to get pregnant, compared to four months for women who had used non-hormonal birth control. Fertility may return more quickly in women who used low-estrogen pills.

It may take a few months for your periods to become regular after stopping birth control pills. It's possible to get pregnant if you ovulate during this time, but if you're not having regular periods you might not recognize the pregnancy right away.

Some obstetricians suggest using a barrier type of birth control, such as condoms, until your periods are regular. This makes it easier to tell when conception happens, to track how far along you are in your pregnancy, and to predict a due date.

Doctors generally recommend finishing out a cycle of pills before stopping. Otherwise, you may have irregular bleeding or spotting until your menstrual cycle evens out.

The Patch and the Ring

The patch and the ring both contain hormones similar to the ones in birth control pills. They're still new, so doctors haven't yet done long-term studies of pregnancy after stopping birth control in these forms. The expectation is that the effects will be similar to those of the pill.

After Depo-Provera

Getting pregnant after stopping the birth control shot may take longer. Remember that each shot lasts for three months, so you haven't really "stopped" until three months after your most recent shot.

After that, it can still take several months before your body is ready to conceive. On average, it takes about ten months after the final shot to conceive. Keep in mind that this means that some women get pregnant much faster, and some will take much longer. In one study, 93% of women did become pregnant within 18 months.

After an IUD

Some IUD's contain hormones to help prevent pregnancy. The brand-name IUD Mirena contains a hormone called levonorgestrel. Levonorgestrel, a type of progestin, is similar to a hormone involved in the menstrual cycle.

The manufacturer of Mirena says that fertility returns quickly after the IUD is removed. They don't say exactly how long this takes, but studies have shown many women become pregnant within a few months. The manufacturer does state that women who have stopped Mirena are just as likely to conceive as women who have not used birth control.

A second type of IUD, called the copper IUD, doesn't contain any hormones. The manufacturer of Paragard, a copper IUD available in the U.S., says that "once it's removed, the contraceptive effect is reversed." Again, studies suggest that conception within the first few months is common.

Talk to Your Doctor

Congratulations on your decision to conceive. In most cases, pregnancy will happen naturally and it its own time. If you are concerned about your ability to conceive after using birth control, share your worries with your doctor. He or she can help you take steps to improve your fertility or, more likely, ease your mind.

A Practical Guide to Stopping Birth Control