Is pregnancy possible?

Birth control pills are among the most popular pregnancy prevention tools for women. They may also be used to help treat acne and uterine fibroids. The pill works by delivering hormones that prevent an egg from being fertilized.

There are different types of pills with varying amounts of hormones. For pregnancy prevention, the pill has a high efficacy rate when taken every day, and at the same time of day.

The question is, what happens when you stop taking the pill? The answer ultimately depends on where you are in your menstrual cycle.

If you stop taking the pill in the middle of your pack, you could get pregnant right away. On the other hand, if you finish out the month’s pills, pregnancy may be possible after your cycle gets back to normal. It’s important to know that simply taking the pill for a while doesn’t offer long-term effects after you quit — it must be taken every day to prevent pregnancy.

Keep reading to learn how the type of birth control pill can affect your chance of pregnancy, what you can do to prevent pregnancy between birth control methods, and what to do if you’re trying to conceive.

What happens if you stop taking combination pills?

Combination pills are the most common forms of oral contraceptives. These contain both estrogen and progestin. When taken daily, these pills protect against pregnancy by preventing the release of an egg during ovulation. They also create mucus barriers to help prevent sperm from reaching an egg.

The rate of pregnancy after stopping these pills greatly depends on the type of combination pill you’re taking. If you’re taking the conventional type, which has three weeks of active pills, it’s possible to get pregnant the next month after menstruation. It’s also possible to get pregnant if you miss a dose in the middle of your pack.

Some combination pills, like Seasonale, come in extended cycle versions. This means you take 84 active pills in a row and only have a period every three months. It may take longer for your cycles to normalize after taking extended-cycle pills, but it’s still possible to get pregnant in as little as one month.

What happens if you stop taking progestin-only pills?

Like the name suggests, progestin-only pills only contain progestin, so you don’t have an “inactive” week of pills. These “minipills” also alter ovulation, as well as the linings of the cervix and uterus.

These pills don’t contain estrogen, so their efficacy is slightly lower. It’s estimated that about 13 out of every 100 women taking the minipill will get pregnant each year. This also means that pregnancy is more likely immediately after you stop progestin-only pills.

If you’re actively trying to conceive, it’s still a good idea to wean off the pill first, so talk with your doctor.

What to do if you’re switching birth control methods

Although your cycle might take time to normalize, it’s still possible to get pregnant during the first month after you stop the pill. If you’re not looking to get pregnant right now, you’ll want to consider another birth control method to use after you stop the pill.

Numerous over-the-counter barrier methods, when used correctly, can prevent pregnancy.

These include:

Spermicide: This is a gel or cream that contains nonoxylnon-9, a chemical that kills sperm. Although spermicide may be used alone, it’s more effective when used with other barrier methods.

Condoms: Available in both male and female versions, condoms prevent sperm from entering the uterus. These are made even more effective when used with spermicide. Never use both male and female condoms at once, as this can increase the risk of tearing.

Diaphragms: Made for women only, a diaphragm is placed in the vagina and acts as a barrier along the cervix. Diaphragms must be used with spermicide to work effectively. Unlike a condom, which is removed immediately after sex, a diaphragm must stay in place for at least six hours after intercourse. After your six hours are up, you must remove it within the next 18 hours.

Sponges: These foam structures are also placed in the vagina to cover the cervix. They already contain spermicide. Like diaphragms, sponges must stay in place for at least six hours after sex. You should remove the sponge within 30 hours after sex.

Learn more: Which birth control is right for you? »

What to do if you’re trying to conceive

The way you come off your birth control pill can also vary if you’re trying to conceive. Suddenly stopping the pill in the middle of the pack isn’t a good idea, because it can alter your cycle. Instead, it’s best to finish the pack and let your body run through a normal menstrual cycle first.

One common misconception is that the pill adversely affects your fertility. The pill has no impact on your fertility — it just might take a couple of months for your cycle to get back to normal. You may or may not get pregnant during the first cycle after you stop the pill. In fact, women who were recently on the pill have the same chances of getting pregnant as women who haven’t taken oral contraceptives.

Your doctor is your best source for advice for ensuring a healthy conception. They can advise on how to best come off the pill and talk to you about starting a prenatal vitamin before you try to conceive. They may also make recommendations about healthy eating, abstaining from alcohol, exercise, and more.

Check out: A 30-day guide to prepare your body for pregnancy »

The bottom line

Whether you want to stop taking your pill or already have, you should talk with your doctor. They can answer any questions you may have about continued protection against pregnancy or help you plan for conception.

Keep reading: What to expect when stopping birth control pills mid pack »