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Will taking the pill while pregnant harm the baby?


Updated May 30, 2014

Will taking the pill while pregnant harm the baby?

Am I Pregnant?

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Question: Will taking the pill while pregnant harm the baby?
Some women may become pregnant while using birth control pills or other hormonal devices like the Patch or NuvaRing. If this has happened to you, you may be worrying whether the pill may harm the baby or growing fetus.
Answer: If you find out that you became pregnant while using the pill, it may be helpful to know that there is no conclusive evidence indicating that the pill will harm your baby in any way. Fetuses exposed to the pill during early pregnancy are not at increased risk for developing complications or birth defects. That being said, using the birth control pill while pregnant is not recommended, so if you think you could be pregnant, it may be a wise idea to stop taking the pills and use an alternate form of birth control, like condoms. If you don't want to be pregnant but have had unprotected intercourse or experienced contraception failure (and it's only been a few days), you can use Plan B or emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy. Along the same lines, some women believe that continuing to use birth control pills – either before or after a pregnancy is confirmed – will cause an abortion to occur. Pill use will not result in a miscarriage or an aborted fetus. The hormones in the pill work to prevent pregnancy by stopping ovulation or causing the thickening of cervical mucus, so they have no affect on a developing baby. One point to mention, however, involves the use of progestin-only birth control pills. There is evidence suggesting that women who continue to use the mini-pill while pregnant may have an increased risk of experiencing an ectopic pregnancy - when the fertilized egg begins to develop outside of the uterus. Because this type of pregnancy can be dangerous, they need to be resolved quickly.

Although birth control pills will not end a pregnancy, there are other specific medications that can. RU486, also known as the abortion pill, has been FDA-approved in the United States to cause a medical abortion. It must be provided by a healthcare professional. If you became pregnant while using the pill and are considering terminating the pregnancy, you can discuss your options with a doctor, counselor or health educator at a family planning clinic. Dealing with an unintended pregnancy can be overwhelming, but there is no right or wrong choice as to how to continue. When it comes down to it, you are the only one who can decide which option is the most right one for you.

One last thing to keep in mind – although most research generally shows that pill use will not harm an existing pregnancy, it is important to point out that there is not a lot of solid research in this area. Researchers rarely study pregnant women due to fear of potentially harming the fetus. While not conclusive, there has been one published study that suggests that taking birth control pills during pregnancy may increase the risk of congenital urinary tract abnormalities in the baby.

Teratology 1995 Jan;51(1):30-6

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