What It Really Takes to Get Pregnant After Birth Control

While it varies from one person to another, it's a common misconception that it takes a long time to get pregnant after birth control.

An image of a woman looking at a pregnancy test.
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Deciding to start a family is a big decision, but you're (almost) ready. You've quit your birth control and now you want to start trying to conceive. But you've heard that it can take longer to get pregnant after discontinuing birth control. Some, for example, say the signs of ovulation are different after stopping the pill. So how long it will likely take to get pregnant, and when's the best time to stop birth control?

We reached out to several experts to help us understand the ins and outs and getting pregnant after birth control. Read on for more.

How Long Does It Take to Get Pregnant After Birth Control?

While it varies from person to person, for the most part, it's a bit of a myth that it takes a long time to get pregnant after using birth control, says Jill Purdie, MD, OB/GYN and medical director at Northside Women's Specialists. Most people will get pregnant within a normal timeframe after stopping "the pill," she assures—or other forms of birth control.

"With birth control pills, rings, patches and implants, once the patient discontinues use of these items, they may become fertile as quickly as two weeks after stopping," says Dr. Purdie. "With IUDs, the return to fertility may be even quicker." This means that, despite popular believes, the chances of getting pregnant the first month off of birth control are very real. The one exception to this is the birth control shot, known as Depo-Provera, which can affect your fertility for a longer period of time, even after you've stopped taking it. "Each shot lasts for three months; however, the return to fertility may be an additional 3 to 6 months longer," Dr. Purdie explains.

It's important to keep in mind that whenever we talk about fertility returning and getting pregnant after birth control, there are a lot of elements at work—it has to do with how intercourse is timed, you and your partner's reproductive health, as well as some elements of luck. In other words, fertility isn't just affected by whether or not you recently were on birth control.

"Patients may become pregnant anywhere from almost immediately, to two weeks or six months after stopping hormonal birth control methods," Dr. Purdie offers. "Generally speaking, healthy couples have an approximately 25% chance of becoming pregnant each cycle that they try," she says. So that means that it can take couples up to 4 to 5 months of trying, whether they've recently been on hormonal birth control or not.

When Should You Stop Taking Your Birth Control?

It's common to have irregular periods after you get off hormonal birth control, says Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., and clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale University. "Periods can be a bit irregular for the first couple of months, but that doesn't mean you won't get pregnant," she explains. As such, she advises people who are taking hormonal contraception to give themselves a few months to get regular after stopping birth control, and to use a barrier method if they don't want to become pregnant within that time period.

Dr. Purdie advises patients to stop taking hormonal birth control around the time that you are ready to get pregnant. "If you complete a pack of birth control pills, remove your patch or ring or have your birth control implant removed, you may potentially ovulate and be able to become pregnant as quickly as two weeks after that time," Dr. Purdie explains. If you had an IUD, that timeframe may be even shorter. "With the removal of an IUD, patients may become pregnant almost immediately depending on the time of the month in which the IUD is removed," Dr. Purdie says.

However, if you are someone who uses an injection form of hormonal birth control (Depo-Provera), you will need to give yourself a longer timeframe, says Dr. Minken. Some parents will get pregnant right away after stopping Depo-Provera, but most need a bit more time. "It can even take 6 months, or rarely longer, for the shot to disappear from the body," says Dr. Minkin. "So, I always advise people who would like to get pregnant after immediately stopping their contraceptives not to use the Depo-Provera."

Do Different Birth Control Methods Affect Fertility?

Studies back up the claims that different birth control methods have only small effects on fertility. A 2018 systematic review and meta-analysis published in Contraception and Reproductive Medicine found little difference in the time it took people to get pregnant based on the type of birth control method—whether barrier methods, IUDs, or hormonal birth control—they had used before trying to conceive.

Some studies, however, have found that it may take a few cycles for you to return to full fertility, depending on the type of birth control used. For example, a 2019 study published in The BMJ found that people who stopped taking hormonal birth control pills and contraceptive rings usually returned to fertility in about 3 menstrual cycles and people who used IUDs (copper and hormonal) returned to fertility in about 2 cycles. People who used birth control shots took the longest to return to fertility—about 5-8 menstrual cycles.

How Can You Tell If You're Ovulating?

After you stop taking birth control, you'll probably be wondering at what point your fertility has started to return. One way to figure this out is by tracking your signs of ovulation. Ovulation typically occurs around 2 weeks after your period, though your periods might not be regular right after you stop birth control.

Typical signs of ovulation include:

  • Increased cervical mucus, which may look clear and slippery (like egg whites)
  • Pelvic and abdominal pain
  • Increased sex drive
  • Sensitive breasts
  • Bloating
  • Spotting or light bleeding
  • Changes in mood

If you are looking for more definitive proof that you are ovulating, you may want to track your basal body temperature, says Dr. Purdie. "This is a temperature taken first thing in the morning before you get up," she says. "There will be a rise in basal body temperature around the time of ovulation." Another option is to get an ovulation predictor kit, which will usually turn positive the day before you ovulate, Dr. Purdie explains.

Are There Any Risk Factors Or Concerns?

Taking birth control rarely has any long term impacts on your fertility, assures Dr. Minken. Still, there may be other factors that influence how quickly you can get pregnant after stopping birth control, including common fertility issues such as hormonal issues, thyroid issues, issues with your reproductive organs, and health conditions like endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome that can make conception more difficult. Fertility is a two-way street, and problems with your partner's sperm or sperm production can contribute to fertility issues as well.

Infertility is defined as the inability to get pregnant after 12 month of trying. If you are over the age of 35, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommend that you visit a healthcare provider if you're having trouble conceiving after 6 months of trying; if you are over 40, it's recommended you see your provider even sooner.

For most healthy couples, though, it's just a matter of trying each month, and mustering up a bit of patience, knowing that it's normal for it to take a few months to get a positive pregnancy test. If you are looking to maximize your chances of getting pregnant once you quit birth control and are ready to try, Dr. Minken has some tips: "I would encourage anyone trying to conceive to eat a healthy diet, don't smoke, don't drink, don't take drugs, and do take folic acid supplementation daily to help prevent birth defects."

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