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Can the Pill Boost Fertility?

If you've stopped taking your birth-control pill in the hopes of conceiving, don't be surprised if a plus sign on a home pregnancy test follows soon after. A new study from Brunel University in the United Kingdom shows that women who've taken oral contraceptives for at least five years are able to conceive just as easily as non-users.

What's more, researchers found that the longer women took the Pill, the greater their chances of getting pregnant within six months to a year after they went off of it. (The reasoning: The Pill protects against complications such as endometriosis, which can make it harder to get pregnant.)

Prospective parents can breathe a sigh of relief, since these findings refute older research suggesting that the Pill delayed conception after women discontinued it. "It's been a long-standing myth that women on the Pill have a lag time in returning to conception," says David Plourd, M.D., assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Naval Medical Center in San Diego. "We know that if you miss one pill you can get pregnant." After the last pill is taken, levels of hormones drop immediately, allowing women to revert to their normal fertility levels right away—and with no effect on future fertility, says Dr. Plourd.

The findings bolster the many other benefits oral contraceptives provide, such as protection from pelvic infections, a decreased risk of ovarian and endometrial cancer, and lower rates of anemia. (Since women have lighter periods on the Pill, they lose less iron.)

Once you're consumed by visions of little booties and you decide to go off the Pill, begin taking prenatal vitamins for at least a month before trying to conceive. It's a great opportunity to reduce your risk of fetal birth defects, says Dr. Plourd.

Couples who have attempted to get pregnant for a year without success should see their doctors for an evaluation. They'll need to check for any underlying causes, such as low sperm count, tubal damage, or pre-existing infertility. For additional information, or to find referrals to clinics near you, contact the American Fertility Association at www.theafa.org, or the National Infertility Association at www.resolve.org.

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