Can Birth Control Give You Pregnancy Symptoms? Here's The Real Science Behind It

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Tell me if this sounds familiar: You’re in the bathroom, sitting and waiting for the longest three minutes of your life to pass. You’ve just taken a pregnancy test. Why? Because you’ve missed your period, you're nauseous, your boobs feel like you've been smacking ‘em around all night, and you're exhausted. All tell-tale signs that you are full-on preggo. But here’s the thing: You’re on the freaking pill! As the seconds tick by, you start to wonder if maybe there is something other than sperm to blame for your current predicament. Can birth control give you pregnancy symptoms? You may think you’re grasping at straws, but actually, that is a totally legitimate question. That's because the way the pill works is actually by tricking your body into thinking it's already pregnant.

First off, let's talk about how the pill actually works. Most oral contraceptives contain synthetic estrogen and progestin. These stabilize your hormones and prevent the estrogen peak at the middle of your cycle that tells your pituitary gland not to send the message to your ovaries that it’s time to release an egg. No egg means no possibility of pregnancy. Great stuff. But with all those additional hormones in your bod working to post a "no vacancy" sign on your uterus, it’s also quite possible for you to experience some common but misleading pregnancy-like symptoms. Such as…

1. A Missed Period Or Spotting

Oh boy, this one is the biggie. If there’s one thing we all know about pregnancy detection, it's that a missed period is the equivalent of a flashing "baby on board" neon sign. But if you’re taking oral contraceptives, it may not be time to panic after all. What may seem like a missed period or spotting caused by implantation bleeding (some bleeding can happen when a fertilized egg implants in the uterine lining), according to Health Line, may actually be because the uterus did not create a thick lining when there was no egg released. When in doubt, take a test, but a missed period does not always forebode pregnancy.

2. Nausea

Movies tell us that the way we learn we’re pregnant is by sudden vomiting followed by some frenzied menses mathematics. While morning sickness can definitely signal pregnancy, it can also be mimicked by the pill. Health Line recommends not taking the pill on an empty stomach to see if that helps prevent the nausea. If it doesn’t, grab yourself a pregnancy test.

3. Breast Tenderness

One of the early signs of pregnancy is sore breasts. According to Health Line, breasts may also feel fuller and heavier in the first couple of weeks after conception because of elevated progesterone levels. Breast tenderness is also a common side effect of birth control pills, particularly if you’ve recently started taking them. According to a study conducted by the American Family Physician, breast tenderness may actually last for up to 18 months. Yikes.

4. Fatigue

Thanks again to increased levels of our frenemy progesterone, pregnant women feel pronounced fatigue, particularly early on. To be fair, you are basically 3D printing a human being inside your body. But fatigue and headaches are also a common symptoms of the pill. Awesome.

How To Tell The Difference

Are you good and confused now? While it’s reassuring to know that just because you’re experiencing the most common warning signs of pregnancy it’s not automatically a done deal, it can also make your head spin a bit. According to Conceive Easy, here are a few things to look out for that should help clarify things: getting cramps when your birth control previously reduced or eliminated them; increased frequency of urination (“When the egg is fixed, the uterus enlarges and puts pressure on the bladder”); exaggerated mood changes; a change in diet or appetite; and, finally, a marked increase in sensitivity to smells, even ones you used to like.

Once again: When in doubt, pee on a stick.

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