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Pregnancy and the pill

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

For many women, taking the pill is more a matter of delaying pregnancy until the time is right rather than preventing it all together.

So, the big question becomes, how long after you stop taking the pill can you expect to become pregnant? No two women are alike but, generally speaking, pregnancy is possible the next time you ovulate. You may ovulate within two weeks after finishing up your last package of birth control pills. So, theoretically, you could become pregnant almost immediately. However, as we all know, there are many variables. Some couples try for years to become parents without success.

It almost seems an unfair trick of the heavens that it’s sometimes the women who don’t want to become pregnant who easily do.

That means, if you’re dead set against pregnancy, and you stop the pill, you need to begin another form of contraception immediately. I actually recommend that my patients begin using an alternate contraceptive before getting off the pill so they get into the habit of using it.

Otherwise, you may have to get into the habit of changing diapers.

– Yvonne Thornton, MD, MPH

When are irregular periods or spotting cause for concern?

Friday, May 29th, 2009

Are your periods coming at different intervals than in the past? And, if so, should you worry?

That depends.

Some women have regular periods every two months. Others have regular periods every 21 days. So, if your periods aren’t on a 28-day schedule, it may not be a problem at all, as long as it’s regular for you. And your cycle’s schedule may change over time. In your 20s, you may menstruate every 30 days, then every 33 days in your 30s. In  your 40s, the intervals could change again. There’s no one-size-fits-all cycle.

If you’re used to getting your period every 28 days and it’s now 45 days without a sign of menstruation, the first thing you should do is to see your gynecologist.  A blood test (not urine testing) for pregnancy would probably be ordered.

But what if you haven’t been sexually active? Ask yourself, what else in your life has changed? Have you been on a starvation diet? Undergone some very stressful event? If so, mention these changes when you discuss your menstrual cycle with your doctor.  The menstrual irregularity may be the first sign of thyroid dysfunction, or other metabolic or endocrine disorders.

The “take home” message here is that you should always be sure to keep an accurate menstrual calendar every month so you can tell your doctor when your period started, when it ended, when you had intercourse, and when you have spotting.

Speaking of spotting between periods, sometimes it’s a sign of a problem but often it’s not. Certain women will spot right in the middle of their cycles, when they ovulate. This sort of spotting can be perfectly normal. There’s even a German name for it: mittelschmerz,  But, if it continues, even in the middle of your cycle or if you’re spotting at odd intervals, like three days after your period ends, it’s time to make a gynecologist’s appointment.

– Yvonne Thornton, MD, MPH