Do You Ovulate on the Pill? How Hormonal Birth Control Affects Ovulation
There’s a whole mythos around ovulation, that day or so of the month when your ovary releases an egg so that it can be fertilized by a sperm cell if given the opportunity. Some women talk about the increase in sex drive or energy they feel at this time, while others are extra cautious about sex when they’re ovulating because they know it’s when they’re most likely to get pregnant.
Ovulation is triggered by FSH (Follicle Stimulating Hormone) and LH (Luteinizing Hormone), Deborah Smith, MD, board-certified reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist at Rocky Mountain Fertility Center, tells Bustle. When your pituitary gland releases these chemicals, the egg grows and is eventually released from its follicle.
It’s true that you undergo some physical and even emotional changes during ovulation. Your estrogen rises, which could mean higher libido, more vaginal lubrication, and more sensitive nipples, reproductive endocrinologist Aimee Eyvazzadeh, MD tells Bustle. In order to create a more hospitable environment for the egg, your cervical fluid changes from “thick and sticky to stretchy and glide-y,” OB/GYN Eden Fromberg, DO, tells Bustle, so you may also notice changes in the texture of your vaginal discharge. Some women even say they’re more energetic, extroverted, or creative during this time.
How The Pill Affects Ovulation
If you’re on the pill, though, chances are you’re not ovulating — at least not usually. “When a woman takes the pill, it basically tells the brain, ‘shhhh, don’t tell the ovary to grow an egg to maturity this month,’” Dr. Eyvazzadeh says. The pill is made of synthetic hormones that mimic the estrogen and progesterone your body makes, Dr. Fromberg says, so they essentially trick your pituitary gland into thinking you’re already pregnant.
What That Means For Your Hormones
This also means you probably won’t experience increased sex drive, vaginal lubrication, or other effects of ovulation while you’re taking the pill. Some may dislike this aspect of taking birth control, but others who experience unpleasant symptoms around ovulation might actually view it as an advantage.
Some people, for example, experience breast tenderness or pelvic pain around ovulation, Astroglide’s resident sexual health advisor OB/GYN Angela Jones, MD, tells Bustle. There are also certain conditions like premenstrual dysphoric disorder that may be alleviated by suppressing ovulation.
Sometimes, It Still Happens
Other times, though, the brain signals telling your body to ovulate don’t get completely suppressed. This is especially likely to happen if your birth control pill is “low dose” — that is, it has low levels of estrogen and progesterone — like most pills that doctors prescribe today, Dr. Eyvazzadeh says.
Sometimes, this happens on its own, but more often, it happens because you’ve missed a pill or taken it late. “Missing more than one pill in a row or per month makes the whole rest of the cycle vulnerable,” Dr. Fromberg says. Certain medications, like specific antibiotics and histamines, might also interfere with the pill’s absorption. If you throw up while you’re on the pill, it also may not be absorbed, so talk to your doctor if you have gastrointestinal issues or are struggling with bulimia.
Ovulating is especially common if you’re on a progestin-only pill, Dr. Smith says — 40 percent of women on this type of pill continue ovulating. However, she says, no pill stops ovulation 100 percent of the time.
But Don't Freak Out
If your pill fails to halt ovulation, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get pregnant. The pill also prevents pregnancy by thickening your cervical mucus so sperm are less likely to get past it, and thinning the lining of your uterus so an embryo is less likely to implant, Dr. Smith explains. If you use them perfectly, birth control pills are 99 percent effective (meaning one in 100 people who use them will get pregnant each year), but in practice, they’re 91 percent effective.
The bottom line: it’s still possible to ovulate on the pill, especially if you’re not using it correctly. But generally, if you’re on the pill, you won’t be ovulating, and different people feel differently about that. If ovulation is an unpleasant time of month for you, then not ovulating may be a welcome change. But if you love the glow you get during ovulation, that may factor into your decision to take the pill or go off it.