Each decade of your life brings new milestones. In your 20s and 30s, you may have been focusing on a career, a family, and financial stability. As you enter your 40s and 50s, the grind slows down and hopefully, you feel good about the life you’ve built.
While you’re out there accomplishing your goals, don’t forget one very important consideration: contraception. Even though fertility declines as you age, you can still get pregnant if you’re still getting your period — even if it’s not every month.
If having children is not in your plan but you’re still menstruating, then don’t part ways with your birth control just yet. Some women over 35 choose a permanent form of birth control called tubal ligation. Often called getting your “tubes tied,” this is a surgical procedure that involves completely blocking the fallopian tubes by inserting a ring, burning them, or clipping them.
However, if you’re still considering kids or you don’t want surgery, oral contraceptives — or birth control pills — are less permanent, don’t require surgery, and may come with some other benefits.
- They prevent pregnancy — and pregnant women over 40 have a much higher chance of complications.
- They can regulate heavy periods.
- They can reduce the risk of iron deficiency caused by heavy periods.
- They can lower the risk of endometrial cancer.
- They can reduce the risk of bone fracture from osteoporosis, which affects half of all adults over age 50.
5 Fast Facts About How Birth Control Pills Can Benefit Women In Their 40s and 50s
Your reproductive health is complex — so are the choices you need to make when it comes to contraception. In your 20s and 30s, you may have taken birth control pills for primarily one reason: to avoid pregnancy.
As you get older, however, there may be some extra benefits. Though these benefits may apply to other forms of birth control, such as the ring, the implant, or the shot, studies need to be done to be sure about their benefit.
Here are four benefits of taking birth control pills when you’re over 40.
1. Birth Control Pills Work — If You Take Them Correctly
In your 40s, your chances of a successful pregnancy drop because the quantity and quality of your eggs decrease. Even though it may be more difficult for those eggs to be fertilized, it can still happen. In fact, 80 percent of women between 40 and 43 years old can still get pregnant.
While it’s completely possible to have a baby without complications over 40, your chances of miscarriage, delivery complications and birth defects, such as Down’s Syndrome, are higher.
Birth control pills are a more effective form of contraception than many others — such as diaphragms, condoms, withdrawal, and spermicides. They also don’t require surgery, unlike tubal ligation.
Your chance of getting pregnant doesn’t go away completely until you go without your period for at least 12 months. If you plan on being sexually active and you’re still getting your period, birth control pills may be the way to easily and effectively prevent an unplanned pregnancy in your 40s.
2. They Can Regulate Your Period
In your 20s, you may have been used to a regular period that came once a month and didn’t disrupt your life too much. However, when your hormones levels drop very quickly during perimenopause, your body may react with heavier, more frequent, or more painful periods.
These sudden and major fluctuations can be tough. Oral contraceptives may regulate your period as your body gets a handle on your changing hormones.
For some women, menstrual bleeding can even be heavy enough that it leads to anemia — when your blood doesn’t carry enough oxygen to the rest of your body. This can make you feel tired, cold, dizzy, and irritable — on top of any other menopausal symptoms.
Taking birth control pills may be a way to lighten your period, reducing your risk of anemic symptoms that take an extra toll on your body.
3. Birth Control Pills Can Keep Your Bones Strong
Remember all of those times you were told to drink your milk as a child? That’s because from childhood to young adulthood, your bones are growing and getting stronger. When you’re in your early 20s, they’re at their strongest.
Over time, your bones become less dense and more fragile. As you enter your 30s, they become more porous, more brittle, and more likely to break — even if you did drink the milk.
Osteoporosis is a health condition that weakens your bones — and it’s very common as you enter your 40s and 50s. Half of all women will break a bone because of osteoporosis at some point in their lives. And because there aren’t usually any symptoms before your first broken bone from osteoporosis, it can be difficult to tell if you’re at risk.
While there are other simple ways to maintain bone health, such as getting enough calcium and avoiding smoking, oral contraceptives have been shown to maintain your bone health — keeping them stronger and less likely to break.
4. They Can Reduce Your Risk of Some Cancers
As a woman, your reproductive system is essential to your body: It provides you with important hormones, and it allows you to have children. However, these organs also come with risks, such as cancer in the ovaries and uterus.
Cancer in the lining of your uterus — called endometrial cancer — is the most common cancer in the reproductive system, and over 60,000 new cases are diagnosed each year.
Ovarian cancer, on the other hand, is less common — roughly 20,000 cases are diagnosed each year. However, over half of the women diagnosed with ovarian cancer lose their lives to it, and it causes more deaths than any other cancer in your reproductive system.
Taking oral contraceptives may reduce your risk of both of these cancers by at least 30 percent. This protective effect also doesn’t go away when you decide the pill is no longer for you, either — it can last for years after you stop using birth control pills.
What Risks Are Involved with Taking Birth Control over 40?
When you take an oral contraceptive, you’re adding extra hormones to your body. While that can be beneficial in many ways, it does come with some risks — especially as you enter your 40s.
Some medical conditions are more common as you get older, such as cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure. Taking birth control pills may increase your risk of cardiovascular complications, such as:
- Blood clots
- Heart attack
If you have a history of heart disease, high blood pressure, or blood clots and you’re over 35, birth control pills may not be the best option for you. Also, women over 35 who smoke are at particularly high risk for cardiovascular diseases and should, first of all, stop smoking. Also, talk to your doctor about whether birth control makes sense for you.
The Birth Control Pill: Is It Right for You?
As a woman, getting older comes with changes that may surprise you, delight you, or frustrate you. Just like many other stages of your life, both your body and mind take time to adjust.
While oral contraceptives can be an easy and effective way to combat some of the more overwhelming side effects of aging, it may not be the best option for all women. And remember, it may not address all of your concerns, either.
Talk to your health care provider about the benefits and risks of taking the birth control pill as you get older. It may just help you focus on the joys of getting older.
Still have questions about taking birth control in your 40s and 50s? Call (785) 270-4440 to set up an appointment with a Stormont Vail primary care provider to discuss the benefits of oral contraceptives.