If you’ve been on birth control pills for what feels like forever, you probably worry about what will happen when you eventually go off them, particularly if you hope to get pregnant one day, on your own terms.
But there’s good news, and it’s twofold: First, no matter how long you’ve been on birth control, once you trash your pack and your regular periods resume (which can happen as soon as your next scheduled cycle, and usually within one year or sooner), you’re no less likely to get pregnant than a women who has never ever popped a pill.
What’s more, new research suggests that oral contraceptive use doesn’t just reduce your risk of certain cancers, lighten your period, alleviate horrible cramps, clear your skin, and improve your mood (among other benefits). It shows that women who take the pill or use other methods of hormonal contraceptive for more than 10 years may end up with better memories and critical thinking skills post-menopause, according to a study that looked at 830 women around age 60, which was recently published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
While researchers didn’t look into exactly how hormonal contraceptives benefit the brain, they’re pretty sure it has something to do with the way it stabilizes your levels of the sex hormones estrogen, which affects brain chemistry, function, and structure, and progesterone, which is thought to play a role in brain tissue growth and development. The impact of all these hormones, which are also affected by pregnancy, could explain why the study also found a brain boost among women who had their first kids after age 24, and last children after age 35. But, as you might have guessed, more research is needed to suss out these connection.
In the meantime, if having kids isn’t on your immediate agenda, don’t sweat it. The findings on long-term contraceptive use (and benefits of delaying parenthood) are ever the more reason to refill your pill prescription — before it’s too late.