Birth control pills in Nigeria: Common myths and misinformation


By Jennifer Orisakwe, DLHA Volunteer and Freelance Writer, with editorial support from the DLHA Team.


Birth control pills: Myths busted

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Key facts:

  • Birth control pills are the most commonly used family planning method in Nigeria.
  • Data from the World Bank show that between 1990 and 2012, Nigeria's prevalence of contraception rose from 6% to 14%.
  • Unmet need for family planning and myths and misconceptions are factors that inhibit the growth of contraception in the country.
  • Dispelling these myths and misconceptions is a vital public health task in support of family planning and women’s reproductive health.   





The use of birth control pills is as old as procreation itself.

Even before the advent of orthodox medicine, Nigerian women used herbs and plants instead of birth control pills. 

These traditional herbs and plants have been used for centuries in Nigeria for various medicinal purposes, including contraception.

Herbal plants used traditionally in Nigeria include; Neem (popularly known among the Yorubas and Hausas as Ogede Omo and Dongoyaro respectively), Tetrapleura tetraptera (known as uhio among the Igbos) and Wild yam.

They were commonly used for a variety of medicinal purposes, including contraception.

It is important to note that the use of traditional herbs and plants for contraception in Nigeria is not supported by scientific research and may carry health risks. 


However, over the years we have progressed to utilizing orthodox birth controls.


The history of birth control pills in Nigeria can be traced back to the 1960s, when the first oral contraceptives were introduced in the country. However, at the time, their use was largely restricted to urban areas and was only accessible to a small segment of the population.

It was not until the 1980s that the Nigerian government began to promote family planning as a means of controlling population growth. This led to increased awareness of birth control pills and other contraceptive methods, and their availability expanded across the country.

In Nigeria, birth control pills have become an increasingly popular method of family planning, yet myths and misinformation surrounding their use persist. These can have serious consequences for women's health, including unintended pregnancies and inadequate protection against sexually transmitted infections.

Data from the Measurement, Learning & Evaluation (MLE) project from Nigeria demonstrate high levels of misinformation about family planning in urban areas.

Across six Nigerian cities, the proportion of women who believed the myth that contraceptive users have health problems ranged from 33% in Abuja to 57% in Ibadan. The proportion among men was 25–48%.


This article explores the common myths and misinformation surrounding birth control pills, providing reliable information and dispelling misconceptions to help Nigerian women make informed decisions about their contraception within the Nigerian cultural context.



Some common myths or misconceptions about birth control pills

In Nigeria, there are several myths and misconceptions surrounding birth control methods. Busting these myths and providing accurate information is essential to promote reproductive health and family planning. Here are some common myths about birth control in Nigeria and why they should be debunked:


Myth 1: Only women who have had children should use birth control pills.


Busted: Women who have had children in the past are not the only ones who can use birth control. Women of various reproductive ages, even those who have not yet given birth, can use them for their reproductive health needs.


Myth 2: Infertility is caused by birth control pills.


Busted: This widespread misunderstanding has been debunked. Most forms of birth control pills do not result in infertility. A woman's fertility usually returns to normal after stopping the usage of contraceptives. When a woman stops using hormonal contraceptives, she may temporarily have a delay in getting pregnant, but this is not lifelong infertility.


Myth 3: Birth control violates cultural or religious convictions.


Busted: Contrary to popular perception, using birth control pills is not intrinsically incompatible with religious or cultural convictions. As a method of responsible family planning and as a means of advancing the welfare of individuals and families, the use of contraceptives is endorsed by many religious leaders and groups. To dispel myths and encourage educated decision-making, it is crucial to have open discussions regarding birth control in religious or cultural contexts.


Myths 4: Birth control pills have negative side effects.


Busted: Contrary to popular belief, birth control pills are generally safe and well-tolerated when taken properly. Side effects that are frequently experienced include breast discomfort, nausea, and brief irregular bleeding. The benefits of avoiding unwanted births frequently outweigh these side effects. Serious problems are extremely uncommon. To choose an appropriate strategy based on a person's health and needs, it's crucial to speak with healthcare professionals.


Myth 5: Significant weight gain is brought on by birth control.


Busted: Contrary to popular belief, using hormonal contraceptives, in particular, does not cause significant weight gain. Scientific study, however, refutes this assertion. While some people who use hormonal contraceptives could have modest weight fluctuations, there are many different factors that might affect an individual's weight. Making decisions based on correct information and seeking individualized advice from healthcare specialists is crucial.


Myth 6: Birth control pills make you more likely to get cancer.


Contrary to popular belief, using birth control, especially hormonal contraceptives, doesn't raise your risk of getting cancer. This is backed by  scientific evidence indicating that using most forms of birth control does not increase the risk of cancer and, in certain situations, may even have preventative effects against particular cancers. To analyze individual risks and choose a contraceptive method that best suits one's medical requirements, it is essential to have frank and educated conversations with healthcare providers.



How myths affect people's decisions about using birth control pills


a) Knowledge misunderstanding: They leads to misunderstanding about how birth control pills work and their potential side effects.


b) Discourage accurate information seeking: They discourage individuals who are not well-informed from seeking out accurate information and making informed decisions about their birth control pills options.


c) Create knowledge distortion: The knowledge distortion about birth control pills can have significant impact on people's decisions about using them.


d) Create fear and confusion: Myths can create fear and confusion, leading to a lack of trust in the safety and effectiveness of the pills.

This can result in individuals avoiding or discontinuing the use of birth control pills altogether, which can have serious consequences for their reproductive health. 

For example, the belief that birth control pills cause infertility can prevent women from using them, even though there is no scientific evidence to support this claim. This can result in unintended pregnancies and a lack of control over their reproductive choices. 

Similarly, the myth that birth control pills cause weight gain can discourage women from using them, even though research has shown that any weight gain associated with birth control pills is typically minor and temporary.



Scientific evidence on the effectiveness and safety of birth control pills


There is a large body of scientific evidence supporting the effectiveness and safety of birth control pills as a method of contraception.

Birth control pills are one of the most widely studied forms of contraception and have been used globally by 151 million women as reported by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

Scientific evidence strongly supports the effectiveness and safety of birth control pills as a method of contraception.

When used correctly, birth control pills are highly effective at preventing pregnancy.

The failure rate for perfect use (using the pills exactly as prescribed) is less than 1%, and the failure rate for typical use (taking the pills correctly most of the time) is around 9%.

Birth control pills are generally safe for most women. Like all medications, they may have some potential side effects, but these are usually mild and temporary. As stated earlier, the most common side effects of birth control pills include nausea, headache, breast tenderness, and breakthrough bleeding.


In addition to preventing pregnancy, birth control pills have a number of other potential health benefits. These include:

  • regulate menstrual cycles
  • reduce the risk of certain cancers (such as ovarian and endometrial cancer)
  • improve acne and other skin conditions
  • stop unwanted hair growth
  • reduce migraines and
  • control hot flashes during the transition into menopause

It is important to note that birth control pills are not suitable for everyone.

Women who smoke, have a history of blood clots or stroke, or have certain medical conditions (such as uncontrolled high blood pressure or certain types of cancer) may not be able to take birth control pills.

It is also  important for women to talk to their healthcare provider about their medical history and any potential risks before starting any form of contraception.





There are common myths and misconceptions about birth control pills in Nigeria, which may make it more difficult for people to make informed decisions and receive appropriate reproductive health care.


By busting these myths and dispelling misinformation, people are empowered to make knowledgeable decisions about their reproductive health and improve the general wellbeing of themselves, their families, and communities.


More favorable environment for reproductive health in Nigeria needs to be created by busting myths and debunking misinformation.


Promoting accurate information, healthcare access, and candid conversations about contraceptive options are essential to the public’s health.


Providing people with correct information enables them to make decisions that are in line with their goals for reproductive health, creating healthier communities and enhancing public health.





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United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Contraceptive Use by Method. Data Booklet. Pg 3 (2019). 


World Bank. Contraceptive prevalence, any methods (% of women ages 15-49). 2018. Accessed May 18, 2023.



Related: Why family planning is essential to Nigerian women of reproductive age



Published: May 25,, 2023

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