Birth Control Pills
There are many different brands of Birth Control Pills. They come in packs of 21 or 28 pills. One pill is taken orally (swallowed or chewed) every day. They contain synthetic hormones that work to prevent pregnancy by stopping ovulation (the process of the ovaries releasing eggs), as well as thickening cervical mucus to make it more difficult for sperm to enter the uterus. The first 21 pills (in a 28-pill pack) contain synthetic estrogen and progesterone hormones that work to prevent fertilization. The last 7 pills of a 28-day pack are hormone-free pills called spacers. Birth Control Pills ares 91 to 99.7% effective as birth control, but do not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STI) including HIV/AIDS.
Starting The Pill: There are several ways to begin taking The Pill. One common way is to start on the first day of your period or the first day after an abortion. Some women prefer to start on the first Sunday after either of these events. If you start the pill in this way (within six days after an abortion or the start of a period), it is effective immediately. If the Pill is started at other times, it will be effective after 7 days of daily use. Condoms can also be used to lower the risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
Continuing: Take one pill every day until you finish an entire pack. Try to link taking The Pill with a regular activity that you do at the same time every day, like eating a meal or brushing your teeth. If you have a 28-day pack, start a new pack immediately after you finish the old one. If you have a 21-day pack, take one pill every day for 21 days, no pills for seven days, then start the new pack immediately.
Continuous Use of Birth Control Pills: Some women prefer to use the pill to have fewer periods or no periods at all. This can be helpful at reducing the symptoms of PMS, menstrual migraines, endometriosis, and anemia. Athletes and women planning their wedding, vacation or special performance have been using this method to “skip their periods” for many years. A lot of women like the idea of not having the bother with the inconvenience of a period, but the most compelling reason to choose continuous hormonal use is to decrease the risk of unwanted pregnancy. Continuous hormonal birth control pills work the same way as regular birth control pills – by stopping ovulation and preventing ovaries from releasing eggs.
If you choose to continuous use of birth control pills, simply take one hormone pill every day. If your pills come in a pack of 28, do not take the spacer pills. If your pills come in a package of 21, just start your new pack as soon as you finish the old one. By only taking the hormone pills and not taking the one week break there will be no withdrawal bleeding. Only monophasic pills can be used for this purpose; monophasic pills contain the same amount of hormones in each pill.
To have a quarterly (every 3 month) period: Take the birth control pill that contain hormones for three full months. Then take the spacer pills (sugar pills, placebo pills) for one week before returning to the hormone pills. Work with your health care provider on a type of pill and regime that works for you. It is recommended that you give yourself four breaks or “periods” each year. Some birth control pills are specially pre-packaged for quarterly periods or 4 periods per year.
To decide when to (or not to) have your period: You are likely to have withdrawal bleeding during the week of spacer non-hormonal pills. You get to decide when to take the full week of spacers. For example if you have a big special event or trip scheduled, then take the hormone pills continuously through the event or trip. Then after the big event or trip, take 7 days of the spacer pills and have your period.
Is it safe to go so long with no period? With regular birth control pills, you take hormonal pills for three continuous weeks then a one week break during which you would have a “withdrawal bleed.” A withdrawal bleed is different from a natural period. When a woman is not on hormonal birth control, the lining of the uterus thickens in preparation for a possible pregnancy. After ovulation, if no pregnancy implanted, the uterus sheds the thick menstrual lining.
With continuous hormonal use the lining of the uterus does not thicken and thus there is nothing or very little for the uterus to empty. Research shows it is safe and effective to use certain birth control pills continuously without stopping for a “period.”
Break through bleeding, or bleeding mid-cycle is very common in the first six months of continual hormonal use. Over time your body will get used to the constant level of hormones and this side effect will usually disappear within 4-6 months of continuous hormonal use.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (naproxen or ibuprofen) can decrease bleeding and make you more comfortable during this adjustment time. If your bleeding continues after one week on an anti-inflammatory, consult your health provider.
The most common way women get pregnant while using The Pill is starting the next package late.
1 day late starting the next package: Take two pills as soon as you remember and one pill each day after. Use a backup form of birth control for two weeks.
2 days late starting the next package: Take two pills per day for two days, then continue as usual. Use a backup form of birth control for two weeks.
3 or more days late starting the next package: Call the clinic for instructions.
During the Cycle:
1 pill missed: Take it as soon as you remember and take your next pill at your usual time. This may mean taking two pills in one day.
2 pills missed in a row in the first two weeks: Take two pills on the day you remember and two pills the next day. Finish the rest of the pack as usual. Use a backup form of birth control for one week.
2 pills missed in a row in the third week: Keep taking one pill every day until Sunday. On Sunday, set aside the rest of the pack and start taking a new pack of pills. Use a backup form of birth control for one week.
3 or more pills missed in a row anytime: Keep taking one pill every day until Sunday. On Sunday, set aside the rest of the pack and start taking a new pack of pills. Use a backup form of birth control for two weeks.
Missing any of the last seven pills of a 28-day package will not raise your risk of pregnancy. Skip the pills you missed, but be sure you start your next pack on time.
The effectiveness of The Pill is lowered when taken with certain medications, including antibiotics, anti-seizure, tuberculosis, and migraine medications. If you are taking any medications, tell your clinician. When taking medications that may interfere with The Pill, consider adding a backup method of birth control, like condoms and spermicide. As with all drugs, it is useful to inform all your medical providers if you are using hormonal birth control.
Some women may not be able to take The Pill because of the risk of serious health problems. Women who are over 35 and smoke or who have any of the following conditions should not take The Pill:
- History of heart attack or stroke
- Blood clots
- Unexplained vaginal bleeding
- Known or suspected cancer
- Known or suspected pregnancy
- Liver disease
Women who have the following conditions may or may not be able to take The Pill, and must first consult with their clinician or doctor:
- Gallbladder disease
- Sickle cell disease
- Have had elective surgery
- Have a history of blood clots, liver or heart disease
Women who use The Pill have a slightly higher risk of heart attack and stroke. The effects of The Pill on breast cancer are still unknown. The Pill lowers a woman’s chance of developing ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer, and pelvic inflammatory disease.
If you are unable to take The Pill for the medical reasons listed above, it may still be safe for you to take the Mini-Pill. The Mini-Pill contains a synthetic progesterone only and does not contain estrogen. This makes it safe for women who are over 35 and smoke, have high blood pressure or certain types of migraines.
As the body adjusts to hormonal changes created by The Pill, women often experience some minor side effects, including:
- Irregular bleeding or spotting
- Breast tenderness
- Weight gain and/or water retention
- Spotty darkening of the skin
- Mood changes
Side effects usually disappear after two to three cycles. If your side effects are bothersome after this time or if heavy bleeding occurs, continue taking your pills and call the clinic for an appointment to talk about your prescription and what other options might be available to you.
Women who experience any of the following ‘ACHES’ symptoms while taking The Pill should call the clinic immediately
Abdominal pains (severe)
Chest pain or shortness of breath
Eye problems, such as blurred vision
Severe leg or arm pain or numbness
Missing a period does not always mean that you are pregnant. Pregnancy is more likely
- in the first few months of Pill use,
- if you missed taking any Pills,
- if you are taking another medication (especially antibiotics), or
- if you have been sick (vomiting and/or diarrhea).
If you forgot one or more pills and do not have a period that month, we recommend that you have a sensitive pregnancy test done at a clinic. (Beware of anti-abortion pregnancy centers offering free pregnancy tests – they give out biased information. Seek out a legitimate place to get a pregnancy test, or buy one over the counter.)
If you miss two periods in a row, it could either be normal or a sign of pregnancy. Pregnancy tests are recommended right away. If you become pregnant while on The Pill, there is probably no risk of birth defects.
Women who want to become pregnant may stop using The Pill at any time. Fertility may return immediately or after a few months.
- Can regulate periods or lighten them
- Easy to use
- Does not harm future fertility
- Does not interrupt sex play
- May protect against uterine and ovarian cancers
- May reduce acne
- Can be used for Emergency Contraception
- Does not protect against sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS
- Must be taken every day
- Less effective when taken with some medications
- Raises risk of heart attack and stroke
- Requires a prescription
What are Mini Pills?
Mini-Pills are progesterone-only birth control pills. Mini-Pills come in packs of 28 pills and you take one every day. They contain a synthetic form of the progesterone hormone and no estrogen. The Mini-Pill affects the mucus around the cervix and makes it harder for sperm to enter the uterus. It also affects the transport of the egg through the fallopian tubes. In these ways, the Mini-Pill prevents fertilization. Mini-Pills do not protect against reproductive tract infections, including HIV/AIDS. They are called “mini” because they contain less hormones than regular pills.
Use of Mini-Pills
There are hormones in each Mini-Pill; there are no spacer pills. It is important to take a pill every day, at the same time each day. Forgetting a Mini-Pill or taking it late increases the chance of pregnancy more than missing a regular birth control pill.
You can improve the effectiveness of Mini-Pills by adding a backup method, like condoms or spermicide. This is most important during the first three months and days 8-18 of your menstrual cycle after the first three months.
Starting Mini-Pills: Take the first pill on the first day of your period. Take one pill daily, at the same time of day, even during your period.
After the First Pack: As soon as you finish one pack, begin the next one. Start your next pack even if you are still bleeding or have not started your period. Continue taking one pill every day.
If you have problems with the Mini-Pill, call the clinic. DO NOT stop taking the Mini-Pills unless you want to get pregnant or can use another method of birth control.
Your Health: Every woman is different and Mini-Pills are not recommended for all women. Due to the risk of serious health problems, women with the following conditions should not use Mini-Pills:
- Unexplained vaginal bleeding
- Known or suspected pregnancy
- Breast Cancer
Mini-Pills may not be recommended for women who are concerned with weight gain, have liver disease, gallbladder disease, heart disease, diabetes, or a history of depression.
Health Risks: Mini-Pills increase the risk of having functional ovarian cysts. They also very slightly increase the risk of ectopic pregnancy. An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg attaches and grows outside the uterus. This can be very dangerous and requires emergency medical attention. To protect your health, watch out for the Mini-Pill’s danger signs.
Health Benefits: Women on Mini-Pills have a decreased risk of endometrial cancer and pelvic inflammatory disease. You may have less menstrual cramping and pain, fewer periods, and less chance of anemia.
The most common side effect for women using Mini-Pills is irregular bleeding. While many women on Mini-Pills have normal periods, others may have irregular periods, spotting between periods or no periods at all. If you do not bleed for 60 days, call the clinic to arrange for a pregnancy test but continue taking your pills.
Other possible side effects of the Mini-Pill are mood changes, headaches, and lowered sex drive.
Some of the typical side effects of regular birth control pills, such as nausea, and breast tenderness, usually do not occur with Mini-Pills.
The effectiveness of Mini-Pills is lowered when taken with certain medications. These drugs include rifampin and anti-seizure medications. If you are taking any medications, tell your clinician. When taking medications that may interfere with Mini-Pills, consider adding a backup method of birth control, like condoms and spermicide. As with all drugs, it is useful to inform all your medical providers if you are using hormonal birth control.
3 or more hours late: Take a mini-pill as soon as your remember. Use a backup method for 48 hours.
1 mini-pill missed: Take a mini-pill as soon as you remember and take the next one at the usual time. This may mean taking two pills in one day. If you only miss one mini-pill and make it up, you probably will not get pregnant. Use a backup method for 2 weeks.
2 mini-pills missed: Take 2 mini-pill each day for the next 2 days. Use a backup method for 2 weeks. You may have some spotting or bleeding. If the bleeding is like a period, call the clinic.
3 or more mini-pills missed: Use a backup method and call the clinic for instructions.
NEVER TAKE MORE THAN 2 MINI-PILLS IN 1 DAY.
- Avoids typical side effects of regular birth control pills.
- Has no estrogen.
- Easy to use.
- Does not harm future fertility.
- Does not interrupt sex play.
- Does not protect against sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS.
- Must be taken every day at the same time.
- Less effective when taken with some drugs.
- Increased risk of functional ovarian cysts.
- Increased risk of ectopic pregnancy.
- May cause irregular bleeding.
- Requires a prescription.