Birth Control Pill

To put off parenthood or just to avoid unwanted pregnancies, many couples have made birth control pills a part of their daily routine. In fact, this contraception if one the most popular forms of female birth control. Contraceptive pills can be taken orally and are very effective at preventing pregnancy.

What are Birth Control Pills?

There are mainly two kinds of pills that you will find on the market. One type of birth control pill has artificial estrogen and progesterone while the other is comprised of just progesterone. These usually come in a pack of 21 or 28 pills and have to be taken daily at a particular time of the day. Some newer brands of pills, though, require you to take the hormonal pills for 90 or more consecutive days. To get the contraceptive pill, you will need a prescription from your doctor.

How do the Pills Work?

When you take an oral combination pill (those with both estrogen and progesterone), the hormones present block the release of an egg from the ovary. This is the primary method through which the pill works. The pill also helps in thickening the cervical mucus so that it becomes harder for sperm to move and fertilise an egg in the fallopian tube.

Progesterone-only pills generally do not prevent ovulation but instead thickens the cervical mucus to prevent fertilisation from occurring. Both these kinds of pills may also thin the uterine lining, which can prevent implantation from taking place if an egg is fertilised.

Birth control pills offer no protection against sexually transmitted diseases.

Who Can Use Them?

Most healthy women can use oral contraceptive pills to avoid pregnancy. However, there are instances where this method may not be suitable and other birth control options may be better. Some typical cases where you should not use birth control pills include:

  • If you are over 35 years of age
  • If you smoke
  • You have a history of heart problems
  • You have known or suspected cancer of the uterus or breast
  • You get vaginal bleeding
  • Have a history of blood clots
  • You have liver disease or inflammation of the liver
  • You get frequent migraines or headaches
  • You have been diagnosed with high blood sugar or high blood pressure
  • You require bed rest after a major surgery

Woman who are under 35 and suffer from epilepsy, diabetes, sickle cell disease or any heart or liver problem should abstain from using birth control pills. Also, some women may have religious or moral objections to using this form of contraception and may prefer to us natural birth control or hormone-free contraceptives.

If you are considering using oral contraceptives, find more information about which oral contraceptive is best for you here.

Effectiveness of Pills

Research and use by many women has shown that birth control pills are as much as 99.9% effective in preventing pregnancy when used perfectly. Perfect use refers to taking the pill at the exact same time every day (so that your hormone levels stay consistent) and not forgetting any pills. However, with typical use, the pill may be as low as 92% effective. Typical use means that you do not take the pill at the exact same time each day and that you might sometimes forget to take a pill.

It has been seen that certain drugs like antibiotics, anti-fungals, anti-HIV protease inhibitors, and anti-seizure medications affect the efficacy of birth control pills. Therefore it is always better to ask your physician about the drugs you can take along with the pill. If you are being prescribed a drug, make sure to mention to the doctor that you are taking the birth control pill.

Sometimes vomiting and diarrhoea may also lessen the effectiveness of the contraceptives. Pills can also fail to prevent pregnancy if you miss one or more doses or take an irregular dosage. If you have been sick, are using a medication that can interfere with the pill or miss a dose, consider others methods of birth control, like a condom, until you get your period to help prevent pregnancy.

How to Use the Pills

If you are prescribed 28-day birth control pills, your pill pack will consist of 21 days worth of hormonal pills and seven days of sugar pills. During the seven days of the sugar pills, you will get your period. Women using 21-day birth control pill packs will take only hormonal pills for 21 consecutive days before stopping their pill for one week. During this pill-free week, you will get your period. At the end of the pill-free or sugar-pill week, you will start another pack of hormonal pills. Women on other forms of birth control pills may take the hormonal pills for a longer period of time before breaking for a period.

It is important to take a pill at the same time everyday particularly if you are using the progesterone-only pill. If you delay the time by 3 hours or more, you might have to use another effective birth control method in addition to your pill. Linking your pill taking to a daily activity, like eating breakfast or brushing your teeth, will help you make it a part of your daily routine. Other women find it helpful to set a watch alarm so that they never forget to take their pill.

If you do forget to take a pill, take the missed pill as soon as you remember and continue with your regular schedule. If you miss two or more pills, consult the instructions that come with your birth control pills.

Although the pill is usually effective as soon as you start taking it, it is generally recommended to use a secondary contraceptive method for the first week to month of use.


The many advantages of using a birth control pill are:

  • It is safe and easy to use
  • Periods become more regular and lighter
  • Future fertility is not affected
  • Intercourse is not interrupted
  • May protect women from cancer of the ovaries and the uterus
  • Reduces acne
  • Fewer menstrual cramps
  • Protection against pelvic inflammatory disease
  • May reduce your risk of an ectopic pregnancy


Drawbacks to this contraception include:

  • Has to be taken everyday
  • Does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases
  • Is less effective when take along with some drugs
  • Increase risk of strokes
  • Cannot be taken without a prescription

Side Effects

Many women complain of birth control pill side effects although these discomforts have been reduced to a large extent nowadays as pills contain a much smaller dose of hormones compared to when they were first put on the market. Some of the more common birth control side effects include:

  • Missed period (consult your physician if this happens)
  • Spotting or bleeding, usually during the first three months. If your bleeding is severe, consult with your doctor.
  • Breast tenderness
  • Weight gain
  • Water retention
  • Nausea
  • Mood swings
  • Darkening of the skin
  • Decreased sex drive

These birth control pills side effects usually subside after 2-3 cycles. If symptoms persist, it is always good to keep your physician informed. Though serious problems are not frequent, there are some complications associated with using the birth control pill:

  • Blood clots in the brain, heart, lungs or legs
  • Jaundice (rare)
  • Liver tumors (rare)
  • Gallstones (rare)
  • High blood pressure

Also check out are articles on the risks of birth control pills, on how smoking affects the pill, on the links between the pill and IBD and on how birth control pills affect your libido.

Availability and Cost

The cost of birth control pills will vary according to the brand you use and where you obtain your pills. Some health clinics may provide the pills at a reduced cost or possibly for free. Some insurance policies may cover some or all of the cost of the prescription.

It is very important that you keep your physician informed of any bodily changes while you are taking the pill and to get a complete gynaecological check up done once every year.

Learn more about birth control pills at planned parenthood.

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