Birth control pill is a form of oral contraception used to prevent pregnancy. Although you may have a personal preference, many options for birth control available can be considered if you are sexually active.
These contraceptive pills contain hormones that reduce pregnancy risk, can help regulate your period and helps treat acne and conditions such as endometriosis.
This article provides comprehensive information on birth control pills and lists down other options for birth control to determine the best option for you.
What is the birth control pill?
Birth control pills are oral contraceptive pills containing small amounts of hormones that your body produces to regulate the menstrual cycle.
The hormones present in birth control pills mainly prevent pregnancy by:
- Thickening cervical mucus that prevents sperm from entering the uterus
- Stopping ovulation
- Modifying the lining of the uterus( to avoid the fertilisation of the fertilised egg)
Birth control pills are in packs containing a different number of pills that target the 28-day cycle. One tablet is typically consumed during the same time frame each day. This helps maintain a particular concentration of hormones in the body, making it less likely to get pregnant.
Different types of birth control pills
There are mainly two different types of birth control pills. These contain hormones that prevent pregnancy.
- Combination pills: These contain estrogen and progestin both.
- Progestin-only pills: Also referred to as “the mini pill.” These contain a single hormone called progestin.
Combination birth control pills
Combination pills contain hormones estrogen and progesterone in the synthetic form. Estrogen is responsible for controlling the menstrual cycle; hence, estrogen is elevated in the middle of your cycle and falls once you get your period. On the other hand, progesterone is responsible for preparing the uterus for pregnancy by thickening the endometrium after ovulation has occurred. However, high progesterone levels prevent ovulation.
Combination pills are available in a 28 pills pack. Most pills in each cycle are active, meaning that they contain hormones. The remaining pills are called inactive because they don’t contain hormones. There are various forms of combination pills:
Monophasic pills. The active pill contains the same concentration of hormones. During the last week of the cycle, the inactive pills can be skipped or consumed, but you will still have your period. These are available as a monthly pack.
Multiphasic pills. These pills provide different levels of hormones during the cycle. The inactive pills can be skipped during the last week of the cycle, but you will still have your period. These are also available in the form of a monthly pack.
Extended-cycle pills. These active pills are taken for twelve weeks. However, you can either take or skip the inactive pills during the last week and thus have your period. These pills are for 13-week cycles. Resultantly, you have your period three to four times annually.
Some commonly used brands for combination pills include:
- Estrostep Fe
- Ortho Tri-Cyclen
Different brands are available such as Vienna birth control and Yaz birth control which are quite popular but have similar efficacy. The choice of the prescribed pills depends on several factors, such as the cost, availability and the doctor’s or the patient’s preference.
Advantages of combination pills
Combination birth control pills may help manage the following conditions:
- heavy periods
- severe menstrual cramps
- endometrial cancer
- ovarian cancer
- noncancerous breast growths
- ectopic pregnancy
Progestin-only pills, also called the minipill, contain only progestin (synthetic progesterone). All the pills in this pack are active; there are no inactive pills. While on these pills, you may or may not have a period.
Progesterone birth control can help regulate the period flow and reduce bleeding in women with heavy periods. In addition, these pills are a safer option for those with a history of stroke, heart disease, peripheral vascular disease, migraine with aura or deep vein thrombosis since these pills do not contain estrogen.
A combination pill is avoided if you’re over 35 and a smoker, as these factors can increase the risk of developing a blood clot.
Some commonly prescribed progestin-only pills include:
- Ortho Micronor
Advantages of Progestin-only pill
Progestin-only pills are safe to use for those who:
- are older than 35
- have a history of blood clots
- are currently breastfeeding
- are unable to tolerate estrogen therapy
How do I use the pill?
The pill is available in various dosing packets. Typically they range from 21-day pill packs to 90-day pill packs. Some packs are for 365 days of active pills. Depending on the brand and dosage of the pills, you take the active pills for three weeks and then hormone-free (inactive) pills for seven days. This is known as cyclical dosing. Most women have a period while taking inactive pills. Some brands contain 21 pills only. They do not contain inactive pills at all in the pack. In this case, a woman does not take any pills for a week after completing the pack. During this time, the woman will get her period.
Some formulations offer continuous dosing, meaning you do not have to take inactive pills. A woman takes an active pill daily and can have a pill-free week after several months and hence have her period. Furthermore, skipping inactive pills prevents menstruation.
Other benefits of the pill
Some women are prescribed the pill to:
- Regulate or reduce the flow of a period.
- Reduce the intensity of menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea).
- Manage symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and premenstrual dysmorphic disorder (PMDD).
- Prevent anemia by making periods lighter and reducing their duration.
- Treat polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
- Treat endometriosis.
- Lower the risk of ovarian cancer or uterine cancer.
- Improve acne.
- Reduce migraines.
- Control hot flashes that occur during menopause.
What are the disadvantages of the pill?
Some women experience side effects after starting the birth control pill. Howver, these side effects often improve after a couple of months. Switching to a different brand might help resolve these side effects. However, another option is waiting a couple of months for the body to adjust to the pills may help resolve many of the symptoms, Commonly experienced side effects of progesterone and estrogen pills include:
- Irritability or mood swings.
- Breast tenderness or swelling.
- Spotting between periods
Rarely some women who take the combination birth control pill have an increased risk of developing the following complications:
- Blood clots.
- Heart attack.
- Deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
How to pick the best type of birth control pill?
It is important to talk with your doctor to determine the best possible for you. Some factors that may play a role in choosing the most effective birth control for you include :
- Menstrual symptoms: If you experience heavy bleeding during your menstrual cycle, a progestin-only birth control pill is better than a combination pill.
- Breastfeeding: In the case of breastfeeding, it is recommended to avoid birth control pills that contain estrogen.
- Cardiovascular health. A progestin-only birth control pill is safer if you have conditions such as a stroke, blood clots, or deep vein thrombosis.
- Chronic health conditions: In case of chronic health conditions such as breast or endometrial cancer, heart disease or migraine with aura, oral contraceptives are not preferred.
- Medications: Certain antibiotics or natural supplements, such as St. John’s Wort, can interfere with combination birth control. Similarly, specific antivirals and epilepsy drugs can interfere with birth control pills.
Discuss the best birth control pill for you with a doctor.
What if I Forget to Take a Birth Control Pill?
It is essential to take your pills on time to ensure they remain effective. It is advisable to take the missed pill as soon as you remember. After that, you have to take your usual daily dose as scheduled. You can use a backup form of contraception until you have your period to reduce the risk of pregnancy. If you miss several active pills, you may require emergency contraception options, and it is best to consult a doctor for the best choices if that is the case.
How long does birth control take to work?
When to start birth control is a very common question that crosses a woman’s mind. You can start taking birth control pills at any time. If you start pills when on your period, another form of contraceptive is usually not required. It can take about seven days for the pill to become effective. During this time, using another form of birth control is recommended. Taking the pill for other conditions, such as acne or abnormal bleeding, can take three to four months to see results.
Should I avoid certain medications while taking the pill?
Before starting new medications or herbal supplements, you should always check with your healthcare provider. Some dugs can make the pill less effective and increase your chances of getting pregnant. These products include:
- Antiseizure medications.
- Herbal supplements.
- Drugs used to treat HIV.
Can I take the pill while breastfeeding?
The combination birth control pill contains estrogen. Estrogen can decrease milk production. Therefore, breastfeeding mothers are commonly prescribed progestin-only pills instead. However, once milk supply is fully established and a woman’s risk of blood clots is minimal, some women use estrogen-containing pills.
How effective are birth control pills?
If taken correctly, birth control pills are considered very effective in preventing pregnancy. However, both the combination pill and the progestin-only pill have a failure rate of 9 percent.
Progestin pills have to be consumed within the same 3-hour time period every day for maximum effectiveness. If this time window is missed, it is recommended that you should take your pill as soon as you remember and additionally use a different method of contraception, such as a condom, for 2 days.
In the case of combination pills, it is advisable to take combination pills at the same time each day, but taking them within the same daily 12-hour window is still considered safe.
There are certain drugs that may reduce the effectiveness of the pill. These include:
- HIV medications such as efavirenz
- St. John’s wort
- antiseizure medicines for example carbamazepine
- oral norethindrone, levonorgestrel, and the subdermal etonogestrel implant
If you experience diarrhea, vomiting or a stomach illness,the pill may also be less effective i Resultantly, your risk of pregnancy may slightly increase. If such is the case, using a backup method of contraception, such as a condom, is recommended.
What are the most effective birth controls?
There are several birth control methods or birth control options, such as:
- Etonogestrel implant (Nexplanon).
- Depo-Provera progestin injection (Depo).
- Intrauterine device (IUD)
- Vaginal ring
- Skin patches (Xulane).
Alternatives Methods of Contraception
Several options are available for women who do not wish to take pills or cannot take them. Methods such as the rhythm method of birth control may be unreliable, having a high failure rate, but other mpre effective options are available.
An important point to note is that birth control pills do not prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs). However, barrier methods of contraception, such as condoms and dental dams, can help prevent STIs.
Condoms are classified as barrier methods of birth control. There are many types available. Most condoms are composed of latex, but people with a latex allergy can find other options. According to the stats, 18 out of 100 people who rely solely on male condoms for contraception will become pregnant within a year.
Another barrier method of contraception is the diaphragm. This is the form of a dome-shaped cup that can be placed inside the vagina. This works by preventing sperm from reaching the cervix. Diaphragms are often used in conjunction with spermicide.
According to studies, 12 out of 100 people become pregnant within a year using diaphragm contraception along with a spermicide.
Vaginal rings are plastic rings that work by releasing hormones into the vagina, which in turn suppresses ovulation. The ring is inserted for 21 days and then removed for seven days to allow menstruation. After this cycle, a new ring can be inserted.
The vaginal ring can have similar side effects to those of the pill as it contains hormones. Typically, 9 out of 100 people who use vaginal rings have a possibility of becoming pregnant within a year.
Intrauterine devices are inserted into the uterus by a healthcare provider. IUDs are of two types: hormonal or non-hormonal. Hormonal last between 5 and 7 years, while non-hormonal IUDs work up to 10 years.
Hormonal IUDs have similar side effects to those of the pill. Non-hormonal such as copper IUDs, can lead to irregular periods, spotting, heavier periods, and worsened cramps. According to stats, 1 out of 100 people using an IUD may become pregnant within a year.
The implant is a tiny plastic rod inserted into a healthcare provider’s upper arm. It works by releasing a hormone to prevent pregnancy and is effective for three years. The implant is considered very effective. As it is a hormonal contraceptive method, side effects are usually similar to birth control pills.
Birth control injections
Birth control injections, commonly known as the shot, are hormonal injections administered every three months to prevent pregnancy. The shot is an effective method of contraception as well. Commonly prescribed contraceptive Injection is called Depo.
Some permanent birth control options for women include tubal ligation. This is a surgical and non-reversible method of contraception.
Does birth control help with cramps?
Birth control pills can help treat or manage painful menstrual cramps that occur before or during a period. This is also referred to as dysmenorrhea and is a common menstrual disorder affecting many women.
Does birth control make you moody?
Depression and mood swings have been reported in women who take birth control. It is more common if she has a history of depression. Despite the common use of oral contraceptives, only a few studies have explored the association between hormonal contraceptives and mood disturbances.
How can I get birth control pills?
The birth control pill is an effective way to prevent pregnancy. As the demand for contraceptives is increasing, access to birth control pills is much simpler. Instead of an in-person visit with a doctor, you can talk to our doctor. Telehealth services such as Your Doctors Online offer online consultations with licensed doctors who review your medical history in detail and can provide a prescription for birth control pills.
FAQs About Birth Control Pills Answered by Your Doctors Online Team
If you take the pills consistently, it is considered to be up to 99% effective. Typical use reduces the effectiveness to 91%
It is recommended by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the North American Menopause Society that women can continue the use of contraceptives until menopause.
Some women have reported gaining weight while on the birth control pill. The reason that has been identified is that birth control can lead to the retention of fluids in the body temporarily.
Hormonal imbalances induced in the body while taking birth control pills can cause you to miss your period. Some people may experience frequent periods, or the periods may even stop while on birth control.
Most pills have 35 micrograms or a low concentration of estrogen. This is considered a ‘low dose.’ These pills are effective and safe for most women. Yasmin and Levora are some examples of such pills.
You can skip a period by not taking the inactive pills in your pill pack and starting a new pack right away.
Typically, you can get pregnant within 1-3 months of stopping the combination pill. Generally, most women can get pregnant within a year of discontinuing the pills.
The pills are effective if taken consistently. However, skipping the pills or taking them irregularly can increase your chances of pregnancy.
If you use it consistently, the pill is 99% effective. However, effectiveness reduces with inconsistent or irregular usage, thus increasing the chances of pregnancy.