Birth control pills that are designed to be taken orally by women. It includes a combination of an estrogen (usually ethinylestradiol) and a progestogen (specifically a progestin). When taken correctly, it alters the menstrual cycle to eliminate ovulation and prevent pregnancy.
Combined oral contraceptive pills (COCPs) are a type of oral medication that is designed to be taken every day, at the same time of day, in order to prevent pregnancy.
If used exactly as instructed, the estimated risk of getting pregnant is 0.3%, or about 3 in 1000 women on COCPs will become pregnant within one year. However, typical use is often not exact due to timing errors, forgotten pills, or unwanted side effects. With typical use, the estimated risk of getting pregnant is about 9%, or about 9 in 100 women on COCP will become pregnant in one year.
How does it work?
Oestrogen and progestogen stop eggs being made, so no egg is released from the ovary.
When do I take it?
It is best to take this pill at the same time every day. You could set the alarm on your phone to remind you. If you are less than 12 hours late taking your pill it’s still OK.
Have a period each month
Take the 21 hormone pills and then break for 7 days. You will get your period during this break. It may be lighter and less crampy than your regular period.
You will not be protected from pregnancy if you forget to resume taking the pills.
Have a period every few months
Miss the seven day break and take the hormone pills continuously, every day. Take the seven non-hormone pills when you want to have a period.
No periods option
Take the hormone pills continuously, every day. Take the 21 hormone pills and then start a new packet, missing the seven day break. This means you won’t get your period.
With this option, you are protected from pregnancy unless you forget more than eight pills in a row.
You can do this for as many packets of hormone pills as you like, and then you can take a break to have a period when you want to.
You might notice bleeding and spotting at first, but this usually goes away with time or you can take the seven non-hormone pills to have a period.
Who can use it?
If you are healthy and do not smoke you can keep taking the pill safely for many years.
Can I get pregnant after I stop taking the pills?
Yes, you will be able to get pregnant as soon as you stop taking the pill.
If you do get pregnant while taking the pill and want to continue with your pregnancy, there will be no extra risk for your baby.
What are the advantages?
- Up to 99% effective
- Easy to use
- Doesn’t get in the way of sex
- You can choose to have lighter, less crampy periods or no period at all
- As soon as you stop taking the pill, you can get pregnant
- It reduces your risk of ovarian and endometrial (lining of the uterus) cancer by 50%
- Some pills can help with pimples/acne.
The research does NOT show a link between the pill and weight gain, headaches, breast tenderness, nausea or change in sex drive.
What are the disadvantages?
- You have to take it every day – even if you don’t have sex that day.
- You might have irregular bleeding in the first month or two. If the bleeding continues, keep taking your pill but make an appointment to see a nurse.
- You might get dark patches on your face.
Are there any other side effects?
Serious side effects are rare. If you take the pill and you smoke, you will be more at risk of stroke or heart attack. If you don’t smoke you are unlikely to have these problems.
Some pills can increase the risk of blood clots in the legs from 2 in 10,000 people per year to 6 times that rate.
It’s very important that if you notice any of these symptoms, you should get help from a doctor or Family Planning straight away, because it could be a sign of serious problem:
- get sudden chest pain
- cough up blood
- find it hard to breathe
- have pain in the lower leg
- have a very bad headache
Some short term risk factors when using the pill are:
- Plane flights
- High altitude
- Temporary immobility (not being able to walk or move)
Does this pill protect me from STDs?
No. You need to use condoms and lubricant to protect yourself from sexually transmissible infections (STIs). If there is a chance you may have an STI, have a check-up.