There are a few different types of birth control pills, Each must be taken as directed by your doctor and the materials provided in the package.
Birth control pills containing two hormones – estrogen and progestin – are called combination pills. These are the most common type of oral contraceptive. These usually come in 21-day or 28-day packs.
As long as you take one pill every day you’re protected from pregnancy while taking this form of contraception. (taken correctly oral contraceptives are over 99% effective.)
Take 1 pill every day for 21 days (three weeks) in a row. Then take no pills for seven days (the fourth week). You’ll get your period during the fourth week when you aren’t taking any pills. It’s important to take every pill in this type of pack because there are no hormone-free reminder pills like there are in the 28-day pack. Note that you are protected from pregnancy even during the week that you are not taking the pills.
Take 1 pill every day for 28 days (four weeks), and then start a new pack on the 29th day. The last pills in the 28-day pack are hormone-free pills (how many will depend on the brand). To stay on track, make sure you take all the pills provided.
Some combination pills have 12 weeks’ worth of hormone pills in a row, followed by up to a week of hormone-free reminder pills. When you take this type of pill, you will only have your period once every three months.
Progestin-Only Pills (Mini-Pills)
If you’re breastfeeding, have certain health problems, or don’t want to take estrogen, your doctor may recommend you take progestin-only pills for birth control. As the name implies, these pills contain only progestin.
Unlike combination contraceptive pills, these mini-pills must be taken within the same three hours every day in order to be effective.
Progestin-only pills come only in 28-day (four-week) packs. All 28 pills have hormones. And you must take every pill in a progestin-only pack to be protected from pregnancy — there is no hormone-free week. You may get your period during the fourth week. You could also have bleeding on and off throughout the month (spotting) or get no period at all.
An important factor to be aware of with the mini-pill is that it does not have as high a level of effectiveness as other contraceptive pills. It’s estimated that as many as 13 out of 100 women who use the mini-pill will get pregnant in a year of use.
Who shouldn’t take the pill?
Most women have no problem when taking birth control pills, but this form of contraception isn’t right for everyone.
If you smoke and are over 35 years old, you shouldn’t take the pill or use any other kind of birth control that contains estrogen.
- Also, avoid using combination pills (those with estrogen) if you have any of these health problems:
- Breast cancer
- Heart problems, including heart attack, stroke, or angina
- Blood clots, an inherited blood-clotting disorder, or vein inflammation
- Uncontrolled high blood pressure
- Migraine headaches with aura (seeing flashing, zigzag lines)
- Liver disease
- Severe diabetes
It’s important to go over your medical history with your doctor before taking any medications, including birth control pills.
Additional Benefits of Taking Birth Control Pills
Acne – Taking the pill can prevent the pimples that often accompany the menstrual cycle.
Cramps – The most common menstrual problem, cramps are caused by too much prostaglandin, a hormone that makes the uterus contract. The pill can eliminate this issue.
Endometriosis – Birth control pills help control estrogen, which is the hormone causing the buildup of endometrial tissue each month. The exact dose of progesterone in the pill helps reduce or eliminate endometriosis and the pain it causes.
Heavy or Irregular Periods – The progesterone in the pill makes the menstrual cycle regular and thins out the uterine lining, making your periods lighter.
Mood Swings – The steady hormones in the pills tend to lessen the emotional problems and mood swings come with PMS in some women.
Risks Associated with Taking Oral Contraceptives (The Pill)
Complications from taking the pill aren’t common, but they can be serious. Risks include heart attack, stroke, blood clots, and liver tumors. In rare cases, these risks can lead to death. For the most part, progestin-only pills avoid these risks.
Side Effects Related to Taking Oral Contraceptives (The Pill)
Possible side effects from taking oral contraceptives include: nausea, spotting, breast tenderness, weight gain, headaches and migraines, missed periods, mood changes, decreased libido, skin discoloration, changes to eyesight for those using contact lenses, and vaginal discharge.