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Birth Control Pills

Birth Control Pills

Table Of Contents

What are Birth Control Pills?

Birth control pills are a medication that women take on a daily basis to prevent pregnancy. Sometimes they are referred to as oral contraception or “the pill”.

Each pack costs about $0-50 and you consume one pack per month.

How Does the Pill Prevent Pregnancy?

Birth control pills release hormones just like most other birth control methods. These hormones are chemicals that affect different parts of the body. Most women use a combination birth control pill, which contains both estrogen and progestin. However there are also Progestin-only pills available.

Birth Control Pills work by:

  • Making cervical mucus thicker, which prevents sperm from getting to the eggs
  • Stopping ovulation, so there is no egg for the sperm to fertilize

How do I use the Pill?

Combination Birth Control Pills

These pills come in 28-day or 21-day packs depending on the type and brand of birth control. Both sets of pills come with 21 “active” pills in which contain hormones. The extra 7 pills in the 28-day pack contain “reminder” or “sugar” pills with no hormones. These extra 7 pills serve as a reminder so that you don’t forget to take pills on a daily basis. You are not required to take them, but they will help you maintain the habit of taking a pill at the same time every day.

Take one pill on a daily basis, at the same time each day, for the duration of three weeks. On the fourth week, no pill is taken (or you can take the “reminder” pill). After 4 weeks, open a new package and continue the cycle.

Most women get their period during the 4th week, when they are taking the “reminder” pills. However, experiences vary depending on body type. You may notice spotting throughout the month or you may not get your period at all.

Speak with your doctor if you are concerned with irregular periods while taking birth control pills.

Progestin Birth Control Pills

Progestin pills only contain one hormone (progestin) and do not have any estrogen. They come in 28-day packs only and each pill contains hormones. This means all of the pills in these 28-day packs are “active”. In order to avoid pregnancy, you must take every pill in the pack, at the same time every day (there is no week off, like with the combination pills). You may get your period on the 4th week, you may notice spotting throughout the month, or you may not have your period at all. It depends on your specific body.

Speak with your doctor if you are concerned with irregular periods while taking birth control pills.

What are the Benefits?

The pill is safe, simple, and effective to use. After you get a prescription from your doctor, you can pick up 3 packs and take the birth control at your convenience each day. Each pack has a one month supply of pills.

Sometimes women do not just only take the pill to prevent pregnancy.

The combination and progestin-only pills offer other benefits such as:

  • Helping your period become more regular and sometimes lighter
  • Reducing menstrual craps
  • Protecting against pelvic inflammatory disease

The combination pill can also help protect against or reduce:

  • Acne
  • Irregular and heavy periods
  • Bad cramps
  • Headaches and depression (premenstrual symptoms)
  • Cysts in ovaries and breasts
  • Iron deficiency (anemia)
  • Bone thinning
  • Ectopic pregnancy
  • Serious infection in uterus, ovaries and tubes
  • Breasts growths (not cancer)
  • Ovarian and endometrial cancers

The pill can also be used to predict when you’ll get your period. Some pills are made for women to only have a few periods a year and others follow a regular, monthly cycle. These pills must be consumed on a daily basis in order for them to be effective.

It is normal to have spotting within the first 6 months of using the pill and will get less over time. Some women stop bleeding all together and this is normal. If you are unsure and think you may be pregnant, get a pregnancy test or see your doctor.

In addition, the pills are small and easy to take with or without water. The package is usually the size of a compact mirror and can easily be hidden in a purse or pocket.

What are the Disadvantages?

Many women adjust to the pill with little to no problems, but some women do experience undesirable side effects. The most common side effects are bleeding between periods, nausea, vomiting, and breast tenderness. These usually occur within the first 2 to 3 months of use and fade after that.

Do not stop taking the pill, even if you feel nauseous. Stopping the pill at anytime can put yourself at risk of becoming pregnant. To help avoid nausea, take the pill near bedtime or in the evening after dinner. The food can help settle your stomach and you’ll sleep through any nausea during the night.

Another side effect is the possibility of changes to your sex drive. Sexual desire may change because of the hormones in the pill. This is usually unnoticeable but it can effect some women more than others.

If you continue to feel any of the side effects listed above after a 3 month period, another birth control method may be needed. Talk to your health care professional about the side effects you’ve experienced and discuss other options available. This may involve switching birth control methods, or just switching pill brands. There are lots of birth control pill brands available, all with varying levels of hormones that help to fit a wide array of female body types.

You are more at risk if you are a smoker, aged 35 or older, or are overweight.

In addition, you are also more at risk if you have any of the following:

  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Need prolonged bed rest
  • Inherited blood-clotting disorders
  • High blood pressure

The more serious side effects usually have warning signs. Contact a health care professional if any of these symptoms occur:

  • Trouble with breathing
  • Bad aches (including an aura – flashing zigzag lines, bright lights)
  • Soreness in the legs
  • Yellowing in eyes and skin
  • Pain in chest and abdomen

The pill does not protect against STI’s. If infection is a concern, a male condom or female condom should be used.

For more information about the side effects associated with a specific brand, check the inserts provided in the packaging.

After stopping the pill, a woman’s period will return back to its regular cycle after 1 to 2 months.  Within the next six months, a woman may experience irregular periods or no periods at all. This is more likely to happen if a woman has irregular periods before starting the pill.

How Effective is the Pill?

This birth control method is over 99% effective at preventing pregnancy, when taken correctly at the same time every day. This allows the correct amount of hormones to enter your body every 24 hours.

  • Out of 100 women, less than 1 will get pregnant if the pill is taken as directed
  • Out of 100 women, 9 will get pregnant if taken incorrectly or not taken every day

Diarrhea and vomiting can also reduce the effectiveness of birth control pills. Talk to your health care professional if this continues and use a backup method until you find a permanent solution.

In addition, certain supplements and medicines can reduce the effectiveness of the pill. Some of these include:

  • St John’s Wort
  • Anti-seizure medicines (certain)
  • HIV medicines (certain)
  • Antifungal griseofulvin
  • Antibiotics (rifampin and others)

It is best to discuss birth control options with your doctor or physician before taking any. They will know which medications you are on and if any of them will reduce the effectiveness of the pill.

How Safe are Birth Control Pills?

Most women can use this method safely without any problems or complications. However, as mentioned above, some medical conditions or medications can increase the risk of side effects.

Do not consume any pills if you are pregnant or have breast cancer.

Do not take combination pills if you need to be on prolonged bed rest or have any of the following:

  • Serious heart problems, angina, heart attack
  • Vein inflammation or blood clots
  • Headaches (aura)
  • Inherited blood-clotting disorders
  • High blood pressure
  • Organ transplant complications
  • Diabetes for longer than 20 years or bad case of diabetes
  • Lupus (certain conditions)
  • Heart valve problems
  • Liver cancer or liver disease

It is also considered unsafe to take birth control pills if you are a smoker, aged 35 years or older.

Birth Control Pill Options

There are lots of different birth control pill brands available. These have varying amounts of hormones added, so they work better with different body types.

Some of the combination brands available include:

And here are some progestin-only birth control brands:

Speak with your doctor before deciding which brand is right for yourself. They will provide insight based on your medical history and how the pills will react with any other medications you are taking.

You should also check out other Birth Control Methods before making any decisions.