Combined contraceptive pill
The pill (combined pill or birth control pill) is a tablet that contains two hormones, progestin and estrogen, which are similar to natural hormones in a woman’s body. The hormones prevent an egg from being released by the woman each month and make it harder for the man’s sperm to get into the womb.
The pill usually needs to be taken once per day for three weeks and then you have a week’s break. Some pills have slightly different daily requirements. If you do not start taking the pill in the first five days of your menstrual cycle you may need to take the pill for seven days before it provides contraceptive cover for you. You should use a condom if you have sex during these 7 days.
Note: Condoms are the only contraceptive methods which also protect against sexually transmitted infections. To ensure protection from both pregnancy and infection, we recommend "dual protection". This means using a contraceptive method of your choice to prevent pregnancy in addition to a male or female condom.
How good is the pill at preventing a pregnancy?
- The pill works well at preventing a pregnancy. Its ability to stop a pregnancy largely depends on a person using it properly.
- If one hundred women took the pills every time they were supposed to for a year and carried on with their normal sex life then only one of those women would fall pregnant during that period.
- However, it is hard for many women to remember to take something daily. With typical use up to 8 women out of 100 would fall pregnant. Risk of pregnancy is greatest when a woman starts a new pill pack 3 or more days late, or misses 3 or more pills in a pack.
What are the advantages of the pill?
- It can make your periods lighter, and reduce period pain.
- Your previous fertility will return immediately after you stop the pill.
- It is not used during sex so will not affect the spontaneity.
- It helps protect against some forms of cancer (endometrial and ovarian).
- It may reduce acne and improve your skin.
- The pill itself does not cause weight gain except in very rare circumstances.
- You can start it straight after an abortion.
What are the disadvantages of the pill?
- The pill has to be taken once per day for most of the month. Forgetting to take the pill on a daily basis could make it fail.
- Not everyone is suitable for the pill. It should not be used while breastfeeding or in smokers over the age of 35. Please talk to your medical provider about other conditions that may make you ineligible for the pill.
- Unlike condoms, the pill does not protect from sexually transmitted infections such as HIV.
- The most common side effects are lighter, more regular monthly bleeding. Some women may also experience irregular bleeding, headaches or breast tenderness. Most of these will improve after a few months of using the pill.
- The pill may not work if you have vomiting and diarrhea.
- Use of some medications, such as those for seizures, HIV or for tuberculosis, can stop the pill from working. Check with your medical provider if your medications are compatible with use of the pill.