Birth control pills are a medication that women take daily to prevent pregnancy. Sometimes they are referred to as oral contraception or perhaps most commonly, “the pill."
Birth control pills work by releasing hormones. 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.
These hormones prevent pregnancy 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
Birth control pills come in 21-day or 28-day packs depending on the type and brand you use. Both kinds of pills come with 21 “active” pills which contain hormones. The extra 7 pills in the 28-day pack contain placebo pills with no hormones. These extra 7 pills serve as a reminder so that you don’t forget to take pills when time to begin the active ones again. You are not required to take the placebos, but they will help you maintain the habit of taking a pill at the same time every day.
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.
Progestin pills only contain progestin -- no estrogen. They come in 28-day packs only and each pill contains hormones. This means all the pills in these 28-day packs are “active”. 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 body. Talk with your doctor if you are concerned with irregular periods while taking birth control pills.
The pill is safe, simple, and effective to use, and sometimes women take it for reasons other than contraception. The combination and progestin-only pills can also:
- Help your period become more regular and sometimes lighter
- Reduce menstrual craps
- Protect against pelvic inflammatory disease
- Reduce acne
- Help reduce headaches, depression, and other premenstrual symptoms
- Prevent or reduce cysts in ovaries and breasts
- Guard against iron deficiency (anemia)
- Help prevent bone thinning
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.
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.
Another side effect is the possibility of changes to your libido. Sexual desire may change because of the hormones in the pill.
The pill does not protect against STI’s. If infection is a concern, a condom should be used.
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.
If you're considering taking the pill, speak with your doctor. He or she will provide insight based on your medical history and how the pills could react with any other medications you are taking. Call for an appointment!