Birth control pills are the most popular form of hormonal birth control, and it’s easy to see why. In addition to being safe, effective, and easy-to-use, birth control pills are some of the most widely available and affordable forms of birth control out there.
If you’re considering getting on birth control pills, it’s important to have a thorough understanding of them first. Just because the pill is popular doesn’t mean it’s a good choice for everyone, so check out the guide below to see if birth control pills are right for you.
How do birth control pills work?
Birth control pills, like other forms of hormonal birth control, work by preventing ovulation from taking place. Ovulation is the process by which an egg is released from the ovary, making it available for fertilization. By stopping ovulation, birth control pills keep the egg from entering the fallopian tube where conception generally occurs.
Birth control pills also thicken the cervical mucus, which prevents sperm from ever entering the uterus in the first place. The hormones found in the pill also thin the lining of the uterus, making it difficult for any eggs that do end up getting fertilized to attach to the uterine wall. Like all other forms of hormonal birth control, the pill does not protect against sexually transmitted infections.
Combination pills are named for the fact that they contain a combination of hormones — estrogen and progestin — that work together to prevent pregnancy. Combination pills tend to be the most popular type of birth control pill, and they also are generally the most effective.
Minipills only contain progestin as an active ingredient. Because they lack estrogen, minipills can be slightly less effective than combination pills. Women who are breastfeeding or estrogen-sensitive should strongly consider minipills as an option.
How do I take birth control pills?
Birth control pills are easy to take — you just need to take one each day — but they must be taken regularly in order to be effective. Each pack of birth control pills you receive will contain a certain number of weeks’ worth of pills, each of which must be taken on schedule.
Most combination pills come with the option of having an “off week” — a week where you don’t take pills and get your period — every several weeks. As long as you take your pills regularly otherwise, you’ll be fully protected from unwanted pregnancy during this week.
Combination pills just need to be taken once every 24 hours, but minipills have to be taken during the same three-hour window every day in order to work properly. Missing a pill or taking one late throws off your body’s hormone levels, putting you at an increased risk of becoming pregnant. Different pills have different protocols for what to do if you miss one or more, and when you should use physical birth control like condoms as a back-up.
Starting the Pill
You can start taking birth control pills at any time and at any point in your cycle, though you will have to wait a while for them to become fully effective.
If you begin taking combination pills within the first five days after your period starts, you’ll be protected immediately. Otherwise, you will need to take the pill for seven consecutive days in order for it to work. Minipills become effective once you take them for 48 hours, no matter where you start them in your cycle.
How effective are birth control pills?
When used perfectly, birth control pills are 99% effective. Because people can forget to take the pills exactly as prescribed, the actual efficacy rate is around 91%. This means that 9 out of every 100 women who take the pill will get pregnant each year.
Different women will respond differently to birth control pills. Overweight women, for example, may experience slight dips in the pill’s effectiveness. Vomiting soon after taking the pill can also prevent the body from fully absorbing its hormones, making it less effective. Medications such as rifampin, griseofulvin, and St. John’s wort can also prevent the pill from working properly.
Are birth control pills safe?
For the vast majority of women, birth control pills are a perfectly safe option for preventing unwanted pregnancies. There are, however, some behaviors and medical conditions that put pill users at greater risk.
Women who smoke should, in general, stay away from combination pills — particularly if they’re over the age of 35. Because they lack estrogen, minipills are a safer option for older women who smoke. Women who’ve struggled with issues related to their heart, blood pressure, or breast cancer should also consult a doctor and make sure the doctor knows about that medical history before going on the pill.
Side Effects of the Pill
Most women who take the pill will experience no side effects, but some women might experience:
- Mood changes
- Breast tenderness
- Period changes, including stopped or heavier periods
- Heightened migraine pain
- Irregular bleeding and spotting between periods
- Decreased sex drive
- Vaginal discharge
- Weight gain
Side effects caused by the pill tend to be mild, but some of the more severe side effects can include:
- Heart attack
- Ovarian cysts
Serious side effects such as these are extremely rare, but all women should make sure to discuss their risks with a medical professional before going on the pill.
Most medications can be taken normally while on the pill, but some can produce negative interactions, such as:
- St. John’s wort
Always talk to your health care provider about any interactions your medication may have with your birth control method of choice.
How do I know if birth control pills are right for me?
The birth control pill is a safe and effective way of preventing pregnancy, but it can also have other benefits as well. For many women, birth control pills help prevent acne.
One of the biggest benefits offered by birth control pills is period control. Most women who take birth control for long enough can have their periods reduced in intensity or eliminated entirely. The pill also weakens the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
Unlike some other birth control methods, you need to remember to take the pill every single day in order for it to work. Women with very busy schedules or who are likely to forget doses might want to consider other options. Most women, however, will find that the pill’s small size and relative ease-of-use makes it a great option.
How do I get birth control pills?
Most states require women to meet with a medical professional and get a prescription before taking birth control pills. Several states, however, are beginning to allow pharmacists to prescribe birth control without a doctor’s order. Check your state’s policies on birth control in order to see what options you might have available.
Birth control pills can cost as little $0 for women with insurance or $15 without insurance. Here at Nurx, we offer a wide range of different pills and brands so that you can get the care you need for a price that works.
Reach out to one of our medical professionals today if you’re interested in getting your birth control online.
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