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Am I Still Protected from Pregnancy During the Placebo Break of My Birth Control?

The placebo pills in your birth control pack have no hormones in them, but you are still protected from pregnancy during this seven-day break as long as you took the first 21 pills correctly.

How to Take Birth Control Pills

You should take one birth control pill daily at the same time each day. The first time you start your pills, you can begin in one of three ways:

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  • Take the first pill on the first day of your period and use no backup pregnancy prevention.
  • Take the first pill on any day that you’d like and use backup pregnancy protection for at least seven days.
  • Take the first pill on the first Sunday after your period and use backup pregnancy prevention for at least seven days.

How Birth Control Pills Work

In a standard 28-day package of birth control bills, the first 21 pills are active and the last seven pills are placebo pills. Birth control pills also come in 91-day packages with 84 active pills and seven inactive pills. A third option is a 21-day package of birth control pills, which does not contain placebo pills. If you have this type of birth control, you will stop taking your pills for a week rather than take inactive pills for seven days.

Active birth control pills typically contain a combination of estrogen and progestin hormones. These prevent pregnancy by:

  • Stopping ovulation so there should be no egg to fertilize
  • Thickening the cervical mucus so it’s difficult for sperm to reach the egg if ovulation does occur
  • Changing the lining of the uterus so a fertilized egg will have trouble implanting

These mechanisms are effective and long-lasting enough to keep you protected even through the inactive pill week as long as you’ve taken your pills correctly for the rest of the pack.

If you have progestin-only pills, there are no placebo pills in your pack. These work differently and provide a crucial dose of hormones every day. You must take one of these pills within the same three-hour time frame every day for effectiveness.

What Are Birth Control Placebo Pills?

The placebo pills in your birth control pack do not contain any hormones. In many packages, these are simply sugar pills. Some brands include vitamins and minerals in their placebo pills. The placebo pills are designed to keep you in the habit of taking your daily birth control. They do not provide any kind of pregnancy prevention.

When you stop taking your active pills, your body will respond to the drop in hormones by shedding the uterine lining. This mimics your period, though it is not a true period as your body typically doesn’t ovulate when you’re taking birth control pills.

How Do Placebo Pills Protect Against Pregnancy?

The placebo pills themselves don’t protect against pregnancy, but the regular dose of hormones provided by your active pills keeps you safe from pregnancy even during the seven days when you’re not taking them. It’s essential that you begin your active pills again no more than seven days after you start taking placebo pills.

If you do not start your active pills on time, you will need to use a form of backup birth control. Talk to your local health care provider about how long you will need backup pregnancy prevention, as this varies depending on how late you start.

Do I Have to Take Placebo Pills?

You don’t have to take the placebo pills in your birth control pack, but you must begin your active pills again within a week. You can start your active pills early to adjust the date of your period or start your placebo pills on a different week if you want to change the timing of your period. Speak to your local health care provider about the best way to do this, as your level of protection will vary with the type of pill you’re using. You may need to use a method of backup birth control as you’re adjusting your cycle.

Understanding how placebo pills work will help you use birth control properly and protect yourself effectively from pregnancy. Though you are safe from pregnancy during the placebo pill, we recommend the use of condoms for STI prevention and additional contraceptive benefits.

For more answers to your healthcare questions, visit our Knowledge Center.

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