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Are All Birth Control Pills the Same?

No, they aren’t. There are two main types of birth control pills: combination pills and progestin-only pills. In addition, there are pills designed to maintain a regular monthly period and others which eliminate your period for months at a time.

Combination Pills vs. Progestin-Only Pills

The combination pill is the most popular and most common type of birth control pill. Its name comes from the fact that it combines two hormones, estrogen and progestin, that prevent ovulation. The combination pill is associated with less severe cramps, lighter and shorter periods, and a reduced risk of ovarian and endometrial cancer.

The progestin-only pill is also known as the mini-pill. It contains no estrogen and instead uses only progestin to thicken the cervical mucus and thin the uterine lining. Mini-pills like Camila are typically recommended for women who can’t take estrogen due to a health condition or who experience negative side effects from combination pills. Mini-pills are also approved for women who are breastfeeding or over age 35 and smoke cigarettes.

Within the categories of combination pills and progestin-only pills, different pill brands and formulas may contain slightly different types of estrogen and progestin, in slightly different amounts. For example, “low dose” pills like Lo Loestrin Fe contain a lower dose of estrogen, and “triphasic” pills contain slightly different amounts of hormone during each of the three active weeks.

Pills for Fewer Periods

Most types of birth control pills, including popular brands like Tri-Sprintec and Lutera, use 21 active pills and seven inactive pills per pack to produce a regular monthly period. However, some types of pills, known as continuous birth control pills, are designed to result in fewer periods.

For example, Seasonique packs include 84 combined hormone pills and seven pills that contain only a small dose of estrogen. This means that you’ll get a period once every three months and have four periods per year instead of 12.

Pills that reduce the frequency of periods allow women to enjoy months without bleeding, cramps, mood swings, or purchasing tampons or pads. However, some women who take these birth control pills experience spotting between periods. In addition, it can be more difficult to detect if you are pregnant when you aren’t having a monthly period.

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