What Is The Birth Control Pill?

The birth control pill is a contraceptive that contains hormones hindering pregnancy. It is commonly referred to as “the pill” because of its pill form, and women take it orally once daily. Consistently taking the pill at the same time each day maximizes its effectiveness.

How Effective Is The Pill?

f taken correctly and without fail, the pill can potentially be 99% effective in preventing pregnancy. Nonetheless, it can be challenging to take it perfectly, and if not taken consistently, there is a chance of unintended pregnancy. About 9 out of 100 women who use the pill will unintentionally become pregnant yearly. Taking the pill at the same time daily increases its reliability. Consistency helps maintain hormone levels and ensures maximum effectiveness.

How Does The Birth Control Pill Work?

Hormones in birth control pills can prevent pregnancy. The pill works by performing three main actions:

  1. it prevents or decreases ovulation.
  2.  it increases the cervical mucus’s thickness, preventing sperm from entering the uterus.
  3.  it reduces the thickness of the uterus lining, making it difficult for a fertilized egg to attach.

What Are The Types Of Birth Control Pills?

There are two different types of birth control pills. Both varieties contain hormones that prevent pregnancy.

  1. The combination pills are made up of both estrogens.
  2.  progestin, whereas the minipill, a progestin-only pill, is more suitable for certain women, such as those who are breastfeeding or have a history of blood clots and strokes and hence should avoid taking estrogen.

The pill is available in various dosing packets that range from 21-day to 90-day packs and, in some cases, even 365 days of active pills. The standard practice is taking at least three weeks of active pills and two to seven days of hormone-free capsules, depending on the brand and dosage.

This is known as cyclical dosing; most women typically experience a menstrual period during the inactive pill period. However, certain brands may not include inactive pills in their pack, providing only three weeks of active pills. In such cases, women do not take any medication for a week, which results in a menstrual period, similar to hormone-free pills.

Some variations of birth control pills allow for continuous dosing, where there are no hormone-free pills, and a woman takes an active pill daily. Another option is extended cycle dosing, where hormone-free pills or breaks in the active pill regimen only happen three to four times a year.

This method can prevent menstruation. Your healthcare provider can help you decide which option is best for you.

Does The Pill Prevent Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)?

Using birth control pills alone does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or infections (STIs) like genital herpes, chlamydia, and HIV. These diseases are spread through sexual contact and the exchange of bodily fluids during sex, such as semen.

To prevent an STD, it is important to use condoms in addition to the pill if you are sexually active. Condoms alone are about 85% effective at preventing pregnancy, but using the pill and condoms together can optimize infection and pregnancy prevention.

If you are not in a monogamous relationship with one partner, your healthcare provider will recommend using condoms and the pill to prevent pregnancy and STDs.

What Are The Benefits Of Taking The Pill?

Most women take the pill for health purposes. The benefits of using birth control pills include:

1. Regulating or reducing the frequency of menstruation.

2. Preventing anaemia by shortening or lightening periods.

3. Alleviating menstrual cramps, managing premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and premenstrual dysmorphic disorder (PMDD).

4. Treat conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, or uterine fibroids.

5. Decreased the risk of ovarian, uterine, and colon cancer and improved acne.

6. Prevent unwanted hair growth, and reduced migraines.

7. Controlled hot flashes during the transition into menopause.

Are There Any Side Effects To Taking The Pill?

When women begin taking birth control pills, they may encounter side effects from the medication. Although these side effects can be distressing, they often improve within a few months. It is important to inform your healthcare provider if you experience any side effects, as they may suggest switching to a different brand that does not cause similar problems.

In some cases, waiting for a few menstrual cycles may also help alleviate many symptoms, particularly when starting a new pill regimen. Possible side effects include:

  1. Breast tenderness or swelling.
  2. Headaches.
  3. Irritability or moodiness.
  4. Nausea.
  5. Spotting between periods (abnormal menstruation).

Are There Any Health Risks To Taking The Pill?

For the majority of women, birth control pills are considered safe. The pill has been widely used for the past 60 years, which has provided a great deal of reassurance and familiarity with its usage. However, a few women taking the combination (estrogen-containing) birth control pill may be slightly more likely to develop uncommon complications.

  1. Blood clots.
  2. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
  3. Heart attack.
  4. Hypertension (high blood pressure).
  5. Stroke.

How Fast Does The Pill Work?

The pill may require up to a week to start effectively preventing pregnancy, and until then, it is recommended to use another method of birth control. If the pill is used to alleviate symptoms such as acne or irregular bleeding, it may take three to four months to observe the actual benefits.

What Should I Do If I Miss A Pill?

If you forget to take your pill, take it as soon as possible and then take the next one at your regular time. You should also use another form of birth control until your next period. If you miss several days of the pill, contact your healthcare provider, who can advise you on pregnancy tests and emergency contraception options.

It’s a good idea to keep the package inserts of your pills, as they usually provide specific instructions on what to do if you miss a pill.

Should I Avoid Certain Medications While Taking The Pill?

It is important to consult your healthcare provider before taking any new medications or herbal supplements. Some medicines can reduce the efficacy of the pill and cause an increase in the likelihood of becoming pregnant. Examples of such products are:

  1. Antiseizure medications.
  2. Herbal supplements, such as St. John’s wort.
  3. Medicines used to treat HIV.

Can I Take The Pill While Breastfeeding?

If you are breastfeeding, the estrogen in the combination birth control pill might cause a decrease in milk production. In such a case, it is advisable to consult with your healthcare provider, who may suggest opting for the progestin-only pill instead.

Once the milk supply is fully established and the risk of blood clots is minimized, some women may use estrogen birth control pills.

What Are Alternatives To The Pill?

In case you have doubts about your ability to remember to take a daily pill, it is recommended to discuss alternative birth control options with your healthcare provider.

  1. Etonogestrel implant (Nexplanon®).
  2. Intrauterine devices (IUD) and several hormonal and nonhormonal options are available.
  3. Removable contraceptive vaginal ring (both monthly and yearly options are available).
  4. Skin patches (Xulane®).
  5. Depo-Provera® progestin injection (also called Depo).


Consistently taking the birth control pill daily is a very effective way to prevent pregnancy. It also has other benefits, such as reducing the risk of certain problems like uterine and ovarian cancers, migraines, and acne. Although some women may experience temporary side effects like nausea, most can find a suitable pill brand after trying a few.

Your doctor will assess your medical history to determine your level of risk and advise you on the best option for you. Progestin-only pills may be a viable alternative if you cannot take estrogen-containing pills.