Oral Contraception: The Birth Control Pill

The women's health professionals at Gainesville's All About Women answer common questions about birth control pills.

When it comes to convenient, easy birth control, the pill wins with American women. Used for over forty years, the birth control pill (also known as oral contraceptives or “the pill”) is a generally inexpensive, reversible form of birth control. The pill can also have additional benefits. But the pill isn't for everyone. Read on to learn more.

How Does the Pill Work?

The pill releases hormones that prevent egg production from occurring in the ovaries. These hormones also thicken the cervical mucous so that sperm can't get through to join with an egg, if one were to be released. There are two forms of the pill: the combination pill, which contains the hormones estrogen and progestin, and the mini pill (also called the progestin-only pill), which contains only progestin. Most women on the pill use a combination pill.

The progestin pill is good for women who are having side effects from the combination pill; it's also good for women who have just begun to breastfeed, since estrogen can limit milk production.

How Effective is the Birth Control Pill?

A woman must take the pill every day, preferably around the same time of day, for it to be effective. Women on the progestin-only pill must take the pill at the same time of day for complete effectiveness. When the pill is taken as directed, it is a very effective form of birth control.

But the fact is that it can be difficult for any woman to remember to take medication daily. With normal use of the pill, 8 in 100 women will become pregnant during the course of a year. To ensure that you're using the pill effectively, you should take the pill as part of your daily regiment (for example every morning when brushing your teeth). You can also set a reminder with your phone to alert you to take your medication.

If you miss one pill or more, you need to carefully follow the manufacturer's directions on how to make up for missed pills. Depending on the situation, you may need to use a backup form of birth control for seven days. If you don't think you'll always be able to remember to take the pill, or if you absolutely do not want to become pregnant in the near future, you should consider a long-acting reversible form of birth control, like the IUD, instead.

It's also important to note that the pill isn't effective in preventing sexually transmitted infections (STIs). So if that's a concern, you'll also need to use a barrier form of birth control, like a condom.

What are the Benefits of the Pill?

As a birth control method, the pill is well trusted among women. It's generally safe and convenient. Because the pill uses hormones that mock the role of natural hormones made by a woman's body, the pill can have many additional benefits for women, including:

  • Lighter periods or no periods at all

  • Reduced menstrual cramps and other symptoms of PMS, including depression

  • Some protection against pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)

  • Protection against bone thinning

  • Control over women's health conditions, including breast growths, ovarian cysts, and irregular periods.

Learn more about the other health benefits of the pill.

What are the Side Effects and Risks of the Pill?

Some women experience side effects from the pill, though they often clear up after a couple months of use. These side effects may include:

  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Breast Tenderness
  • Spotting between periods
  • Changes in sexual desire

If these side effects bother you beyond the first few months, your well woman care provider can help you find a different form of birth control.

The birth control pill is generally considered to be a safe form of birth control. Some forms of the pill are linked with a higher risk of blood clots, so ask your doctor about brand options.

Furthermore, it's not safe for all women to take the pill. You should not take birth control if you:

  • Smoke and are 35 or older, or if you smoke and have high blood pressure.
  • Have ever had blood clots or heart, kidney, liver, or adrenal gland problems
  • Have migraines with Aura
  • Have uncontrolled blood pressure
  • Have ever had breast cancer.

Choose Your Best Form of Contraception

Birth control is not a one-size-fits-all solution. At All About Women, our compassionate well woman providers are here to help you find the best form of contraception for your situation. Learn more about other forms of birth control, or schedule an appointment with our providers to discuss your birth control options.