Hormonal Methods of Birth Control

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Quick GuideChoosing Your Birth Control Method

Choosing Your Birth Control Method

How is the pill taken?

No matter which type of birth-control pill a woman uses, she should take it every day at the same time in order to establish a routine. The woman needs to minimize the chance she will forget to take the pill, which is not an uncommon occurrence. This is especially critical in the case of the progestin-only pill (minipill). Forgetting to take the minipill, or taking it at varying times of the day, can significantly impair its effectiveness in contraception. This is due to the low dose of the minipill causing its effects to wear off rapidly if the pill is missed.

How long will it take before the pill prevents conception?

  • When a woman begins taking the pill, she may not protected from pregnancy until she has been taking the pill for 10 consecutive days in a row. If a woman forgets to take a pill after she has started, she may be at risk for getting pregnant.
  • If she only misses one pill, she should take it as soon as she remembers, even if it means taking two pills in the same day.
  • If she misses two pills, she should take both of them as soon as she remembers, plus the pill for that day at her regular time.
  • If she misses three pills, she should discontinue use of the pill for four more days to complete one week and then begin taking a new pack of birth control pills, whether she has a menstrual period or not. She must use an alternate form of birth control or abstain from sexual activity during the week that she stops taking her pills.
  • If a woman continually forgets to take her pills, perhaps she should consider a different method of birth control.

What drugs or conditions reduce the effectiveness of the pill?

  • The pill may partially lose its effectiveness if a woman vomits or has diarrhea for any reason.
  • Some medications, including certain sedatives and some antibiotics such as penicillin and tetracycline, may reduce the effectiveness of the pill. Research in this area is ongoing.

A woman should ask her healthcare professional about these matters and the necessity of using a backup method of birth control if any of these conditions exist.

What are the benefits of taking the pill?

There are a number of benefits to taking the pill. Both the combination pill and the minipill can regularize a woman's menstrual cycle and reduce her menstrual flow and menstrual cramps. There is evidence that the pill protects against cancer of the ovary and uterus as well as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and iron deficiency anemia.

The combination pill can reduce:

According to several studies, the combination pill confers no long-term risk of breast cancer for women at average risk. In addition, a woman who has taken the pill is less likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis.

Users of oral contraceptives have experienced significant decreases in excessive menstrual flow and in occurrence and severity of menstrual cramps.

When will my I start having periods again after I quit taking the pill?

  • A woman's menstrual periods should begin again within about 3 months of stopping the oral-contraceptive pill. However, the length of delay before a woman's period returns after stopping the pill varies from woman to woman.
  • Oral contraceptives are about 97% effective in preventing pregnancy. The pill does not protect a woman against sexually transmitted infections.

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