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THE PILL /

"The Pill" is a pill. (How's that for stating the obvious?) Some people call it "oral contraception." You take it once a day, at the same time every day. There are lots of different kinds of pills on the market, and new ones come out all the time. They all work by releasing hormones that keep your ovaries from releasing eggs. The hormones also thicken your cervical mucus, which helps to block sperm from getting to the egg in the first place. view all methods »

types of pills

  • COMBINATION

    These use an estrogen/progestin combo that works with your body to prevent ovulation. A monthly combination pill pack contains 3 consecutive weeks of hormone-based pills and a week of placebos that’ll bring on your period.

  • PROGESTIN-ONLY

    Better known as the mini-pill, these have no estrogen in them and are often prescribed if you’re sensitive to combination pills and having side effects. These release a small amount of progestin everyday of the month and don’t give you a period during a set week.

It takes discipline

You've got to remember to take your pill at the same time every day. Even on weekends. Even on vacation. So, ask yourself: how good are you with stuff like that?

Uninterrupted sex

Some pills allow you to skip your period altogether. Consider the possibilities!

Predictable periods

If you're the type of gal who feels comforted by getting her period every month—and by not having random spotting in between—then this might just be the choice for you.

Smokers over 35, beware

For those over 35 years old, smoking while on the pill increases the risk of certain side effects. And if you’re younger, why not quit smoking now and save yourself the trouble in the future?

The pregnancy question

You will return to fertility (which just means that you go back to being able to get pregnant) just a few days after stopping the pill. So if you don't want to get pregnant right away, make sure you start using an alternate method as soon as you stop taken the pill.

Don't take our word for it. Check out the videos above to hear women and men talk about their experiences with the pill. And be sure to ask your health care provider which method is best for you.

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, if you have health insurance, chances are good that you’ll be able to get this method with no out-of-pocket cost. (The exception may be if you use a name brand that has a generic equivalent.) If you don't have insurance or Medicaid coverage, the pill averages anywhere from $10 to $50 per month, depending whether you go generic or name brand. Tip: There are many kinds, so be sure you and your health care provider find one that is right for you.

Prices:

If you can swallow an aspirin, you can take the pill. But here's the thing: You have to remember to take it every day, at roughly the same time, no matter what. (We can help with that. Just sign up for a reminder.)

Some pills come in 21-day packs. Others come in 28-day packs. Some give you a regular period every month. Others let you have your period once every three months. And some even let you skip your period for an entire year. There are so many different pills available, it can be a bit confusing. Your doctor or clinic can help you figure out which pill is right for you.

Tips and tricks

Try taking your pill at the same time you always do something else in your daily routine—like brushing your teeth.

Set up a free text message or email reminder with us.

Have a box of emergency contraception on hand, just in case you forget your pill sometime during the month and then have sex without a condom or other barrier method.

There are positive and negative things to say about each and every method. And everyone's different—so what you experience may not be the same as what your friend experiences.

The Positive

Positive “side effects”? You bet. There are actually lots of things about birth control that are good for your body as well as your sex life.

The Negative

Everyone worries about negative side effects, but for many women, they're not a problem. And if you do experience side effects, they'll probably go away. Remember, you're introducing hormones into your body, so it can take a few months to adjust. Give it time.

  • Easy to use—just swallow with water
  • Doesn't interrupt the heat of the moment
  • Might give you lighter periods
  • Gives you control over when you have your period
  • Some pills clear up acne
  • Can reduce menstrual cramps and PMS
  • Some pills offer protection against some nasty health problems, like endometrial and ovarian cancer, iron deficiency anemia, ovarian cysts, and pelvic inflammatory disease
Things that will probably go away after two or three months:
  • Bleeding in between periods
  • Sore breasts
  • Nausea and vomiting
Things that may last longer:
  • A change in your sex drive

If you still feel uncomfortable after three months, switch methods and stay protected. You're worth it.

*For a very small number of women there are risks of more serious side effects.

We’re here to get this method working better for you. And if it still doesn’t feel right, we've got ideas for other methods. Just remember: If you change methods, make sure you’re protected while you switch.

  • ...I'm spotting a lot—should I be concerned?

    Spotting, which can happen with a bunch of different methods, doesn’t make you lose that much blood, even though it might seem like it. We have a Provider Perspective article about it if you want to learn more.

    Still not working?

    You may have more luck on a pill with a slightly higher dose of estrogen, or one that provides estrogen during a different part of your cycle.

    Try a different method...

  • ...It's hard to remember to take the pill.

    Still not working?

    If you use a reminder system and you're still having trouble remembering, you might want to consider a method that you don't have to think about quite so often.

    You only have to remember to change the patch once a week and you only have to worry about the ring on a monthly basis (and just like the pill, we have reminders for both of these).

    There are even options you can forget about for years: take a look at the 2 types of IUD and the implant.

    Try a different method...

  • ...I keep breaking out with acne.

    Most pills actually help with acne, so you could talk to provider to see about switching to another kind of pill.

    Still not working?

    If you try another type of pill and it doesn't help, you could also switch to another hormonal method, such as the ring, the shot, the implant, or an IUD. Or, you could switch to a non-hormonal method like male condoms or female condoms.

    Try a different method...

  • ...It makes me nauseous.

    Try this: If you want to stay on your current type of pill, you could try taking it at night. You could also talk to your doctor about getting a pill with less estrogen.

    Still not working?

    You might want to try another hormonal method that's not taken by mouth, such as the implant, an IUD, the patch, the ring, or the shot.

    Try a different method...

  • ...I'm bleeding in between periods.

    Try this: If you just started the pill in the last few months, try to power through. This problem will most likely fix itself.

    Also, make sure you are taking your pills at the same time each day and not skipping pills and then doubling up. These sorts of things can increase chances of spotting.

    Still not working?

    If you've been on the pill for a while and are taking it correctly, you might consider a new method (like the shot, the patch, or the ring), but also get checked for STIs and pregnancy, just to be sure those aren't the reason for the bleeding.

    Try a different method...

  • ...I'm traveling to a different time zone and don't know when I should take my pill.

    Basically you need to figure out what time it is in your home time zone and take it at that time. For example, if you live in Washington, DC, and you travel to Spain, which is 6 hours ahead, you should take your pill 6 hours later in the day than you normally would. So if you take your pill at 9AM in DC, you should take it at 3PM in Spain.

    If you use our pill reminder system, you're good to go while traveling; we'll always send the reminder based on your home time zone. If you remember your pill by setting an alarm on your phone, however, make sure to adjust it as needed when you're on the road.

    If it's easier (for example, if your usual pill time falls in the middle of the night wherever you're visiting), you can change your schedule, as long as you don't go more than 24 hours without a pill. So, if you live in DC and you go to Spain and want to stay on a 9AM schedule, it's totally fine to take your next pill at 9AM Spanish time (18 hours after your last East Coast pill).

    Also, if you’re traveling long enough that you’ll be starting a new pack of pills while you’re gone, don’t forget to stick them in your suitcase!

    Still not working?

    If you travel a lot and like using a hormonal method, you may want to consider switching to the ring or even the patch so you won't have to worry so much about keeping track of time zones. If you want to completely forget about time zone calculations, check out the implant or an IUD.

    Try a different method...

  • ...I missed a pill...

    Take your next pill as soon as you remember, and use a back-up method for 7 days afterward (unless it was a 4th week reminder pill, in which case you can just throw out the reminder pill for that day and get back on schedule).

    If you've had sex since you got off schedule and that's within the last five days, you might want to take emergency contraception just in case.

  • ...I missed my pill yesterday and want to know if it's safe to take two pills on the same day.

    The short answer is yes. If you missed a pill it's sometimes recommended to take two pills in one day and if you want to use regular pills for EC, you might take 2-4 at once. So taking 2 pills at least 10 hours apart shouldn't be a problem. If the pills are taken close together, it could make you a little nauseous (and puking right after taking your pill is not good).

  • ...I want to start taking my pill at a different time.

    That's fine—the easiest thing is probably to finish out your current pack on schedule and start the next pack at the time you prefer. In that case you shouldn't need any backup.

    If you can't wait for your next pack, just make sure you don't allow more than 24 hours to pass between pills. So, for example, if you want to switch from morning to afternoon, you have to take 2 pills in one day—one at the old time and one at the new time. That's probably better than waiting 36 hours and worrying about backup for a week! Only catch is you may also have to relabel your pill pack, because if you take the "Wednesday" pill on Tuesday night and forget to change the rest of the pack, confusion may abound.

  • ...I heard that taking the pill is bad for the environment because of lady pee getting in the water.

    Any form of birth control is better than no birth control when it comes to the environment. But let’s look a little closer at the claim that hormones in birth control are getting into the environment through lady pee. The simple answer is: yes, it is. But—and this is a big but—it is small compared to other sources of estrogen.

    Current research finds that the contribution of EE2 (the primary active ingredient in the pill, the ring, the patch, and the shot) to the total amount of estrogen in of our waterways is small. Bigger—much bigger—sources of estrogen in the environment come from industrial and manufacturing processes; agricultural fertilizers and pesticides; the drugs we give livestock; and the waste and runoff produced by these sources.

    Simply removing hormones from contraceptives will not eliminate the environmental impacts of estrogenic compounds. It’s much better to buy organic (if you can!) and even better to tell Congress to do its job and regulate chemicals, than to forego birth control. From Mother Earth’s standpoint, any form of birth control is better than no birth control.

    For purists who don’t want to add any hormones to the environment or to their body, no matter how small, there are options for you. Natural latex condoms and the copper IUD are two frequently cited examples of ultra green contraceptives. But whatever your decision, decide on a method and don’t give up.

    Still not working?

    If you'd like to use a super effective method without any hormones, try the ParaGard IUD.

    Try a different method...

  • ...I heard the pill is bad for the environment.

    Any form of birth control is better than no birth control when it comes to the environment. Still some people insist on “green” contraception. We say: Any effective method of contraception is green since the impact of birth control pales in comparison to the impact of another human.

    Still others say, “green contraception” means “hormone free.” We don’t dispute that that is one way to look at the issue. And fortunately, there are many contraceptives already on the market that are hormone free: condoms (male and female), ParaGard IUD, diaphragms, cervical cap, and the sponge.

    But a lot more goes into a green stamp of approval. The ParaGard IUD is generally thought to be the “greenest” contraceptive. It’s hormone-free, long lasting (up to a decade embracing the reduce portion of the "reduce, reuse, recycle" mantra), made from small amounts of cheap, plentiful metal (copper), and 99% effective. If for whatever reason you don't feel like the IUD is right for you, choose another method. Because when it comes to having sex, the greenest thing you can do is use birth control.

    Still not working?

    There are lots of hormone-free methods to choose from: male condom, female condoms, ParaGard IUD, diaphragm, cervical cap, fertility-awareness methods, and sponge.

    Try a different method...

  • ...I heard the pill doesn't work when you're taking antibiotics.

    The only antibiotic that's been shown to lessen the effectiveness of the pill is rifampin, which is usuallly used to treat tuberculosis and not typically perscribed in the US. You should tell your doctor you're on the pill when he or she perscribes you antibiotics so they can make the final call.

  • ...I took my pill late.

    It depends on the type of pill and what you mean by a little late. If you want information about how late is "too late" for combination pills (as in ones with both estrogen and progestin), check out the chart on this page. As for the progestin-only pill, or mini-pill, if you are late or skip a mini-pill at any time, use a back-up method like a condom (or EC if you miss the condom) if you have sex in the next two days. Yup, with mini-pills you have to use back-up even if you’re only a few hours late. Here's the full story.

    Still not working?

    Try a different method...

  • ...I threw up after taking my pill.

quick facts /

  • Been around for 50 years, easy to swallow, can have positive side effects.

  • The pill's really effective when taken perfectly, but most don't take it perfectly.

  • Most common are sore breasts, nausea, spotting, and decreased sex drive.

  • Every. Single. Day.

  • Gotta get a prescription.

  • As low as $0 or as high as $90 a month. Yeah, that's a big range. Read why.

Free birth control and appointment reminders.

effectiveness

Perfect use
Greater than99%
Typical use
91%
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