Birth Control Pills—Everything You Need to Know

Posted February 17, 2022 by in Health + Fitness

Birth control pills have been around for a long time and have been effective in preventing unplanned pregnancy. Like with all medications, birth control pills need to be used correctly to get the result needed, which begs the question: How do you take them correctly?

The best way is to take them every day at the same time. However, it doesn’t have to be at exactly the same time. Depending on the type of pill, you may have to be precise about timing with some of them, but not for others. So it’s important to carefully read instructions and listen to your doctor as they walk you through the rules of birth control pills.

This piece will also help you understand how timing works for the different birth control pills:

Combination Pills 

These pills have a combination of estrogen and progesterone and work by preventing ovulation. The rule of thumb is to take each dose within 24hrs of the previous one. It doesn’t matter what time of the day you take it as long as it’s within the 24 hours time frame. It’s also okay to take them at exactly the same time each day if you can. 

For one thing, it helps you settle into a routine and stay compliant with the course. That being said, you can take this pill earlier or later than your previous day’s pill and you would still be safe. But as much as you can, try to take them earlier than later. For example, you are still in line if you took your pill at 6 A.M the previous day but decide to take them at 11 A.M the next day. Similarly, it’s equally safe to take them at 4 A.M instead of 6 A.M. There’s no need to panic if you ever forget to take your pill at about the same time every day as long as you are on combination pills. 

Even though you can take your pills at any time within 24 hours of the last dose, make sure the time difference from your previous dose isn’t so far apart. If you want to switch time from evening to morning, say from 6 PM to 6 AM, It’s best to take two pills in one day- the 6 AM and 6 PM pill. If you are starting a new pack in another month, you can switch timing irrespective of when you took your previous dose.

Mini Pills

The mini-pill is also known as the progesterone-only pill. It has a shorter window of 3hours and is even more stringent about timing. The work it does of thickening the cervical mucus is time-sensitive. You should never take this pill late else, it’s considered a missed pill. As such, you should have a contingency plan if you must have sex. If you have already had sex in the past few days before taking a late pill, use an emergency contraceptive.

Now, this doesn’t mean you cannot switch timing, but it’s safer to switch to an earlier time by bringing your next dose forward. If you are switching to a later time, there’s a proper way to do it. It takes a gradual process and needs precision so as not to get confused. 

If you take it at 6 AM routinely but want to switch to 1 PM, here’s how to do it. Remember that you have a 3-hour window. This means that if you took it at 6 AM, it’s alright to take it at 9 AM the next day, but no later than that. So, if you are switching time, you can decide to transition time gradually by taking it one hour later every day until you get to the new time you desire. For instance, You could take it at 7 AM the next day, 8 AM the next, 9 AM the next until you reach the target 1 PM time on the seventh day.    

If you miss a pill or lack the patience to switch gradually, use another contraception in addition to the pill to protect yourself from falling pregnant. If you use mini pills you need to protect yourself for two days, and for combination pills, you should use extra protection for seven days.

When switching time you might notice spotting or irregular bleeding, but this will correct itself once your body has settled into the new routine. Just use pads or tampons. Only see a doctor if menstrual irregularities persist and make you feel concerned.

Newer mini pills that contain desogestrel  have a 12-hour window. For this sort of pill you should only use extra protection if you are more than 12 hours late. 

How to Take Your Pills

If you use a 21-day pill, take your first pill and continue for the next 20 days until the pack is finished. You stop taking the pills for 7 days during which you experience withdrawal bleeding. On the 8th day, you begin with a fresh pack of pills. It doesn’t matter if you’re still bleeding or not.

For everyday pills, you take your active pills for 21 days and the inactive ones for seven days during which you get a bleed. In total, this pack has 28 pills, but only 21 of them are birth control pills. The other 7 pills are placebos that keep you in the routine while you bleed. Alternatively, you can be on a tailored regimen where you take your pill continuously without a break. This means that you don’t get to experience a bleed month in month out.

When Should I Start Taking My Birth Control Pills?

According to study by Zoey, The safest time to start is within 1-5days of your menstrual period. To err on the side of caution, your doctor might recommend that you use a backup method for the first two days you begin your pill. If you begin after the fifth day of your menstrual period, you don’t get protected straight away. It’s especially important to use backup contraception until you have taken the pill for 7 days.

Being on cue if you are on mini pills is extremely important to achieve a 99% efficacy, but not so much for combination pills. However, it is generally advised that you aim to take your birth control pills earlier than later to increase their effectiveness and for perfect use.

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