The birth control pill (“the pill”) is simple to use and can prevent pregnancy up to 99% of the time if you take it as planned. But exactly how do you use it, and why does it work?
There are two types of pills you can use:
- The combination pill
- The progestin-only pill
With the combination pill, estrogen and progestin stop your ovaries from releasing eggs. This type of pill also makes changes in your cervix and uterus that lower your chance of pregnancy. The progestin-only pill only uses progestin to make changes that keeps sperm from reaching your eggs.
Since the pill DOES NOT protect you or your partner from sexually transmitted infections (STIs), you may also want to consider using condoms. Learn more here.
How to use combination pills:
Take 1 pill every day. You don’t have to take a combination pill at the exact same time every day. But taking it at the same time can help keep you in the habit of remembering your pill. Most combination pills come in 28-day or 21-day packs.
- If you use a 28-day pack, take 1 pill every day for 28 days (4 weeks) in a row. Then, start a new pack on day 29. The last pills in the pack do not have hormones and are known as “placebo” pills. They help remind you to take your pill every day and start your next pack on time. You are supposed to get your period during the week of your placebo pills. If you don’t take the placebo pills, you will still be protected from pregnancy. Just be sure to start your next pack on time.
- If you use a 21-day pack, take 1 pill every day for 21 days (3 weeks in a row). Then, don’t take any pills for 7 days (week 4). You are supposed to get your period during the fourth week since you aren’t taking any pills. You must take every pill in a 21-day pack because there are no placebo pills. The pill will prevent pregnancy, even if you have sex during the fourth week when you aren’t taking any pills. Start your new pack after not taking any pills for 7 days. An alarm or reminder can help you stay on track.
- If you use a 91-day pack, you will have 12 weeks (3 months) of pills in a row, then a week of placebo pills. You’re supposed to have your period once every 3 months with this pack. You will still be protected from pregnancy if you have sex during your placebo week. Just be sure to start your next pack on time.
How to use progestin-only pills:
Take 1 pill every day within the same 3 hours every day to be protected from pregnancy. For example, if you normally take your pill at 3:00 PM, taking it after 6:00 PM on one day increases your risk for pregnancy. Alarms, reminders, or birth control apps can help remind you to take your pill on time.
Progestin-only pills only come in a 28-day (4 week) pack. All pills must be taken to be protected from pregnancy because there are no placebo pills. You might get your period during the fourth week, have bleeding on and off throughout the month (spotting), or get no period at all.
There is a new type of progestin-only pill called “Slynd.” Slynd packs have 24 pills and 4 placebo pills. With Slynd, you don’t have to take the pill within the same 3 hours every day. As long as you take 1 pill every day, you’ll be protected from pregnancy.
Both types of pills are equally effective at preventing pregnancy (about 99% when used perfectly), but it’s your choice as to which type of pill you use. Talk to your healthcare provider to determine which pill is right for you and for a prescription.
Acknowledgment: Most of the information provided in this article was gathered from PlannedParenthood.org, a website that provides education on reproductive and sexual health.
To learn more about the pill, check out these resources:
- Pill, Patch or Ring
- Comparing Birth Control Methods
- Using Dual Methods
- Birth Control Pills (www.plannedparenthood.org)
Author: Stephanie Paz is a Tigua Indian of Ysleta del Sur Pueblo. She has a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from The University of Texas at El Paso and is working towards a Master of Public Health in Health Behavior and Health Promotion from New Mexico State University.