Your Guide to the Contraceptive Pill

Updated 17th Jul 2020

Like most medications these days, there are so many different types of contraceptive pill, each with different benefits, risks, and side effects. This can make the decision of what to take, and whether or not to take anything, feel a little daunting.

Please note that this is just a guide, so if you have any medical concerns, please speak to your GP or a sexual health professional. Better to be safe!

So I’ll try and state the most important things for you to know here. I’ll just take you through the basic details and contraceptive pill brands at first to help you understand, but feel free to continue reading if you’d like more in depth information.

 

Myth Busters

So, let’s get this out of the way. There is so much misinformation going around about the pill that generally scares people away from taking the contraceptive pill.

So that you can make a decision based on facts, I’m going to list some of the most common myths and let you know if they’re true or false. (Still, remember that the pill affects everyone differently!)

1. The contraceptive pill causes infertility: FALSE

So this is one of the most common misconceptions. As the contraceptive pill doesn’t work by stopping or decreasing your productive capacity, once you stop taking it your natural ovulation cycle should return. If you do have difficulties getting pregnant after you stop taking the pill, the doctor will look for other reasons that are causing this.

2. The contraceptive pill causes hair loss: TRUE

This is true, but the severity of the hair loss you may experience due to the hormones does depend on several factors such as your family history and how prone you are to hormonal hair loss. If baldness runs in your family, the pill may speed up the process, otherwise hair loss caused by the pill is generally temporary and will only last a few months while your body adjusts, or after you’ve stopped taking it.

3. The contraceptive pill makes you gain weight: FALSE

While the pill can increase your water retention in the initial months of starting to take it, your body will adapt. There is no scientific evidence that there is a link between the contraceptive pill and weight gain.

4. Taking the contraceptive pill causes high risk of cancer: FALSE

It is even possible for the contraceptive pill to protect you against certain types of cancers, and reduce the risk of cancer in those that have an average risk.

According to some research, there is a slight increase in risk for some other cancers including breast and cervical cancers. However in these cases, the risk is still considered low, and the cervical cancer risk tends to decrease after stopping the pill.

5. The contraceptive pill causes depression: TRUE/FALSE

So this can be a little confusing, but it sort of depends on the person. The contraceptive pill in itself will not cause depression. However, if you have depression or depressive tendencies, the hormones in the contraceptive pill can make this worse.

 

Contraceptive Pill Benefits

There are a number of benefits to the contraceptive pill. Some of them are of course the intended benefits, like the protection against unwanted pregnancies, and others just happy coincidences to taking extra hormones.

A few of these are that they:

  • Reduce menstrual cramps
  • Lighten menstrual flow
  • Reduce the risk of ectopic pregnancy

 

Contraceptive Pill Side Effects

The side effects of the birth control pill varies from person to person. Some may experience several, some may experience none at. In cases where the side effects are difficult to manage, aren’t easing up as your body adjusts to the pill, or simply are unpleasant, you may be able to change the pill you’re on and find one that works best for you.

Most common side effects:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Acne
  • Breast pain
  • Low libido
  • Mood swings
  • Irregular bleeding

 

Combined Pill vs Mini Pill

When choosing to take the contraceptive pill, the first thing to know is that there are two different types. The combined pill and the mini pill. The main difference between the two is that the combined pill contains both estrogen and progesterone, whereas the mini pill contains only progesterone.

Combined Pill

How It Works

Without going into too much detail, you can read that here if you’d like to get into the nitty gritty, to summarise, the combined pill works by preventing ovulation (releasing the egg each month), thickening the mucus in the neck of the womb, and thinning the lining of the womb. 

All of this makes it harder for sperm to penetrate the womb. If it does, it’s less likely to find an egg to fertilise. If this still happens, there’s less of a chance of the fertilised egg implanting in the womb and then growing.

When used correctly, the combined pill is over 99% effective.

Pros

The combined pill carries some additional benefits such as helping to reduce acne, PMS and the risks of cysts in your breasts and ovaries, and more. You can find out more information about these potential benefits on the Planned Parenthood website.

Cons

Many people with a family history of heart conditions, blood clots, or strokes, tend to be advised against taking the combined pill because there is an increased risk of making these things happen.

Most Common Combined Pill Brands

  • Rigevidon
  • Microgynon
  • Yasmin
  • Cilest
  • Loestrin
  • Mercilon
  • Femodette

Mini Pill

How It Works

The progesterone only pill works by thickening the mucus in the cervix to stop sperm from reaching the egg. Some of them can also stop ovulation.

The mini pill has to be taken strictly for it to be 99% effective like the combined pill, but generally speaking, considering how most people end up taking it, it’s about 92% effective.

On both types of contraceptive pill, you can have a sort of faux period called withdrawal bleeding, but on the mini pill you may not even have that.

Pros

The mini pill can be considered the safer option of the two as there are less risks to your health associated with taking it. 

Cons

There are two main points against the mini pill. One is that it carries less benefits than the combined pill, and the other is that it is quite easy to make it less effective due to misuse.

Most Common Brands of Mini Pills

  • Desogestrel
  • Cerelle
  • Cerazette
  • Micronor

 

How To Take Them

So here’s where you have to pay attention. The difference between the pill working and not working rests heavily on taking them as instructed. As I mentioned previously, you have to take the mini pill exactly as instructed for it to be as effective as possible, but you have more flexibility with the combined pill.

Cycles

Mimicking the average menstrual cycle, the contraceptive pill tends to also follow a 28 day (4 weeks) cycle. In some cases this means taking a pill for all 28 days, and in other cases this would be taking a pill for 21 days and then taking a break for 7.

Every Day

Mini / progesterone-only pills only come in 28 day packs. You have to take them within the same 3 hours every day.

28 day packs for the combined pill contain placebo pills without hormones in them that you take at the end of the 4 week cycle. They may contain iron or other supplements, but the main purpose is to give you the necessary break at the end of the 21 day period, without you having to remember to start again after 7 days.

21 Days

This only applies to the combined pill. You will have a 21 day pack, at the end of which you’ll need to take a 7 day break before starting the next pack. You’re likely to have some bleeding during this 7 day break.

Missed Pill Rules

Missing the contraceptive pill is incredibly common - it’s hard to keep on top of sometimes. In the case of the combined pill, missing one dose is fine, and you just need to take it as soon as you remember.

It’s important to note that once two doses of the combined pill are missed, or a single dose of the mini pill, the ability of the contraceptive pill to prevent pregnancy has been reduced. Therefore it’s recommended that you use a condom for the next 7 days. This is especially the case if you miss a dose of the mini pill.

In cases where you have missed doses and had unprotected sex, you have the option of an emergency contraceptive pill, otherwise known as Plan B or the morning after pill. You can read more about that here.

Ordering

The contraceptive pill can be classified as a repeat prescription. You will still need to have regular check-ups with the doctor - especially if you are taking the combined pill - to check your blood pressure. Sometimes this is done every 6 months or so. But between that time you will be responsible for ensuring you have a new packet ordered and ready by the time you need to start your next pack.

You can order your contraceptive pill online via the Healthera app.

 

Other Birth Control Options

If any of what was discussed worried you or made you feel like the contraceptive pill isn’t right for you, there are many other options available to you. Whether your main intention is to prevent unwanted pregnancies or even regulate your menstrual cycle. You can read more about them and find out what suits you better here.

 

I hope that’s answered most of your questions! But if not, remember you can always speak to a doctor, pharmacist or nurse.

 

Healthera

Healthera operates a leading healthcare marketplace that provides patients with medicines, healthcare services and products through the largest digital platform of pharmacies and GPs in the UK, including national chains and independent providers. Download Healthera App to order NHS repeat prescription online!