Birth Control Pills
What are birth control pills?
Birth control pills (BCPs), also called oral contraceptives or the pill, help you avoid getting pregnant. They help you and your partner plan how many children you want and when to have them. They are made of the female hormones, estrogen and progesterone, which control body functions. These hormones work by preventing ovulation. Ovulation is the time each month when the ovaries make and release an egg cell. Before pregnancy can occur, an egg needs to be fertilized by sperm. Birth control pills keep women from making an egg cell each month. They may also keep a fertilized egg from sticking to the lining of the uterus (womb) and growing into a baby. When BCPs are used correctly, the chances of women getting pregnant are very low.
What is the female reproductive system?
- A woman's reproductive system includes the ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, cervix, and vagina. The ovaries are two egg-shaped organs that make egg cells, and are found on the ends of fallopian tubes. The fallopian tubes are two hollow tubes on each side of the upper part of the uterus. These are passages for the egg cells from the ovaries to the uterus. The uterus, or womb, is the pear-shaped organ in your abdomen (stomach) where your baby grows during pregnancy. The cervix is the opening where sperm enters at the bottom of the uterus. The vagina is a passageway that receives the male's penis.
- The ovaries make and release an egg cell each month during ovulation. The egg cell goes from the ovary into a fallopian tube. About 10 to 14 days later, the woman will have her menstruation (monthly period). If sperm enters the uterus and reaches the fallopian tubes, the egg may be fertilized (sperm meets the egg cell). The fertilized egg then goes down the tube and sticks to the endometrium (lining of uterus). The baby grows inside the uterus during pregnancy.
What may be done before I start using birth control pills?
- Your caregiver will ask you about diseases and illnesses you have had in the past. He will check your risk for blood clots, heart conditions, or stroke (problem with blood vessels of your brain). He will also check your blood pressure, and may do a breast and pelvic exam. A Pap smear may also be done during the pelvic exam. This is a test to make sure you do not have abnormal changes on your cervix. You may need other tests, like a urine test, to make sure that you are not pregnant. You will need to see your caregiver regularly while using BCPs.
- Your caregiver will ask about medicines that you use. Your caregiver may also ask you if you smoke. Smoking increases your chances of a having stroke, heart attack, or a blood clot in your lungs. If you smoke, you should not take certain kinds of BCPs.
What are the types of birth control pills?
The different types of BCPs include monophasic, multiphasic, progesterone-only, low-dose, and extended cycle BCPs. They have different amounts of estrogen and progesterone, side effects, risks, and schedules for taking them.
- Monophasic birth control pills: These pills have the same amount of estrogen and progesterone in each active pill. They may help prevent sudden changes in your mood or feelings caused by changing hormone levels.
- Multiphasic birth control pills: The level of hormones in these pills change like those in your body through the month. Each pill has different amounts of estrogen and progesterone depending on the day they will be taken. This helps you get the right amount of hormones and helps prevent any unwanted side effects.
- Progesterone-only birth control pills: These BCPs only contain progesterone, which prevents ovulation and thickens cervical mucus to block sperm. Progesterone also prevents a fertilized egg from attaching to the endometrium and letting a baby grow in the uterus. They may give you less nausea, breast pain, weight gain, and changes in mood than other BCPs.
- Low-dose birth control pills: These BCPs have lower amounts of the estrogen and progesterone which may help avoid unwanted side effects. They are available in monophasic and multiphasic forms, and may help prevent blood clots and putting on weight.
- Extended cycle birth control pills: These pills are taken every day for three months at a time to stop ovulation. You may also have less frequent periods, or you may miss periods completely. You may have some bleeding during the first 3 to 4 months of use. Do not worry, this should go away after some time. These pills may also be used to treat conditions of your uterus, such as endometriosis.
When do I take my birth control pills?
- If your pills are packaged in a 21-day pack, take one pill from the pack every day. After you finish the 21-day pack, do not take any BCPs for the next seven days. You will have your period during the seven days off the pill. Start a new pack on day eight.
- If your pills are packaged in a 28-pack, take one pill from the pack every day. The last seven pills in the 28-day pack are usually a different color than the rest of the pills. You may start a new pack after finishing the old one.
- If you are taking extended cycle birth control pills, take one pill each day for 12 weeks and take care not to miss a pill.
- Pick a time of the day that is easy for you to take BCPs. Taking them at the same time every day may help prevent bleeding. If you want to change the time you take BCPs, finish a pack of pills and try a different time for the next pack.
What are the advantages of using birth control pills?
Birth control pills may help decrease bleeding and pain during your monthly period. They may also help prevent cancer of the uterus and ovaries.
What are the disadvantages of using birth control pills?
- You may have sudden changes in your mood or feelings when taking BCPs. You may have nausea (upset stomach) and decreased appetite for sex. You may have an increased appetite and gain weight very fast. You may also have bleeding in between periods, less frequent periods, vaginal dryness, and breast pain.
- Using some types of birth control can place you at a higher risk of getting a blood clot in your leg or arm. This can cause pain and swelling, and it can stop blood from flowing where it needs to go in your body. The blood clot can break loose and travel to your lungs or brain. A blood clot in your lungs can cause chest pain and trouble breathing. A blood clot in your brain can cause a stroke. These problems can be life-threatening. Talk to your caregiver if you have any questions or concerns.
When can I start taking my birth control pills?
You may start taking your pills at any of the following times:
- The first day of your monthly period: You will be protected right away. You may not need to use another birth control method during the first seven days of your period.
- The first sunday after your monthly period begins: Start taking your BCPs the first sunday after your monthly period begins. You may take them even if you still have your period.
- The fifth day of your monthly period: Use another birth control method for the first 7 days after taking the pill. Ask your caregiver about other birth control methods.
What should I do if I forget to take my pills?
- If you miss one pill, take it as soon as you remember. Continue taking the remaining pills at your usual time.
- If you miss two pills in a row, take one as soon as you remember. Continue taking the remaining pills at your usual time.
- If you miss three BCPs in a row, call your caregiver. You may have to stop that pack of pills, wait for your period, and start a new pack.
- Do not take two BCPs in one day.
- Use barrier methods of contraception for two weeks if you cannot remember how many pills you may have missed. You may get pregnant if you have sex and not taken two or more BCPs in a row. You may want to consider using another method of birth control if you find that you forget to take your BCPs often.
What should do I do if I want to get pregnant?
If you are planning to have a baby, ask your caregiver when you may stop taking your BCPs. It may take some time for you to start ovulating again. Ask your caregiver for more information about getting pregnant after taking BCPs.
When should I start taking birth control pills after having a baby?
Your caregiver may let you start taking progesterone-only pills after giving birth. For those breast feeding, some BCPs may only be started from six weeks to six months after giving birth. For those not breast feeding, BCPs may be started three weeks after giving birth. Ask your caregiver for more information about taking BCPs after giving birth.
Where can I find more information?
- Family Health International
PO Box 13950
Research Triangle Park , NC 27709
Phone: 1- 919 - 544-7040
Web Address: http://www.fhi.org
You have the right to help plan your care. To help with this plan, you must learn about methods of birth control, like birth control pills. Your caregiver will explain the available methods for birth control in words that you understand. Make sure all your questions and concerns are answered. You may then discuss your birth control options with caregivers and decide which is best for you. You always have the right to refuse to use birth control methods.
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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.