Contraceptive Pills

How birth control pills prevent pregnancy? Check some information about hormonal contraceptive pills, how they work, benefits, and more. All about The Pill
Contraceptive Pills


“The Pill” is a small tablet that coymes packaged for each month. Some people call it “oral contraception.” You take it once a day, at the same time every day. There are many different kinds of pills available, and new options are available often. Most 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.

Types of pills [5]:

Combination. Combination pills use two types of hormones –estrogen and progestin- to prevent ovulation. A monthly combination pill pack contains 3 weeks of hormone-based pills and a week of hormone-free pills. You will take the hormone-free pills while you wait for your period each month.

Progestin-only. These pills have no estrogen in them and are often recommended if you cannot safely take estrogen, or if you have side effects from a combination pill. They release a small amount of progestin every day of the month and do not give you a period during a set week.

Quick Facts

  • The pill has been around for 50 years. They are easy to swallow and can have positive side effects
  • Effectiveness: the pill is really effective when taken perfectly, but most women do not take it perfectly. With perfect use, 99 in every 100 women will prevent pregnancy. With typical use, or the way most people use it, the pill prevents pregnancy in 91 out of 100 women who use it.
  • Side effects: the most common are breast tenderness, nausea, spotting, and decreased sex drive
  • Effort: high. You need to take a pill at the same time every single day
  • Doesn’t protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).


The pill takes discipline. You need to remember to take your pill at the same time every day. If you do not take it at the same time every day, then it will not work as well.

You want predictable periods. If you like getting your period every month, with no spotting, then the pill may be a good choice.

You can skip your period. Some pills allow you to skip your period altogether, which is 100% safe.

Smokers over 35 years old, be careful. For women over 35 years old, smoking while using the pill increases the risk of certain side effects. It is advised to discuss this with your medical provider.

You want to stop using a contraceptive method and get pregnant quickly. You will be able to get pregnant a few days after stopping the pill. If you stop using the pills and do not feel ready to get pregnant, use another method.

How To Use

If you can swallow an aspirin, you can take the pill. But the important thing: you have to remember to take it every day, at the same time, no matter what.

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 let you skip your period for an entire year. There are many different pills available, and it can be a bit confusing. A health provider or trained community health worker can help you figure out which pill is right for you [1].

Side Effects

Everyone is different. What you experience may not be the same thing as another person.

The Positive: there are lots of things about the pill that are good for your body as well as your sex life [7].

  • The pill is easy to use – just swallow it with water
  • You do not need to interrupt sex to use it
  • Might give you lighter periods
  • Gives you control over when you have your period
  • Some pills clear up acne
  • Can reduce menstrual cramps and premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms
  • Some pills offer protection against some health problems: like endometrial and ovarian cancer; iron deficiency anemia; ovarian cysts; and pelvic inflammatory disease

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

Things that will probably go away after two or three months [10]:

  • Spotting
  • Sore breasts
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Things that may last longer:
  • A change in your sex drive

If you feel the side effects are more than you can accept after 3 months, switch methods and stay protected. Condoms offer good protection while you find a method that suits your needs. Remember, there is a method for everyone, everywhere!

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


[1] Cooper, D. B., & Mahdy, H. (2019). Oral Contraceptive Pills. StatPearls Publishing. Retrieved from

[2] Dr Marie Marie Stopes International. (2017). Contraception. Retrieved from

[3] FSRH The Faculty of Sexual & Reproductive Healthcare. (Amended 2019). UK MEDICAL ELIGIBILITY CRITERIA. RCOG, London. Retrieved from

[4] FSRH Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare. (Amended 2019). Faculty of Sexual & Reproductive Healthcare Clinical Guidance: Progestogen-only Pills. Retrieved from

[5] FSRH The Faculty of Sexual & Reproductive Healthcare. (Amended 2019). FSRH Guideline: Combined Hormonal Contraception. Retrieved from

[6] Family Planning NSW. (2015). The Combined Oral Contraceptive Pill. Retrieved from

[7] FPA the sexual health charity. (2019). Your guide to the combined pill. Retrieved from

[8] Reproductive Heath Access Project. (2019). The pill. Retrieved from

[9] SHINE SA. (2017). Fact Sheet: The Pill. Retrieved from

[10] Shukla, A., & Jamwal, R. (2017). Adverse effect of combined oral contraceptive pills. Asian Journal of Pharmaceutical and Clinical Research, 10. Retrieved from

[11] Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada. (2017). Canadian Contraception Consensus Chapter 9: Combined Hormonal Contraception. Retrieved from

[12] The Royal Women’s Hospital and Family Planning Victoria. (2018). THE CONTRACEPTIVE PILL. Retrieved from

[13] World Health Organization Department of Reproductive Health and Research and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for Communication Programs (2018) Family Planning: A Global Handbook for Providers. Baltimore and Geneva. Retrieved from

[14] World Health Organization. (2016). Selected practice recommendations for contraceptive use. Geneva. Retrieved from