Contraceptive pills, often called birth control pills, are a popular form of contraception in the United Kingdom. About 3.5 million women take contraceptive pills in the UK, or about one out of every three women of child-bearing age. But just because these pills are popular doesn't mean that they are always understood. To help you learn more about this method of preventing pregnancy we have put together some basic answers to frequently asked questions about contraceptive pills.
How Do Contraceptive Pills Work?
Broadly speaking contraceptive pills work by using hormones to inhibit ovulation. This means that they contain hormones which keep women from ovulating (releasing an egg from the ovary), so pregnancy can not occur because there is no egg available to be fertilised when sperm is ejaculated into a woman.
Though contraceptive pills are sometimes referred to as simply "the pill" they actually come in 21 or 28 day packs with a tablet for each day. These tablets should be taken at roughly the same time each day. Packs containing 21 tablets usually contain all active pills while 28 day packs usually contain 7 "reminder tablets" which do not contain hormones but are taken so that women do not get out of the habit of taking their tablets, or forget when to begin the next pack. Women who begin taking contraceptive pills should read the detailed instructions which are supplied with each pack.
Are All Contraceptive Pills the Same?
No. There are over 20 different brands of oral contraceptive pills on the market in the UK and they can be divided into two different types of contraceptive pills known as the combined pill and the Mini pill. The difference in these types of pills is the hormones they contain. The combined pill contains two hormones, estrogen and progestogen. These hormones keep women from releasing eggs but also thicken the mucous of the cervix to make it hard for sperm to "swim" and keep the lining of the womb thinner so that if an egg does happen to escape and be fertilised it will be less likely to attach to the womb wall.
The Mini pill only contains one hormone, progestogen. This type of pill also thickens the cervical mucus and keeps the lining of the womb thinner but does not always stop the ovaries from releasing eggs. Different types of Mini pills work differently.
Will I Get My Period When I'm on Contraceptive Pills?
Whether or not you will menstruate while taking an oral contraceptive will depend upon the type you take. There are some contraceptive pills designed to decrease the number of periods a woman has but some women prefer to run their pill packs together without giving themselves a "rest" week and thus keep themselves from having periods. Contraceptive pills that come in 21 or 28 day packs, if used according to directions, will mean that women will have their periods on the week that they are taking no pills or the inactive pills.
Will a Contraceptive Pill Protect Me From STIs?
No. Protection from STIs requires a "barrier method" of contraception, such as a condom, because STIs are generally passed via skin-to-skin contact or by the exchange of bodily fluids. Contraceptive pills do not stop skin-to-skin contact nor do they prevent the exchange of bodily fluids because they do not place any sort of barrier between a man and woman during sexual intercourse.
What Should I Do If I Forget a Contraceptive Pill?
Forgetting a contraceptive pill will put your ability to avoid pregnancy in jeopardy. Each type and brand of contraceptive pills will include instructions on what to do in the event of taking your pill late or missing a tablet, but for the most part you'll need to use a back-up method of contraception such as using a condom to make sure that you do not become pregnant.
What Are My chances of Getting Pregnant While I'm on the Pill?
If used correctly the contraceptive pill is believed to have a success rate of about 99%, however the rate lowers to about 95% when pills are not used perfectly.
What Are the Advantages of Contraceptive Pills?
Many women choose to use contraceptive pills because they find them very convenient. Taking the contraceptive pill means that women can avoid pregnancy without having to interrupt sexual intercourse, it can help women decrease the symptoms of PMS, it helps to regulate the menstrual cycle so that women know when their periods are due and it can be used to help avoid having a period. Some women also find that using the contraceptive pill helps clear up their acne, and it is believed that using certain types of contraceptive pills can help decrease the risk of certain types of cancers. Women who know that they would like to become pregnant may also use contraceptive pills because they are easy to stop using and do not necessarily affect future fertility.
What Are the Disadvantages of Contraceptive Pills?
There are some side-effects to contraceptive pills, though they may differ according to type, brand and the woman using them. Common side effects include headaches, breakthrough bleeding or spotting (bleeding that is not your period), increased blood pressure and slightly increased risks of developing blood clots, breast cancer and cervical cancer. Some women may be advised not to use oral contraceptives, or specifically the Mini pill, depending on their health history, if they smoke and if they are overweight or if they can not or prefer not to remember to take tablets at the same time each day.
Where Can I Learn More About Contraceptive Pills?
Further information on contraceptive pills can be obtained from your GP or a sexual health clinic.