Birth Control Pills | What You Need To Know

The type of birth control you use is a personal decision, and there are many options to choose from. Even if you are not sexually active, if you are person who menstruates, you may want to consider birth control pills, otherwise known as The Pill.

Birth control pills, also called oral contraceptives, are medications you take to prevent pregnancy, in some instances to regulate hormone balances, and help with some cases of acne. According to the USA, Food and Drug Administration (FDA), they’re an effective method of birth control with an average success rate of about 91 percent.

It is important to know how oral contraceptives work and potential side effects so that you can work with your healthcare provider to decide which will be a good fir for you, or if you should look at another form of contraceptive.


What are birth control pills?

Birth control pills are oral contraceptives that contain small amounts of hormones. These hormones usually work to prevent pregnancy by stopping ovulation (the release of an egg from an ovary) or by changing the lining of the uterus so that it is less hospitable for a fertilised egg, preventing implantation.

Birth control pills come in a pack, usually a 28-day cycle, with one pill assigned to each day. You take a birth control pill daily, typically during the same time frame each day, depending on the pill. This keeps certain hormones elevated, so you’re less likely to get pregnant. If you cannot take your pill at more-or-less the same time each day, it decreases the effectiveness of the pill you are taking.


Types of birth control pills?

Types of birth control pills?

Combination pills

Combination pills contain synthetic forms of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone and come in a 28-pack. Most pills in each cycle are active, which means they contain hormones. The remaining pills are inactive, which means they don’t contain hormones. There are several types of combination pills:

  • Monophasic pills. These are used in 1-month cycles. Each active pill gives you the same dose of hormone. During the last week of the cycle, you can take (or skip) the inactive pills, and you still have your period.
  • Multiphasic pills. These are used in 1-month cycles and provide different levels of hormones during the cycle. During the last week of the cycle, you can take or skip the inactive pills, and you still have your period.
  • Extended-cycle pills. These are typically used in 13-week cycles. You take active pills for 12 weeks, and during the last week of the cycle, you can take or skip the inactive pills and have your period. As a result, you have your period only three to four times per year.


Progestin-only pills

Progestin-only pills contain only synthetic progesterone. This type of pill is also called the mini-pill.

They may be a good choice for people who can’t take oestrogen for health or other reasons.

With progestin-only pills, all pills in the cycle are active. There are no inactive pills, so you may or may not have a period while taking progestin-only pills.



Types of birth control pills?

Deciding on a type of birth control pill

Not every type of pill is a good fit for every person. Some people may prefer non-hormonal options of birth control. It is worth looking into the pro’s and con’s of various options of birth control so that you can make an informed decision about which option will suit you and your lifestyle best. Talk with your doctor about the options available too as they may have insight as to what will be the best for your overall health and wellbeing. Factors that can affect your choice include:

  • Your menstrual symptoms. If you experience heavy bleeding, you may do better with a progestin-only birth control pill instead of a combination pill.
  • Whether you are breastfeeding. If you’re breastfeeding, your doctor may recommend avoiding birth control pills that contain oestrogen.
  • Your cardiovascular health. If you have a history of stroke, blood clots, and/or deep vein thrombosis, your doctor may recommend a progestin-only birth control pill.
  • Other chronic health conditions you may have. If you have chronic health conditions, such as active breast or endometrial cancer, migraine with aura, or heart disease, you may not be a good candidate for oral contraceptives. Talk with your doctor and make sure to give your full health history.
  • Other medications you may take. If you’re taking antibiotics or herbal remedies, such as St. John’s Wort, combination birth controls may not be a good fit for you. Certain antiviral drugs and epilepsy medications can also interfere with birth control pills, and vice versa.


Types of birth control pills?

How do birth control pills work?

Understanding how various pills work can help some people make a decision as to which will be best for them too. Some pills, like combination pills, will prevent your body from ovulating. This means your ovaries won’t release an egg each month. They will also cause your body to thicken your cervical mucus. The thickened mucus helps prevent sperm from reaching the uterus in the case where ovulation does occur.
Progestin only pills have the benefit of thinning your endometrium, but don’t always prevent ovulation. This means that they may not prevent fertilisation, but will prevent implantation, and therefore pregnancy.

Types of birth control pills?

How effective are birth control pills?

If taken correctly, birth control pills are very effective in preventing pregnancy. Both the combination pill and the progestin-only pill have 9 percent failure rates with typical use. That means out of 100 people with a vagina using the pill, 9 would get pregnant. It is important to remember that birth control pills do not protect against STI’s

To be fully effective, progestin pills must be taken within the same 3-hour time period every day. If you miss this time window, you should take your pill as soon as you remember and use a different method of contraception, like a condom, for 2 days.

There is slightly more flexibility with combination pills. In general, you should try to take combination pills at the same time each day, but you can take them within the same daily 12-hour window and still have pregnancy protection.

Certain medications and herbal supplements (St. Johns Wort) may make either type of pill less effective The pill may also be less effective if you experience diarrhoea or vomiting. If you’ve had a stomach illness, check with your doctor to see whether you’re at risk of pregnancy.

Types of birth control pills?

Side effects, risks, and considerations

While birth control pills are safe for most people, they do come with some side effects and risks. Everyone reacts differently to the hormones in birth control pills. Some people have side effects such as:

If you have these side effects, they will likely improve after a few months of using the pill. If they don’t improve, you should talk with your doctor. They may suggest you switch to a different type of birth control pill.


A serious risk of using birth control pills, especially combination pills, is an increased risk of blood clots.

Overall, the risk of a blood clot from using any kind of birth control pill is low. Out of 10,000 people taking birth control pills, about 10 will develop a blood clot after taking a combination pill for a year. This risk is still lower than the risk of developing a blood clot during pregnancy and immediately after giving birth.

However, the risk of a blood clot from the pill is higher for certain groups. This includes those who:

  • live in larger bodies
  • have high blood pressure
  • are on bed rest for long periods

If any of these factors apply to you, talk with your doctor about the risks of using a birth control pill, or look for alternatives to hormonal contraceptives.

Types of birth control pills?


Many birth control options are available today, and the birth control pill is an excellent one. But the best birth control choice for you depends on many factors. To find an option that works for you, talk with your doctor. Be sure to ask any questions you have. These might include:

  • Which type of birth control pill might be better for me?
  • Am I taking any medications that could cause problems with a birth control pill?
  • Am I at higher risk of blood clots from the pill?
  • What should I do if I forget to take a pill?
  • What other birth control options should I consider?

Types of birth control pills?

How can I get birth control pills?

While in South Africa, most medical aids cover the cost of birth control pills, you must schedule an in-person visit with a doctor and get a script for them before they can be issued by a pharmacist.

At present the only forms of contraception that are available without prescription from most pharmacies are male and female condoms, as well as spermicide containing lubricants.

Types of birth control pills?

Final Thoughts

Birth control pills are oral contraceptives that have a variety of benefits for many people, and fit well into most people’s lifestyles. If however you are looking for alternative options that are either non-hormonal or not as much effort to keep up with, there are a number of choices available to you.

Before settling on any one choice, talk with your doctor or a licensed medical professional to determine which option(s) are best for you.


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