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Everything You Need to Know About Birth Control Pills


Updated December 19, 2014


All About The Pill

Photo © 2014 Dawn Stacey

Definition of Birth Control Pills:

Birth control pills are oral contraceptives which are taken everyday in order to prevent pregnancy. This method is made of hormones like those in a woman's body. Taking birth control pills daily maintains steady levels of hormones. This helps to prevent pregnancy in different ways.

Types of Birth Control Pills:

Oral contraceptives come in two forms:

There is a new pill trend known as Extended Cycle Birth Control Pills. These pills, like Seasonique, Lybrel, Seasonale and Amethyst allow you to control and decrease how many periods (withdrawal bleeds) you have each year.


24 Day Packs of Birth Control Pills:

Though most birth control pills come in 28 or 21 day packs, there are two combination birth control pills that have 24 active days of pills. These include:

  • Yaz 28 (and Beyaz): the dosage regimen of YAZ is unique in that it contains 24 days of active hormones, followed by 4 days of placebo. These birth control pills may offer woman fewer hormone fluctuations than the traditional 21 days of active pills per 28 day cycle.
  • Loestrin 24 Fe: the first 24-day oral contraceptive approved in the US.

Effectiveness of Birth Control Pills:

The pill is a highly effective and reversible contraception method.

Advantages of Birth Control Pills:

  • A safe method of birth control
  • Very convenient
  • May offer some protection against pelvic inflammatory disease (which, if left untreated, can cause infertility)
  • Does not “get in the way” of having sex
  • May lead to lighter periods or help regulate periods
  • Birth control pills can decrease menstrual cramps
  • Allows for sexual spontaneity
  • The pill can help a you time your period – as combination pills can be taken to regulate (change the timing and frequency) of a period or skip a period altogether

Additional Noncontraceptive Benefits of Combination Birth Control Pills:

Combination contraception can provide many extra benefits. These include some protection against:

See: Noncontraceptive Benefits of Birth Control Pills

Cancer Protection:

Research shows that women who use birth control pills are only 1/3 as likely to get cancer of the ovaries (ovarian cancer) or lining of the uterus (endometrial cancer) than those who do not.

Protection against developing these cancers increases with each year of use, and it can last up to 30 years after stopping combination birth control pills. Plus, this protection increases with each year of use. For example, 6 years of combination pill use lowers the risk of ovarian or endometrial cancer by up to 60%.

The most recent research suggests that the pill has little, if any, effect on the risk of developing breast cancer. However, studies ahow that there is an 18% reduction in the risk of developing colorectal cancer among women who use the pill.

Disadvantages of Birth Control Pills:

If you use birth control pills, you may experience some unwelcome side effects. The good news is that most of these side effects will go away by the second or third month of use. Oral contraceptive side effects may include:

Additionally, combination birth control pills may: Progestin-only birth control pills may lead to irregular spotting and bleeding (at least, more frequently than with combination pills).

More About the Side Effects of Birth Control Pills:

You should talk to your health care provider if you are still experiences side effects from your birth control pills after three months -- this may mean that your birth control pill may need to be changed.

You can take your birth control pill with an evening meal or at bedtime to help decrease nausea and/or vomiting. Try not to stop taking the pill even if you are feeling really nauseous.

You should read the insert inside your specific pill pack for more detailed information about the use and risks of your birth control pills. Additionally, the insert should also explain when to take take your birth control pills.

Who Can Use Birth Control Pills:

Oral contraceptives can be a safe a contraceptive option for most healthly women. Additionally, some women with certain risk factors could still use birth control pills if they remain under close medical supervision. It is important that you discuss your complete medical history with your healthcare provider before beginning oral contraceptive use.

Possible Birth Control Pill Complications:

In general, serious problems do not occur very often with oral contraceptive use. Typically, birth control pills are much safer than pregnancy and childbirth.

Women who use combination birth control pills may have a slightly greater chance of certain major disorders than nonusers. The risk increases:

The most serious complication of combination birth control pill use has to do with having a blood clot in the heart, lungs, brain, or legs. Women using combination pills who are confined to bed rest or have a cast seem to have a higher likelihood of developing a blood clot. Women should inform their surgeons about their combination birth control pill use when planning a major operation.

If you have a history of depression, you may not be able to continue to take birth control pills if your depression worsens.

How to Obtain the Pill:

In order to obtain a prescription for oral contraceptives, you will most likely need to have a medical evaluation, blood pressure check, and possibly a pelvic exam by a physician. Your health care provider will determine which type of birth control pills are best suited for you; typically, a doctor will prescribe a pill type that has the lowest amount of hormone needed to protect against pregnancy.

Costs Associated with Birth Control Pills:

Oral contraceptives may be purchased at a drugstore or clinic as long as you have a valid prescription. Birth control pills usually come in monthly packs that cost anywhere around $15–$40 a month.

Medicaid may sometimes cover these costs. You should check with your private health insurance policy as coverage for generic birth control pills should be covered with no out-of-pocket costs for all non-grandfathered insurance plans.

Effectiveness of Birth Control Pills:

Oral contraceptives are 92-99.7% effective. This means that with typical use, only 8 out of every 100 women will become pregnant during the first year of use. With perfect use, less than 1 will become pregnant.

STD Protection:

Birth control pills offer no protection against sexually transmitted infections. Condoms are the only birth control method that can offer you STD protection.

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