Birth control is a way for men and women to prevent pregnancy. There are many different methods of birth control, including hormonal contraception such as "the pill."
Women take the pill by mouth to prevent pregnancy, and, when taken correctly, it is up to 99.9% effective. However, the pill does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV (the virus that causes AIDS). The latex male condom provides the best protection from most STDs. Other types of combined estrogen and progestin hormonal contraception include the patchand the vaginal ring.
A woman becomes pregnant when an egg released from her ovary (the organ that holds her eggs) is fertilized by a man's sperm. The fertilized egg attaches to the inside of a woman's womb (uterus), where it receives nourishment and develops into a baby. Hormones in the woman's body control the release of the egg from the ovary -- called ovulation -- and prepare the body to accept the fertilized egg.
Hormonal contraceptives (the pill, the patch, and the vaginal ring) all contain a small amount of man-made estrogen and progestin hormones. These hormones work to inhibit the body's natural cyclical hormones to prevent pregnancy. Pregnancy is prevented by a combination of factors. The hormonal contraceptive usually stops the body from ovulating. Hormonal contraceptives also change the cervical mucus to make it difficult for the sperm to go through the cervix and find an egg. Hormonal contraceptives can also prevent pregnancy by changing the lining of the womb so it's unlikely the fertilized egg will be implanted.
Another option for hormonal contraceptives is the extended-cycle pill, such as Seasonale, which was the first one to be approved. Seasonale contains the same hormones as other birth control pills, but the hormones are taken in a longer cycle. That reduces the number of menstrual periods from 13 periods a year to only four a year. That means a woman who takes this pill will menstruate only once each season.
Seasonale contains the same combination of two hormones that are commonly used in other hormonal contraceptives. But the pill is taken continuously for 12 weeks followed by one week of inactive pills, which results in a menstrual cycle. Other extended-cycle pills, such as Seasoniqueand LoSeasonique use a different configuration of the same hormones. Both of these pills use estrogen in the final week, with LoSeasonique providing a lower dose option.
These are pills that contain only one hormone (progestin). They do not contain estrogen and may be prescribed in women who are breastfeeding or in women who experience nausea or other side effects of estrogen.
Mini pills work by thickening the cervical mucus so the sperm cannot reach the egg. The hormone in the pills also changes the lining of the uterus, so that implantation of a fertilized egg is much less likely to occur. In some cases, mini pills prevent the release of an egg. A pill is taken every day.
If mini pills are used consistently and correctly, they are about 95% effective -- somewhat less effective than standard birth control pills.
Birth control pills are only available with a doctor's prescription.
You will receive a set of pills packaged in a thin case. Pill packs containing regular birth control pills have either 21 or 28 pills. Twenty-one-day pill packs contain 21 active pills. Twenty-eight day pill packs contain 21 active pills and seven inactive (placebo) pills. The pill packs are marked with the days of the week to remind you to take a pill every day. The seven inactive pills in the 28-day pill pack are added so that you are reminded to start a new pill pack after 28 days.
Some newer pills have only 2 inactive pills or even no inactive pills in the pack. It's important to always take all the pills to be sure you are protected from getting pregnant.
A package of extended-cycle Seasonale contains 84 active pink tablets and seven inactive white pills. With Seasonique and LoSeasonique, the last 7 pills contain estrogen only.
Ask your doctor when you should start birth control pills. If you are still having your period on the day that you have been told to start your pill pack, go ahead and start the pill pack anyway. You will get your next period about 25 days after starting the pill pack.
It's best to take the pills at the same time every day. You can take the pill at anytime during the day, but taking it either before breakfast or at bedtime will help make it easier to remember.
Extended-cycle pills works in a similar way. You start taking the pill the first Sunday after your period starts. If your period starts on a Sunday, start Seasonale that day. Then you take one active tablet a day for 84 consecutive days. Then depending on the type of pill you're taking, you have seven days of taking one placebo or estrogen only pill per day.
You will start each new birth control pill pack on the same day of the week that you initially started it. If you are on the 21-day pill pack, start the new pill pack seven days after you finished the old pill pack. If you are on the 28-day pill pack, begin the new pack after taking the last pill in the old pack.Start your new pill pack on schedule whether or not you get your period or are still having your period.
When taken as directed, birth control pills are usually effective the first month you begin taking them. To be safe, some doctors recommend the use of another form of birth control, such as condoms and foam, during the first month. After the first month, you can just rely on the pill for birth control.
If you forget to take a birth control pill, take it as soon as you remember. If you don't remember until the next day, go ahead and take two pills that day. If you forget to take your pills for two days, take two pills the day you remember and two pills the next day. You will then be back on schedule. If you miss more than two pills, call your doctor. You may be told to take one pill daily until Sunday then start a new pill pack or to discard the rest of the pill pack and start over with a new pack that same day.