Learning More About Birth Control


Birth control refers to various ways for both men and women to prevent unwanted pregnancy. There are a number of different methods of birth control, one of which is hormonal contraception or oral contraceptives, which are commonly known as “the pill.”

The birth control pill is taken orally. When taken according to instructions, it is 99.9% effective in preventing pregnancy. It does not, however, protect against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), such as HIV, chlamydia, and human papilloma virus (HPV). Condoms are the only form of birth control that can also protect against STDs. Other types of hormonal contraception include the vaginal ring and the patch.

How Does the Pill Work?

Pregnancy happens when the egg released from a woman’s ovary is fertilized by a man’s sperm. The egg is released in a process triggered by hormones in a woman’s body, known as ovulation. If the egg isn’t fertilized, it disintegrates. If the egg is fertilized, moves to the inside of the womb or uterus, implanting itself there so that it can receive nutrients from the woman’s body and grow into a fetus.

Oral contraceptives contain synthetic versions of hormones that otherwise occur naturally at certain times in a woman’s menstrual cycle or during pregnancy. These hormones prevent the ovaries from developing and releasing an egg. Hormonal contraceptives also change the makeup of cervical mucus, making it hard for sperm to pass through the cervix. This means that they have difficulty trying to reach a potential egg. Finally, hormonal contraceptives change the lining of the uterus. This can make it unlikely for an egg to implant itself and grow into a fetus.

Can You Still Get Pregnant When Taking the Pill?

The ovaries may still develop an egg, even when the medication is taken on a daily basis—but especially when more than 24 hours pass between doses. In nearly all cases, where an egg is developed, though, fertilization and implantation are still be stopped by oral contraceptives, provided they are taken properly.

No form of contraception is 100% effective. However, studies have shown that less than 1% of women who are currently using oral contraceptives become pregnant during their first year. The only methods of birth control more effective than the pill are avoiding sex entirely or having surgery to become sterile. Condoms, spermicides, and diaphragms are not as effective as birth control pills.

Mini Pills

Mini pills are a form of birth control pill that only contain one horomone. They are sometimes prescribed for women who are breastfeeding or women who experience nausea as a side effect of taking estrogen. 

Mini pills thicken the cervical mucus, making if difficult for sperm to get to the egg. They change the uterine lining so that implantation of a fertilized egg is less likely to occur. They may even prevent ovulation, in some cases. When used consistently, mini pills are 95% effective. 

Continous-cycle Pillls

Continous-cycle birth control pills contain the same hormones as birth control pills. However, they are taken for a longer period of time, thereby reducing the total number of periods a woman experiences in a year from 13 to 4. The pill is taken daily for 12 weeks. A week of inactive pills follows the 12 weeks, resulting in menstruation. 

Where to get the Pill

Birth control is only available with a prescription from a doctor. Schedule an appointment with your doctor in order to discuss the options available to you.  

How to Take the Pill

In order to reduce your risk of becoming pregnant, you need to read and follow the instructions you receive with your birth control prescription. Ask your pharmacist or doctor if you need clarification or more information.

You should take the birth control with food to help prevent nausea. Nausea is most likely to appear when you start taking oral contraceptives, and disappear over time. Taking the pill before bed can help, too.

When you first start taking the pill, your body needs seven days to adjust before pregnancy is prevented. You should use another form of birth control, such as condoms, for the first seven days that you take the pill. Some doctors even recommend using another form of birth control for the entire first cycle, which lasts three weeks.

You can reduce side effects and prevent pregnancy by taking doses no more than 24 hours apart. Use a schedule or alarm to help you take the pill at the exact same time every day, and always make sure you have at least an extra month’s worth of pills on hand. Since not all pills in the pill pack contain the same dose and combination of hormones, it is important that you take the pills in the order that they appear. Taking the doses out of order can compromise the effectiveness of the medication.

Side Effects and Risks of Taking the Pill

For women who are otherwise healthy and do not smoke cigarettes, serious side effects are unlikely to occur. Other side effects may occur, though most are not serious. They may include:

  • Nausea
  • Tender or swollen breasts
  • Intramenstrual bleeding or spotting
  • Weight gain
  • Lighter periods
  • Headaches
  • Changes in mood
  • Decreased libido
  • Changes in vaginal discharge

Serious side effects are less common. Smoking cigarettes while using oral contraceptives may increase your risk of experiencing serious side effects. You should not smoke cigarettes while taking the pill.

Use the acronym “ACHES” to remember the following potentially life-threatening side effects of birth control pills:  

  • A. Abdominal or stomach pain
  • C. Chest pain
  • H. Headache
  • E. Eye problems or blurred vision
  • S. Swelling and/or aching in the legs

If you experience any of these side effects, stop taking the pill and contact your doctor or go to an emergency or urgent care center immediately. The side effects listed above can indicate liver disease, gallbladder disease, blood clots, stroke, high blood pressure, or heart disease. They can be life-threatening.

Some brands of the birth control pill, including  contain a hormone. They have been under investigation by the FDA because of the possibility that they have an increased risk of blood clots. Results of this investigation are not clear. Some studies indicated an increased risk, while others indicated no additional risk. These drugs are still available. Talk to your doctor about potential risks.

Disclaimer: Information on this website is not meant to encourage the self-management of any health or wellness issue. Nor is it meant to encourage any one type of medical treatment. Any treatment or advice used may have varying results between individuals. Readers with health-related questions, are always encouraged to seek proper consultation with a physician or certified healthcare provider. No information on this website should be used to ignore any medical or health-related advice, nor should it be the root cause for a delay in a consultation with a physician or a certified healthcare provider.

No information on this website should be used to start the use of dietary supplements and vitamins, natural and herbal products, homeopathic medicine and other mentioned products prior to a consultation with a physician or certified healthcare provider.