For women who choose to go onto the pill, it’s a big decision. There are many contraceptive options out there, and while the internet means we now have more access to information on contraception than ever before, it can also be filled with misinformation.
Different pills and contraceptive methods come with varying benefits and side effects, so the choice can quickly become confusing.
Here, we answer your most burning questions about the pill.
The basic information
The pill is the most common method of contraception for women in the UK, with 29% of women using contraception using some form of the pill. It’s even more popular with women under 35, while women over 35 are more likely to turn to more permanent measures.
The combined pill, which contains both progesterone and oestrogen, is often what is referred to as ‘the pill’, but you can also get the ‘mini pill’, which is progesterone only. For the purposes of this article, we’ll mainly cover the combined pill.
How does the pill work and is it effective?
The combined pill works by stopping the ovaries from releasing an egg, which is known as ovulation. As an extra preventative measure, it also thickens the mucus in your cervix to make it harder for the sperm to reach the egg.
When used every day as recommended, the pill is 99%+ effective at preventing pregnancy – so fewer than one in 100 people get pregnant when using it correctly. You need to take it daily in order to get maximum efficacy from it.
How do you take the pill?
The pill is a daily oral contraceptive, but how many you take can vary. There are three types of pills that will affect how many you take in a month.
Monophasic 21-day pills
This is the most common combined pill method. You take the same pill every day for 21 days, which all have the same amount of oestrogen and progesterone in them. You then have a seven-day break, in which you’ll likely experience a bleed. This isn’t technically a period and is called withdrawal bleeding, so you’ll need your preferred menstrual products for this, whether that’s pads or non-applicator tampons.
Phasic or multiphasic 21-day pills
These pills are less common and deliver a different dose of hormones with each pill. They are designed to lessen the side effects of the above pill. You’ll also have a seven-day break and a bleed because you only take them for 21 days.
Every day pills
Every day pills will often come with placebos. You take a pill at the same time every day, but seven of those pills – to be taken in the last week of your 28-day cycle – will be placebos. Some people will also take the pill continuously to avoid the bleed, but this should be discussed with your doctor.
What side effects does the pill cause?
The pill will affect different people in different ways. There are a number of side effects that are considered somewhat common, including tender breasts, mood swings, headaches, nausea, and intermittent blood spotting. The NHS website states that most of these side effects will only last for the first few months of you taking the pill.
It’s a common misconception that the pill causes weight gain, and multiple scientific studies have failed to correlate the pill with gaining weight. Similarly, there is a belief that the pill can increase breast size. However, any increase in cup size is temporary.
Meanwhile, studies are currently being carried out on a potential link between the pill and depression. One major study found that women on contraceptives that contained hormones were more likely to be diagnosed with depression after six months of taking it.
What additional benefits does the pill offer?
Some women take the pill for its benefits beyond being highly effective at preventing pregnancy. The combined pill can be effective at preventing or lessening acne. This is because the two combined hormones can reduce androgens, which in turn reduces the amount of sebum produced by the skin. Sebum is an oil secreted by our pores that, if too much is produced, can clog pores and cause spots and blackheads.
According to the NHS, the pill has also been shown to be effective at reducing some of the negative side-effects of periods, including heavy bleeding and painful abdominal cramps. This isn’t the case for everyone though, so if you’re on the pill but you’re still experiencing these symptoms, it’s best to speak to your doctor.
Contraception is a big part of our lives, and it’s important to have all the information you need to make the right choice for yourself and your body. We hope this article has provided you with the knowledge to decide whether the pill is right for you.