The combined pill is a small tablet you swallow daily that contains hormones oestrogen and progestogen. The pill prevents pregnancy in three ways – by stopping ovulation, making the fluid in your cervix thicker (which makes it more difficult for sperm to enter the womb), and preventing the lining of your womb thickening enough for a fertilised egg to implant into it.
Your doctor or nurse will do some tests to make sure that you can take the combined pill. They check your medical history, make sure that you’re not pregnant and take your blood pressure.
Most women can start the pill at any time in their period cycle. However unless you start the combined pill on the first day of your period, you won’t be protected from pregnancy straight away. Make sure you read the packet carefully and use condoms or other contraception until you’re covered.
There are special instructions for starting the contraceptive pill if you have just had a baby, abortion or miscarriage.
Take the pill around the same time every day – for example first thing in the morning, or before you go to sleep at night.
If it helps, keep your pill packet somewhere you use or look at everyday (like your makeup bag) to remind you to take it, or set an alarm on your phone.
You will normally be given a prescription for the pill for a couple of months, and will need to go back to your doctor for regular check ups (e.g. blood pressure tests).
How to stop taking birth control pills
Coming off the pill is easy – you just stop taking it. As soon as you stop taking it, you’re no longer protected from pregnancy.
If you have periods, you may prefer to wait until you reach the end of your current pill packet before stopping, so you can keep your cycle more regular.
Check out our Marvelon reviews below to see how long it took most women’s cycles to return to their definition of ‘normal’ after they stopped taking the pill, and read up about the after effects they’ve experienced.
Things that can go wrong
Missing or forgetting to take a pill has happened to all of us. Check out theNHS guide on what to do, depending on how many you’ve missed and where you are in your cycle. If you’re in any doubt, make sure you use a condom or don’t have sex until you’re protected.
There are a few things that can stop estrogen pills from working properly – make sure you watch out for these and check your pill information leaflet or speak to your doctor if you have any questions:
Vomiting and diarrhea will impact on how the pill is absorbed into your body. If you’re sick within two hours of taking the pill you’ll need to take another pill straight away and the next pill at the usual time. If you’re sick or have severe diarrhea for longer than this, check your pill packet for what to do next – and use condoms or abstain if you have any doubts.
Some medicines and antibiotics (like rifampicin and rifabutin, St John’s wort and anti-epilepsy drugs) change the way your body digests the pill.
With any combined type of hormonal contraception there is a slightly increased risk of developing blood clots in your veins and arteries. We are developing a full guide to the medical research on the serious and potentially life threatening side effects of contraceptiveshere.