FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Sometimes people are too embarrassed, too busy, or just don’t know the right questions. The questions on this page should cover a lot of aspects of what you need to know though.

THE PILL

Are all pills the same?

No, there are many different types of contraceptive pills available, and each of them is slightly different. The important thing is to follow the instructions that come with your pill package exactly. It’s important to take the pills as directed because missing pills or taking them not on time make them less effective. If you have any questions about how to take the pill, ask your healthcare provider for further advice.

What does the pill contain?

Hormones used in the pill are mostly a synthetic form of the natural hormones progestin and estrogen. Some contain only a progestin, e.g. progestin-only pill, others a combination of progestin and estrogen, e.g. the so-called combined pill.
The combined pill mimics a pregnancy to your body, although you are not pregnant, what prevents you from ovulation. It also thickens the mucus in the cervix, which makes it difficult for sperm to get through.
The progestin only pill works by thickening the mucus at the entrance to the womb. In some women it may also prevent ovulation.

I missed a pill from my packet / I've vomited / I’ve had diarrhea? What should I do?

Are there any contraceptive pills that offer extra benefits?

Some contraceptive pills can improve the condition of your skin and hair; others help with symptoms such as acne, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), and irregular menstrual bleeding.

How reliable is the pill?

The pill is one of the most reliable forms of contraception, giving a very high degree of protection against pregnancy when taken as directed.

Should I take a break from the pill?

No it is not necessary to take a 'pill break' unless you want to get pregnant. There is no effect on long-term fertility even if you take hormonal contraceptives for years.

How long will it take to get pregnant after taking the pill?

Hormonal contraception does not cause infertility. It may take a bit of time for your body to return to a state where you can become pregnant again but this is only temporary. Fertility returns to its previous level no matter how long you have taken a hormonal contraceptive method for. In a big surveillance study, about 20% of women who stopped taking the combined pill for getting pregnant, already got pregnant within four weeks after they stopped pill intake. More than 40% got pregnant within the first three months after stopping the pill.

What if I don't like the pill I'm on - can I switch?

Lots of different pills are available, and they are all slightly different. If you find the pill you are on does not suit you, there are plenty of others to choose from! However, usually it takes some months until your body is accustomed to a certain pill and too frequent changes would prevent you from finding any appropriate type. Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider who will assist you.

When do I start taking the pill?

If you have not used any contraceptive with hormones in the previous month, you should start taking the pill on the first day of your period. If you start taking the pill on the first day of your menstruation you are immediately protected against pregnancy. You should pick a time of day which will be easy to remember and make sure that you take every active pill in your pill pack at around that same time every day.

Do I take the pill every day?

It depends on the type of pill. Most pills work across a 28 day cycle including the pill-free or placebo interval, which means you have one pack for each cycle.
With some you have to take a hormonal pill every day. With others you take a hormonal pill every day for 21 or 24 or even 26 days of the cycle, and then have a hormone free break of seven or four or only two days where either no pills are taken or a hormone free pill is taken.
During this break, you will still be protected and you will have a menstruation-like bleed.

Is it safe to have sex during the four or seven day break?

Yes - as long as you have taken the previous pills as directed. Also, if you do have sex during the break, it's important to start your next pack on time and make sure the pills are taken correctly.

Will my periods be affected?

The pill usually makes your periods more regular, shorter, lighter and less painful.

Do I need to take it at the same time every day?

Yes, morning or evening, it's up to you, but you do need to get into a regular routine of pill-taking.

If you forget to take your pill, with most types you'll still be protected if you can take it up to 12 hours later - but it's wise not to do this too often. Some progestin only pills can only be taken up to three hours late.

I'm on antibiotics - how does this affect my pill?

Some antibiotics and other prescription drugs can reduce the effectiveness of the pill so always tell your doctor or healthcare provider you're taking the pill if you are prescribed medicine.

How should I protect myself from STIs?

The pill does not offer protection against STIs (sexually transmitted infections), so, until you are sure of your partner's sexual history or sexual health, it's advisable to use a condom in addition to taking the pill.

Will the pill make me put on weight?

Although some women on the pill reported to having put on weight, it is very questionable that this could be traced back to the pill.
However, with some pills you might put on weight when you start taking them, due to water retention, which makes you feel bigger. But there are today modern contraceptive pills which can avoid such water retention to some extent.
You may also find your appetite increases in the first three months of pill taking - and of course if you eat more you may gain weight!

Will the pill give me spots?

Actually some modern pills can help clear up your skin. Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider about how the right pill could combat skin impurities or even acne. Sometimes women do break out in response to their pill, and if this is the case you should consult your doctor or healthcare provider. With around 30 types of pill available today, you should be able to find the pill which is best for you.

Will the pill make me feel sick?

Some women do feel sick when they take the pill, but there are so many varieties available today - including modern, low-dose formulations - you should be able to find a pill to suit you.

Will I need to take a break from the pill after a few years to let my body recover?

There's no reason or scientific rationale that this should be done, and it may even result in getting pregnant unintendedly. Taking breaks like this does not improve your ability to conceive either: the length of time for which you take the pill has no influence on that.

Will long-term pill use affect trying for a baby?

Large studies have investigated this and there is no evidence to suggest the pill has any negative long term effect on a woman’s ability to have a baby, even if it is taken without a break for a long period of time.

Isn’t it going to be difficult to remember to take the pill regularly?

Try to adopt a routine with your pill-taking to make it easier for yourself to remember.
If you are very forgetful, you may prefer to try an everyday pill. This type of pill is taken on each day of the month, instead of having the seven day break, so it’s easier to develop a set routine.

I was sick and threw up after taking a pill. Will the pill still work?

Throwing up and severe diarrhea in the first 3-4 hours after taking the pill can decrease its reliability. In both cases, take an additional pill within 12 hours. This precaution is not necessary if you are taking an “inactive” pill.

I bled between two periods. Should this happen?

Bleeding between periods mainly occurs during the first months of pill intake and usually disappears within the next cycles. There is usually nothing to worry about. Don’t stop taking your pills – if you do, you won’t be protected and could get pregnant. If bleeding occurs regularly, talk to your healthcare provider about it. Heavy period-like bleeding may occur in rare cases.

I have been taking the pill but did not get my period this month. Am I pregnant?

If you are regularly taking the pills, you are very unlikely to be pregnant. The pill is highly effective. If your period does not come, it does not necessarily mean that you are pregnant as long as you did take it as directed. It could be that the lining of your womb has not built up very much and is therefore not being expelled. If menstruation does not come for more than two months in a row talk to your doctor or healthcare provider before you start taking the new strip.

I am taking my pill as well as medication. Does this affect the reliability of the pill?

Medicines, such as antibiotics, may impact on the effectiveness of the pill. Ask your doctor or healthcare provider about possible interactions or interference.

Can very young women go on the pill?

The pill is also suitable for very young women. If any sexually active woman, no matter of what age, does not use contraception, she may have to face an unintended pregnancy or even an abortion. Young women should talk to their doctor or healthcare provider before having sex for the first time. Don’t worry. What you tell your doctor or healthcare provider is totally confidential. Neither your parents nor anybody else will find out about it.

Does the pill protect me from AIDS and STI (sexually transmitted infections)?

The pill offers no protection from HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, or any other sexually transmitted infection (STI). Always use a condom unless you are in a faithful relationship with someone you really trust and you are both sure you are not carrying an STI.

Can anyone use the pill?

Not everyone can use the combined pill, so your doctor or healthcare provider will need to ask you about your own and your family’s medical history. Do mention any illness or operations you have had. Some of the conditions which may mean you should not use the combined pill are:

- you think you might already be pregnant
- you are very overweight
- you take certain medicines
- you have very severe migraines

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