Birth Control Pills: Frequently Asked Questions

Key Facts
  • There are many different kinds of birth control pills (BCPs).
  • Most types of birth control pills contain two hormones: estrogen and progestin (which is similar to progesterone). These are called combined birth control pills.
  • BCPs are also called “oral contraceptive pills” (OCPs), “hormone pills,” or “the Pill.”
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birth control pills

Are there different kinds of birth control pills?

Yes. There are many different kinds of birth control pills (there are different doses of hormones in different hormonal pills). Your health care provider may prescribe a progestin-only pill (if there’s a medical reason why you shouldn’t take estrogen). If you don’t have any medical problems that would put you at risk for medical complications, your health care provider (HCP) will decide which birth control pill is the best one for you.

What if I’m not happy with the birth control pill that I’m taking?

If you’re not happy with the birth control pill that you are taking and the effects they have on you, talk to your health care provider. Don’t just give up and stop taking them. Your provider can ask you questions about what you have noticed and help you decide if the symptoms could be related to the pill you are taking. You may need to get used to the pill over a few more months or try a different type of pill. Hormone pills affect people differently. Some you may like, and others you won’t. You may have to try a few different kinds of birth control pills before you find the one that is best for you. There are also lots of other methods to prevent pregnancy, so you can talk to your provider about other options.

How long can I be on birth control pills?

As long as there is no medical reason to not take the Pill, you can stay on them for years, whether it is to regulate their menstrual cycle, treat cramps, protect against pregnancy, or for hormone replacement therapy.

Do I need to use other forms of contraception with the Pill?

Birth control pills don’t protect people from getting sexually transmitted infections. It’s very important to use condoms every time you have sexual intercourse or when using a sex toy. Avoid lambskin or natural condoms as they are not as effective as latex or polyurethane condoms at protecting against sexually transmitted infections. Condoms are also an important second method of protection against pregnancy if you have just started the birth control pill or you miss a pill, especially during the first month of pills (to be extra safe), when you are taking other medications that change the effectiveness of the Pill, or when you are sick with diarrhea or vomiting. Anytime you get a new medication, ask your health care provider if it changes the effectiveness of the birth control pill.

Do I need to take a break from the Pill?

There is no medical reason that you need to take a “break” from the Pill.

Will I have trouble getting pregnant after using the birth control pill?

There is no change in fertility with the use of birth control pills. However, if your periods were irregular before you started taking the Pill, it’s likely that your periods will be irregular again when you stop taking it.

Does the birth control pill cause birth defects to an unborn baby?

No, the Pill does not cause birth defects nor does it affect the health of future children.

Does the birth control pill cause cancer?

No. The Pill actually protects against cancer of the ovaries and cancer of the lining of the uterus. A teen is half as likely to get cancer of the uterus or ovaries if they take the Pill. Most experts believe that taking oral contraceptive pills does not cause an increased risk of developing breast cancer. Even teens with a family history of breast cancer can take the Pill. Users of the Pill have been shown to potentially have an increased risk of cervical cancer (the cervix is the lower part of the uterus), as compared to nonusers, but cervical cancer is caused by the HPV virus, so you should get the HPV vaccine and use condoms every time you have sex. Smoking increases the risk for cervical cancer, so quit smoking (or don’t start) to keep your body healthy.

Can I smoke if I’m taking the Pill?

For lots of reasons, it is not recommended that you smoke and use the Pill, especially if you are over age 35. Smoking and taking the Pill can increase your risk for heart disease, blood clots, and stroke. The more you smoke and the older you are, the higher the risk. So ask your health care provider how to quit smoking or better yet never start!

Could I develop a blood clot by taking the Pill?

A blood clot in your leg or lung is a very rare but serious side effect. If you suddenly have pain or swelling in your leg and/or shortness of breath and/or chest pain, see your health care provider right away or go to the emergency room. If you have a history of blood clots, you should not take the Pill. Tell your health care provider if anyone in your family (blood relative) has ever had blood clots, especially when they were young. The Pill increases the relative risk of blood clots by three to fourfold, but the risk is still far less than with pregnancy. Blood clots are more likely to develop if you’re also a smoker, overweight, having surgery, or sitting on a plane for a long time. To lessen your chances of blood clots, don’t smoke, and if you’re on a long plane trip, get up, walk around, and drink lots of water. If you do smoke, it is important that your doctor knows about your smoking before you start the pill. If you’re scheduled for surgery, and won’t be able to move around much after surgery, your health care provider may recommend stopping the Pill for 3-4 weeks before surgery and after the surgery until you are walking around normally.

Do birth control pills protect against STIs?

Birth control pills do NOT protect you from sexually transmitted infections. Not have sex (abstinence) is the only 100% effective way to avoid STIs. Condoms help to prevent most sexually transmitted infections.

What if I forget to take my birth control pill(s) and I’m sexually active?

Talk to your health care provider. Emergency contraception (EC) is usually recommended if you’ve had unprotected intercourse during the time you have missed your birth control pills. In the United States, people of all ages can buy one of the options for EC without a prescription.

Does it mean I’m pregnant if I don’t get my menstrual period while I’m on the Pill?

Not usually. At times, you may not get your menstrual period while using birth control pills. This can be normal. If you miss one menstrual period and you have not missed any pills, everything is probably fine. Just start a new pack of pills at the usual time. But if you are concerned, or skip 2 periods in a row, you’re still probably fine, but check with your health care provider and get a pregnancy test. If you miss any pills and miss your period, keep taking your pills, but see your health care provider for a pregnancy test.

Should I tell my friends that I’m taking birth control pills?

It depends. You may or may not want to tell your friends that you are taking birth control pills. Even if you’re taking birth control pills as hormonal treatment for a medical condition, someone hearing that you are taking “the Pill” may assume it’s because you are having sex. However, you may want to share with your friends so they can help you with ideas on how to avoid missing pills. Just think about what’s best for you.

How do I talk to my parents about taking the Pill?

If you decide to tell your parent(s) that you are taking birth control pills, you’ll want to put some thought into how to tell them. They may assume you are sexually active which may cause them to ask you questions that might make you feel uncomfortable at first. However, at the same time it’s a good idea to have a calm and open conversation as they can be a good resource for you if you have any questions or concerns about the Pill. Talk about the benefits of the Pill as well as their concerns. If your parent(s) or guardian(s) have questions, tell them about our Parent’s guide to birth control pills.

Where can I get birth control pills?

You can get a prescription for birth control pills from your health care provider or a family planning clinic, Birth control pills are used for bad cramps, irregular periods, and contraception Your health care provider will check your blood pressure and weight, ask you about your medical history and your family’s medical history, and ask whether you smoke. If you don’t have any medical issues that would make taking birth control pills a problem, your health care provider will probably write you a prescription right then. Once you have a prescription, you can buy birth control pills at a pharmacy or by mail order depending on your insurance plan. In some countries, birth control pills don’t require a prescription and can be purchased over the counter, Your birth control pill may be free if you have health insurance. It’s normal to have a follow-up visit after you have been on the Pill for 3 months to check your weight and blood pressure. Make sure that you make an appointment long before you run out of pills so you never miss any.

Fact or fiction?

Have you heard that if you have intercourse during your menstrual period, you won’t get pregnant?

This isn’t true. If you have longer than usual menstrual bleeding and a short cycle between periods or you bleed in midcycle when you are actually ovulating, you can get pregnant. This means that you can still get pregnant during your period.

Have you heard that if you stand up immediately after having sex, you won’t get pregnant?

This is definitely not true! Standing, sitting, lying down—no physical position can prevent pregnancy.

Have you heard that the first time you have sex, you can’t get pregnant?

Not true! No matter when or how many times you have sex, you still run the risk of getting pregnant.