Thinking of using birth control pills for the first time? Birth control pills can have many benefits––not just preventing pregnancy––but choosing a brand can be difficult. For your ease of mind (no pun intended!), here is a quick guide to selecting birth control pills.
Step 1 – Learn about the different types of pills
Birth control pills, or oral contraceptives, come in two types:
- Combined pill, which contains the hormones estrogen and progestin. This is the most commonly used type of birth control pill.
- Progestin-only pill (or mini pill) which as its name suggests contains only progestin.
Combination pills usually come in 21-day cycles (meaning 21 days of active pills, followed by a 7-day break), 24-day cycles (24 active pills, 4 placebo pills), or 28-day cycles (21 active pills, 7 placebo pills). Progestin-only pills usually come in 28-day cycles, where all 28 pills contain hormones.
The hormones in oral contraceptives prevent pregnancy in the following ways:
- Inhibit ovulation (the release of an egg from the ovaries).
- Thicken the mucus in the cervix to prevent sperm from entering the uterus.
- Make the lining of the uterus thinner so if an egg is fertilized, it is less likely to attach to the wall of the uterus and create a viable pregnancy.
Oral contraceptives can be up to 99% effective at preventing pregnancy if taken at the same time every single day. However, with typical use (considering missing pills, taking pills late, etc) the effectiveness falls to around 91%.
Step 2 – Understand more about the benefits of birth control pills
Birth control pills can have many benefits other than preventing pregnancy. For instance, they can help with:
- Irregular periods: If you typically have irregular or unpredictable periods, birth control pills can help regulate your periods to 28-day cycles which means menstruation will occur around the same time every month.
- Heavy periods: Oral contraceptives make the uterine lining thinner, resulting in lighter and more manageable periods.
- Painful periods: Women who experience painful cramping during menstruation often produce high levels of a chemical called prostaglandin. Birth control pills prevent ovulation, which also reduces the amount of prostaglandin produced in the uterus.
- Endometriosis symptoms: Endometriosis occurs when the endometrium––the tissue lining the uterus––grows outside the uterus. The hormones in birth control can help decrease the growth of the endometrium.
- Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)
- Acne, excess hair growth, or hair loss: Higher levels of androgen are associated with acne, excess hair, and hair loss. Birth control pills control the level of androgens produced in the ovaries and adrenal glands, which can help reduce acne, excess hair, and hair loss.
Step 3 – Compare birth control pills with other hormonal contraceptives
One of the biggest benefits of birth control pills is that they are discreet and convenient. They come in small packs that are easy to carry on-the-go. Oral contraceptives are also very discreet, unlike methods such as the birth control patch which can be visible on the skin. Compared to other methods of hormonal contraception, such as the injection or the IUD, starting birth control pills does not require any medical procedures.
However, keep in mind that birth control pills also have drawbacks. For instance, you will have to remember to take your pill at the same time every day. You will also need to renew your prescription consistently with your healthcare provider. At Ease, we’ve simplified that process by making birth control pill refills conveniently accessible. You can request your birth control renewal here and get it delivered within 4hrs to your doorstep.
Step 4 – Take into consideration health factors
Birth control pills can impact certain underlying conditions. Make sure to talk to your healthcare professional if you are planning on starting birth control pills and have one or more of the following conditions:
- Migraine headaches
- History of thromboembolic (blood clot-causing) disorders
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Coronary artery disease
In addition, you should also let your doctor know if you smoke regularly as cigarette smoking increases the risk of serious cardiovascular side effects from oral contraceptive use.
Keep in mind, this list is non-exhaustive and you should always disclose all relevant information about your health history to your healthcare professional.
Step 5 – Understand potential side effects
Some, although not all, women will experience side effects while on birth control. These can include mood swings, headaches, breast tenderness, nausea, and breakthrough bleeding. Symptoms will usually disappear within two to three months of use as the body adjusts to the hormonal changes. Not everyone will react the same to birth control pills, and different brands might have distinct effects due to the different formulations.
Have any questions?
There are many types and brands of birth control pills to choose from, and we are here to help! If you have any questions, our medical team is available to help you navigate the process of starting birth control pills or discussing contraceptive options. You can book a teleconsultation with one of our licensed physicians, download our app to learn from other women’s experiences with birth control, or visit our blog to learn more about different birth control options.