Birth control pills
Birth control pills are a type of hormonal birth control. There are two types of birth control pills––combination and progestin-only. Combination pills contain the hormones estrogen and progestin, while the latter only contain progestin. They are each up to 99% effective at preventing pregnancy. Combination pills will often contain inactive (placebo) pills or have a pill-free week for you to get your withdrawal bleed. Progestin-only pills do not contain inactive pills, and you should take your pill every day and start a new pack as soon as you finish your current one.
These hormones work in tandem to prevent pregnancy in three key ways:
- Stopping your ovaries from releasing eggs
- Thickening cervical mucus
- Thinning the uterine lining
This ensures that there is no chance of an egg being released, and in the very rare chance that it does, there are two additional layers of protection: thicker cervical mucus prevents sperm from reaching the egg, and if that fails, a thinner uterine lining will prevent any fertilized egg from attaching.
Some users may experience side effects after starting birth control pills, but these are usually mild and subside within 2-3 months as the body adjusts to hormonal changes. Common side effects include headache, nausea, and breast tenderness.
Emergency contraception or “Plan B” contains either levonorgestrel or ulipristal acetate, which are hormones that delay ovulation. EC will not work if you are already pregnant––meaning a fertilized egg has attached to the uterine wall. Instead, EC primarily works by delaying or preventing ovulation and reducing the chance of sperm reaching and fertilizing an egg.
EC be anywhere from 75% to 95% effective at preventing pregnancy if taken within 3 to 5 days after unprotected sex. You should take EC as soon as possible after having unprotected sex to maximize its effectiveness.
After taking emergency contraception, you may experience side effects such as nausea, vomiting, fatigue, headache, and abdominal cramps. EC can also cause changes to your menstrual cycle––your next period may be up to a week late, and you may experience heavier bleeding.
Benefits of taking birth control rather than emergency contraception
EC is intended for backup contraception only, and you should not use it as your primary method of birth control. EC is less reliable than methods such as the birth control pills: EC has an efficacy rate between 75% and 95%, while BCP are up to 99% effective. You should use a reliable method of contraception as your primary method of birth control, and only use EC if you suspect your contraception has failed.
Birth control pills provide ongoing protection from pregnancy.
Emergency contraception can be useful if your primacy method of birth control has failed unexpectedly––for instance, if your condom broke or slipped off during sex. However, you should not use it as a substitute for birth control pills. Unlike EC, birth control pills will provide ongoing protection against pregnancy as long as you are taking your doses consistently and correctly,
Birth control is a significantly more reliable method of contraception.
Emergency contraception prevents pregnancy after having unprotected sex and its effectiveness can vary greatly depending on when you take it and at what point of your cycle you’re in (if you have or haven’t ovulated). Meanwhile, birth control pills provide ongoing protection and are up to 99% effective.
Birth control pills are more cost-effective and cause less side effects.
Each time you take EC, you are likely to experience side effects which can be uncomfortable and may disrupt daily activities. Meanwhile, side effects from birth control pills––if you experience them at all––are usually mild and subside within 2 to 3 months as your body adjusts to the hormonal changes. You will also find that obtaining EC multiple times a month is generally far more costly than obtaining a regular BCP prescription.
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 or you’re unsure about how to get started, 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.