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Things you must know about oral contraceptives

What are birth control pills?

These are pills taken to prevent pregnancy. You have to take it every day. There are two main types of birth control pills- the combination pill and the progestogen only pill.

How does it work?

The hormones, oestrogen and progestogen stop eggs being made. This way, no egg is released from the ovary. The real headache with this type of contraception is when you miss a few pills. Or to be more specific, you will not get the benefits of complete protection from an unplanned pregnancy if you forget more than one pill in a week. 

Will you still get periods if you are on the pill?

Excellent query. Whether you get your periods or not depends on how you take your pills. Lets take a look at two of the choices.

  • Hello Aunt Flo / The period option: This one involves taking a hormone pill every day for 21 days followed by the 7 non-hormone pills in the packet.  Okay, so by taking the non-hormone pills Aunt Flo gets to make a dramatic entrance and voila you get your periods. But don’t worry, this bleeding will be far less and not as crampy as your normal periods.
  • Stay away Aunt Flo / The period-free option: Take the 21 hormone pills continuously every day. Once the hormone pills in the pack are all over, instead of getting started on the non-hormone pills, you skip that completely. You start with a new packet of the hormone pills. This means you will not get your period. Any time you feel you need to have a period, all you need to do is have the non-hormone tablets. 

Okay so how soon after taking the pills am I contraceptively safe?

If you start taking your contraceptive pills when you are on your period, then you are safe immediately.

If you get started on your pills and you are not on your periods or even if you are on the last day of your period, then there is a mighty chance the pills can fail. So, you are only safe after you take one pill daily for seven days. 

Are there any side effects when you are on a contraceptive pill?

  • Feeling nauseous
  • Tenderness of the breasts
  • Headaches
  • Change in body weight
  • Spotting and irregular bleeding
  • Irritable stomach
  • Hair loss
  • Sudden occurrence of acne 
  • Low libido

Does such hormone pills affect fertility after long term use?

Today, most career-oriented women do not have the time to take a break and start a family. Postponing conception and pregnancy have become commonplace. By the time a woman is ready to conceive she would have spent a good many years trying all measures to "not conceive". So, when they are ready to embrace motherhood, it is only normal that women get worried about the effects of contraceptives on their fertility and if they will be able to bear a healthy child.

What should be kept in mind is that the ability to conceive is not dependent solely on the impact of contraceptives on your body, but on a myriad of factors. 

Firstly, you’ve got to understand the fact that you have become older now. Being older, poses a greater risk to fertility. It may take you well over a year to conceive even after you stop contraceptives.  Secondly, the hormone levels need to return to normalcy for your body to be able to conceive. 

Some lesser known pill facts

  • The good news about the contraceptive pill is that they can actually help to preserve fertility. This is because contraceptive pills can reduce your risk for developing uterine and ovarian cancer.
  • Research suggests that, such pills can also suppress the symptoms of endometriosis which is a common problem affecting reproductive health.
  • It has also been found that contraceptive pills can make periods shorter and even reduce bleeding. This is a big boon for women who are faced with heavy bleeding and horrid menstrual cramps.
  • Contraceptive tablets also are capable of reducing acne and even regulating periods that were once irregular.

When do contraceptives fail?

Both combined oral contraceptives and progestin-only pills have a failure rate of  about 9 percent. There is an increased risk of conceiving with even a slight chance that you missed the pills.

  • While using oral contracepives, most women forget to take their pill. Some on the other hand, may forget to start a new pack. Such things happen and the chances for an unplanned pregnancy shoots up. Birth control pills only work effectively if the hormone levels are maintained. Missing a dose can cause the hormone levels to reduce creating conducive environment for ovulation.  Having unprotected sex when you are ovulating, even when you are on the pill can result in pregnancy.
  • Indulging in a lot of alcohol can reduce effectiveness of the pill. If you vomit soon after taking the pill, it is as good as skipping it. Being under the influence of alcohol can increase forgetfulness causing you to skip the birth control pill. One way around this problem of forgetfulness is to keep a reminder on your phone reminding you to take the pill at the same time everyday.
  • Medications can have interactions with the birth control pill reducing the pill’s effectiveness. 

What to do when birth control fails?

  • If you suspect a pregnancy, you must speak with your doctor at the earliest. To reduce the risk of complications in the unborn baby, the mother must stop using birth control pills. 
  • If you wish to terminate the pregnancy, it is paramount that you seek medical help to get proper advise.

Read more about symptoms of pregnancy

What exactly is an emergency contraceptive pill?

This is popularly know as the morning after pill. Contrary to popular belief, it is not an abortion pill. This pill is best taken within a few hours to one day of having unprotected sex. It works by doing any of the following

  • Prevents ovulation
  • Prevents implantation in the uterus

Emergency contraceptive pills cannot terminate a pregnancy. Meaning, it cannot kill an already implanted foetus. This pill can only prevent the formation of an embryo or in some cases prevent it from attaching to the uterus.

Lesser known facts of the ‘morning after pill’

  • You don't have to freak out about having to take it the morning after unprotected sex. You can take it the next night or even up to 5 days after you’ve had unprotected sex.
  • The best technique of emergency contraception is not the pill. It is the IUD. Even if a Copper-T is inserted up to 5 days after unprotected sex,  it is very effective in preventing a pregnancy.
  • Don’t flip out if your period hasn’t returned after you’ve taken an emergency contraceptive pill. Your period may take up to a week to grace you with its presence.
  • Don’t fret if you’ve missed a few of your regular birth control pills and have now had unprotected sex. The emergency pill is still an option for you. You don’t have to worry if the emergency pill could adversely impact your health just because you were using regular birth control pills.
  • Okay so you goofed up once and took the emergency contraceptive pill. Now, you were wondering if you would still be under the protection of the pill if you have unprotected sex soon after. Doctors advise to not tempt fate. There is no proof that you are under protection. Using barrier methods or some other forms of contraception would be a wise move at this point.
  • You can take an emergency contraceptive pill more than once but using it instead of regular birth control pills isn’t advised.