Birth Control Pills: 5 Important Things to Know

birth control pills

Birth control pills are great for more than just contraception, but make sure you learn the risks. Here are 5 important facts to know before taking the pill.

(Image via Flickr by Sarah Mirk)


One way to take your reproductive health into your own hands is to choose a form of contraception. Birth control pills (often just called “the pill”) are one of the most popular methods used to prevent pregnancy.

They work well and are easy to use, but no form of birth control is without its drawbacks. Before you start taking the pill, there are five important facts to know about birth control pills.


Types of Birth Control Pills

There are two main types of birth control pills. They are known as combined pills and Progestin-only pills.

Combined pills: These pills contain the hormones estrogen and progestin. They prevent pregnancy by keeping the ovaries from releasing eggs. Popular combined birth control brands include Lutera, Sprintec, and Yasmin.

Progestin-only pills: Also known as the mini pill, this type of birth control pill contains only progestin, which thickens the cervical mucus and thins the uterine lining to prevent pregnancy. Popular mini pill brands include Camila, Nora-Be, and Jolivette.

How to Use Birth Control Pills

Most birth control packs include 21 active pills and seven inactive pills. You’ll get your period during the week that you take the inactive pills. Some other types of birth control packs include a larger number of active pills which can eliminate your period or cause it to occur only once every few months.

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You need to take the pill at the same time every day in order for it to be effective. During your first seven days on the pill, you need to use a backup form of birth control, like condoms.

If you forget to take your pill, take it as soon as you remember and proceed with your regular pill schedule. Use backup protection until you’ve taken the pill on time for a full week.

Benefits of Birth Control Pills

The pill is a safe form of birth control with an effectiveness rate of 91% with typical use. It’s relatively easy to use, as long as you can stick to the daily schedule. Some combination pills also help to reduce menstrual cramps, menstrual blood loss, and acne and may reduce the risk of uterine and ovarian cancers. 

Side Effects

Some women experience minor side effects when they take birth control pills. These side effects can include, but are not limited to:

  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Mood changes
  • Sore or swollen breasts
  • Irregular menstrual bleeding

In most cases, these side effects improve within about three months of starting the pill. If symptoms persist, you can talk to your doctor about trying a different pill brand.


Although rare, there are increased risks of certain health problems when taking this form of birth control, including:

  • High blood pressure
  • Blood clots
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke

The pill is not recommended for women over the age of 35 who smoke or who have a history of any of the health problems listed above. 

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Certain medications, such as some antibiotics, anti-seizure medications, and herbal supplements, may make the pill less effective. In addition, it’s important to be aware that the birth control pill does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Taking the pill can be a great way to prevent pregnancy, or help with other hormone related issues. Discuss your options for birth control with a doctor to find the best fit for your health needs and your lifestyle.


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