Note: This article is about the birth control pill. Click here for more information about the birth control patch.
What is Birth Control?
Birth control (AKA "the Pill") is a medication with hormones that stop ovulation (the release of an egg from a person's ovaries). Birth control also thickens the mucus in the cervix, which stops sperm from swimming to the egg. When taken daily, birth control pills are 99% effective in preventing pregnancy.
Birth control does not protect you from STIs
Only condoms and dental dams can protect you from STIs.
Types of Birth Control
Combination Pills (COCs)
Combination pills contain estrogen and progestin, which is the hormone that prevents ovulation. If you start the combination pill within 5 days of the first day of your period, you'll be protected from pregnancy immediately. If you start the pill at any point in your cycle, this will take 7 days. Combination pills come in various packs:
These packs have 21 active pills, followed by 7 hormone-free "reminder" or "placebo" pills to keep up the routine of taking your birth control every day. You'll get your period during the week that you take your reminder pills. The reminder pills aren't necessary as long as you remember to start the next pack on time.
These packs are similar to 28-day packs except that they don't have reminder pills. You'll take one pill each day for three weeks, then have 7 days during which you'll get your period. Remember to start your next pack after these 7 days.
These packs contain 3 months' worth of pills and 1 week of reminder pills. When using this pack, you'll only get your period once every 3 months. You can also use smaller pill packs to skip your period.
Progestin-Only Pills (Mini Pills)
Progestin-only pills don't contain estrogen and take 2 days to protect you from pregnancy, regardless of what point in your cycle you start taking them. Progestin-only pills must be taken within the same 3 hours of the day every day to remain effective. These pills come in 28-day packs and have no hormone-free pills. However, you can still get your period during the fourth week.
Birth Controls and Periods
You can use birth control to safely skip your period.
To do this, you can either use certain packs that contain 3 months' worth of pills with hormones (discussed above) or skip your hormone-free pills and start taking your next pack immediately. This may result in spotting (light bleeding throughout the month). However, this will go away after about 6 months if you use birth control to skip your period every month.
Benefits of Birth Control
Both mini pills and combination pills can reduce menstrual cramps and lighten periods.
Combination pills can also help with:
Cysts in the breasts or ovaries
You can get pregnant as soon as you stop taking birth control. This makes birth control an effective way to decide when you have children.
Are Birth Control Pills Effective? | Do Birth Control Pills Work? Planned Parenthood. (n.d.). https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/birth-control/birth-control-pill/how-effective-is-the-birth-control-pill.