Hormonal contraception is a method of birth control taken orally, in the form of a pill.
There are many on the market to choose from, so if you've never taken it before, here's all you need to know about this form of contraception.
How Does It Work?
The combination of an estrogen and a progestin stops ovulation, in layman's terms. The pill works in four ways to stop the sperm from reaching an egg. In a nutshell, the hormones try to stop the egg from being released from the ovary, and cause the mucus in the cervix to become thicker and less penetrable.
They also slow down the changes to the lining of the womb so that it doesn't reach proper thickness required for pregnancy, and affect the movement of the Fallopian tubes which are the egg's way from ovary to womb.
Pills usually come in packages of 21 or 28, which both contain 21 pills that are active hormones. In the larger package, the last seven are placebos that are there to remind you to complete the cycle. In the last seven days of taking the 28 pills, you will experience bleeding, but this will be your body mimicking a period. If you take the pill regularly, you are protected from pregnancy during this time, too.
Can Anyone Take the Pill?
More than 100 million women around the world use it. However, assessing if the pill is the ideal form of contraception for you is a job for your doctor. Since many factors influence the effectiveness of the pill, your OB/GYN will give you a check-up, get an insight into your life habits and plans, and give you a detailed answer to this question.
Like with other serious drugs, you should NOT self-medicate, so book an appointment with your gynecologist to discuss going on the pill.
How Do I Take It?
The pill is taken orally, once a day. It is extremely important to keep this rhythm, since skipping or forgetting even one pill can affect the cycle and result in an unwanted pregnancy, if you're having unprotected sex. I recommend taking them at the same time every day, having them with you at all times, and setting a daily alarm on your mobile phone to remind you.
Does It Work 100%?
No! No form of contraception is 100% fool-proof. However, with proper use, its effectiveness can be up to 99,9%. A study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology showed that the accidental pregnancy rate with pill users is about nine percent per year.
That means that in a hundred women who are taking the pill in one year, nine will get pregnant. This rate is much lower for IUDs (0.2-0.8%), and much higher with condoms (18-21 percent).
What are the Side Effects?
Like with other drugs, you may or may not experience some of the reported side effects – nausea, headache, dizziness, breast tenderness, decreased libido, mood swings…
One common side effect is breakthrough bleeding, also known as spotting, since the lining of your womb will be thinned, small pieces might come loose and you end up with a little blood on your underwear when it's not “that time of the month”. Consult your OB/GYN if these symptoms don't go away, so he or she can recommend a different form of contraception.
Will It Affect My Body?
A common myth is that you will gain weight if you go on the pill. Around 60 percent of women gain no weight at all. About 20 percent report a gain of around four pounds, and another 20 percent have reported losing up to four pounds. The hormones may affect your appetite, but the pill is not an excuse for binge eating!
The good news is that numerous studies have shown that women report lighter and less painful periods, a slight boob enlargement and clearing of skin problems.
What if I Miss a Pill?
Consult your doctor immediately to discuss a method of emergency contraception.
What if I Decide to Go off the Pill?
If you want to start trying to have a baby, your ovulation will start normally in about two weeks after you stop taking it. Your period should come 4-6 weeks after the last pill.
Not sure about taking the pill? Check out these other forms of contraception.
Let us know what are your experiences with taking the pill in the comment section below.