The type of birth control you use is a personal decision, and there are many options to choose from. If you’re a sexually active female, you may consider birth control pills.
Birth control pills, also called oral contraceptives, are medications you take by mouth to prevent pregnancy. They’re an effective method of birth control. Find out how they work and what side effects they can cause, as well as other factors to help you decide if birth control pills are a good choice for you.
Birth control is a way for men and women to prevent pregnancy. There are many different methods of birth control, including hormonal contraception such as “Birth control pill.”
Women take the pill by mouth to prevent pregnancy, and, when taken correctly, it is up to 99.9% effective. However, the pill does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV (the virus that causes AIDS). The latex male condom provides the best protection from most STDs. Other types of combined estrogen and progestin hormonal contraception include the patch and the vaginal ring.
How Does Hormonal Contraception Work?
A woman becomes pregnant when an egg released from her ovary (the organ that holds her eggs) is fertilized by a man’s sperm. The fertilized egg attaches to the inside of a woman’s womb (uterus), where it receives nourishment and develops into a baby. Hormones in the woman’s body control the release of the egg from the ovary — called ovulation — and prepare the body to accept the fertilized egg.
Hormonal contraceptives (the pill, the patch, and the vaginal ring) all contain a small amount of man-made estrogen and progestin hormones. These hormones work to inhibit the body’s natural cyclical hormones to prevent pregnancy. Pregnancy is prevented by a combination of factors. The hormonal contraceptive usually stops the body from ovulating.
Hormonal contraceptives also change the cervical mucus to make it difficult for the sperm to go through the cervix and find an egg. Hormonal contraceptives can also prevent pregnancy by changing the lining of the womb so it’s unlikely the fertilized egg will be implanted.
Another option for hormonal contraceptives is the extended-cycle pill, which was the first one to be approved. Birth control pills contains the same hormones as other birth control pills, but the hormones are taken in a longer cycle. That reduces the number of menstrual periods from 13 periods a year to only four a year. That means a woman who takes this pill will menstruate only once each season.
How do birth control pills work?
Birth control pills work in two ways. First, they prevent your body from ovulating. This means that your ovaries won’t release an egg each month. Second, these pills cause your body to thicken your cervical mucus. This mucus is fluid around your cervix that helps sperm travel to your uterus so it can fertilize an egg. The thickened mucus helps prevent sperm from reaching the uterus.
How effective are birth control pills?
If taken correctly, birth control pills are very effective in preventing pregnancy. According to the CDC, both the combination pill and the progestin-only pill have 9 percent failure rates with typical use. That means out of 100 women using the pill, 9 would get pregnant.
What are the benefits of birth control pills?
Birth control pills have a number of benefits:
- They protect you 24/7. You don’t have to worry about birth control during intimacy.
- They’re effective. They protect against pregnancy better than most other birth control options.
- They help regulate your menstrual cycle. This can be helpful for women with irregular or heavy periods.
- They’re fully reversible. This means when you stop taking them your cycle will return to normal and you can get pregnant later.
Pills may also provide some protection against:
- ectopic pregnancy
- thinning bones
- non-cancerous breast growths
- endometrial and ovarian cancer
- heavy periods
- severe menstrual cramps
Pills have other benefits as well, such as being safer for women who:
- can’t tolerate estrogen therapy
- are smokers
- are older than 35 years
- have a history of blood clots
- want to breastfeed
Side effects and risks
While birth control pills are safe for most women, they do come with some side effects and risks. Every woman reacts differently to the hormones in birth control pills. Some women have side effects, such as:
- decreased sex drive
- bleeding between periods
- breast tenderness
If you have these side effects, they will likely improve after a few months of using the pill. If they don’t improve, talk to your doctor. They may suggest that you switch to a different type of birth control pill.