Birth control pill

What is the birth control pill?

The birth control pill (BCP) is the most common type of birth control. It is a pill taken by mouth every single day to prevent pregnancy. The BCP contains two types of female hormones - estrogen and progestin. The BCP is up to 99.9 per cent effective if used the right way.

How does the birth control pill work?

The BCP prevents the ovaries from releasing an egg each month (ovulation). If there is no egg to meet the sperm, pregnancy will not occur. The BCP also changes the lining of the uterus making it difficult for and egg to attach itself. Finally, the BCP changes the mucus in the cervix making it harder for sperm to enter the uterus.

Who can use the birth control pill?

The BCP is for all women seeking a reliable and reversible method of birth control.

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How do I use the birth control pill?

Begin taking the BCP on the first day of your period or on the Sunday following the first day of your period. You must take your BCP around the same time each day to avoid unintended pregnancy. Try to take your BCP with a scheduled daily activity such as a shower or breakfast.

28-day packs: take one pill every day for 28 days (21 days of active pills and seven days of “sugar” pills). Your period should begin during the last seven days of that pill pack (“sugar” pills). Start a new pill pack after completing the previous pack.

21-day packs: take one pill every day for 21 days, then stop taking the pill for seven days. Your period should begin during the last seven days (pill-free week). Start a new pill package after your seven-day break, even if you still have your period.

Backup?

For the first seven days you begin the BCP, use a backup method of birth control such as condoms or do not have sex during this time.

If you miss a pill, follow these directions:

  • If you miss a pill, take it as soon as you remember. This may mean taking two pills in one day.
  • If you miss two pills in a row during the first two weeks of the pack, take two pills on the day you remember and two the next day. Use a backup method of birth control if you have sex in the next seven days. If you had unprotected sex after missing a pill, use emergency contraception.
  • If you miss two pills in a row in the third week of the pack, throw out the rest of the pack and start a new pack on the day you remember. You may not have a period this month. If you had unprotected sex after missing a pill, use emergency contraception.
  • If you miss three pills in a row, throw out the rest of the pack and start a new pack on the day you remember. You may not have a period this month. Use a backup method of birth control if you have sex in the first seven days of the new pack. If you had unprotected sex after missing a pill, use emergency contraception.

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What are the advantages, possible side effects or complications of the BCP?

Advantages

  • Decreased cramping and menstrual bleeding
  • Improved cycle control
  • Reduced risk of ovarian and endometrial cancer
  • Can reduce acne

Possible side effects

Minor possibility of: (will likely resolve within the first three months)

  • Irregular bleeding (breakthrough bleeding)
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Sore breasts
  • Mood changes
  • Water retention

Possible complications

Women who have any of these symptoms while on the BCP should go to the hospital:

  • Abdominal pain (severe pain or lump in the abdomen)
  • Chest pain or shortness of breath
  • Headache (severe) with dizziness, weakness or numbness
  • Eye problems (vision loss or blurred vision) or speech problems
  • Severe leg pain or numbness (calf or thigh)

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Remember

  • The pill does not protect you against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or HIV; use condoms to lower your risk.
  • If you have any vomiting or diarrhea, continue to take the BCP, but use a backup method of birth control (condoms) for the rest of the cycle.
  • Call the AIDS & Sexual Health Info Line at 613-563-2437 if you have questions or need help.
  • For more information on the birth control pill, please consult www.sexualityandu.ca