What to Do If You Forget to Take the Pill

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Almost all women on the pill forget to take it at some time. The pill works best when taken on time, every day — but knowing what to do when you forget could save you from having an unplanned pregnancy. Here are some general instructions. Talk with your health care provider for more information.
 
What to do depends on the kind of pill you take. Some birth control pills have two hormones — estrogen and progestin. These are called combination pills. Some are progestin-only pills. Most women on the pill take combination pills. Ask your health care provider if you are not sure what kind of pill you are on.

Combination Pills

You could become pregnant depending on when you miss pills and how many of them you miss. There is a highly increased chance of pregnancy if you go without hormones for seven or more days in a row. This could happen if you don’t start a new pack on time and/or forget to take the last one or two pills in the pack. 

You may need a backup method of birth control if you have vaginal intercourse during the seven days after a missed pill. Some backup methods are the condom, female condom, diaphragm, or sponge.

You can also use emergency contraception (morning after pill) as backup. This is a great option if you have vaginal intercourse before you realize you have missed pills. Emergency contraception can prevent pregnancy if started up to five days after unprotected intercourse. The sooner you start it, the better it will work.

This table tells you what to do if you miss any pills from a 21-day or 28-day pack of combination pills.

Number of Pills Missed

When Pills Missed

What to do ...

Seven-Day Backup Needed?

First 12 pills

Beginning of pack 

  • Take a pill as soon as you remember.
  • Take the next pill at the usual time.

(This means you may take two pills in one day.)

Yes

 

12 pills

Day 3day 21

  • Take a pill as soon as you remember.
  • Take the next pill at the usual time.

(This means you may take two pills in one day.) 

No

3 or more pills

First two weeks

  • Take a pill as soon as you remember. 
  • Take the next pill at the usual time.

(This means you may take two pills in one day.)

Yes

3 or more pills

Third week

  • Do not finish pack. Throw away remaining pills.
  • Start next pack.

Yes

17 reminder pills

Fourth week

  • Throw away the missed reminder pill(s). 
  • Take next reminder pill at the usual time.

No 

Progestin-Only Pills

You could become pregnant if you take your progestin-only pill more than three hours past your regular time. If you do
  • Take a pill as soon as you remember.
  • Take the next pill at the usual time.
  • Continue to take the rest of the pack on schedule. 
  • Use a backup method for 48 hours after taking the late pill. Some backup methods are the condom, female condom, diaphragm, sponge, or emergency contraception. Emergency contraception is a great backup method if you had vaginal intercourse before you realized you missed pills.

Many women have spotting or light bleeding when they miss a birth control pill even if they make it up later. Women also sometimes feel a little sick to their stomachs if they take two pills to make up for a missed pill. If you do feel a bit sick after taking two pills in a day, don’t worry. The nausea won’t last long.

Are you still not sure what to do about pills you have missed?
  • Use a backup method anytime you have vaginal intercourse.
  • Take one active pill each day until you can talk with your health care provider.

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