Using the pill is easy: swallow a tiny pill every day. Here’s the info on when to start birth control pills, the different types of pills, and what to do if you missed a birth control pill.
What are the different types of birth control pills?
There are a few types of birth control pills.
Combination Pills (COCs):
Birth control pills with two hormones — estrogen and progestin — are called combination pills. They’re the most common type of birth control pill. Most combination pills come in 28-day or 21-day packs.
You’re protected from pregnancy as long as you take 1 pill every day. You don’t have to take it at the exact same time every day, but doing so helps keep you in the habit of remembering your pill. You can also use alarms, reminders, or birth control apps to help remind you.
Take 1 pill every day for 28 days (four weeks), and then start a new pack on day 29. The last pills in 28-day packs of combination pills do not have hormones in them. How many days you take hormone-free pills are different for different brands. Most commonly you’ll take hormone-free pills for 7 days, but sometimes less. These pills are called "reminder" or “placebo” pills — they help remind you to take your pill every day and start your next pack on time. Even if you don’t take them, you’ll be protected from getting pregnant if you have sex on those days. They may contain iron or other supplements that help you stay healthy. During the time you take these “reminder” pills is when you get your period.
Take 1 pill every day for 21 days (three weeks) in a row. Then don’t take any pills for seven days (fourth week). You’ll get your period during the fourth week while you aren’t taking any pills. It’s important to take every pill in a 21-day pack because there are no reminder (hormone-free) pills. The hormone pills will prevent pregnancy even if you have sex during the week when you don’t take any pills. Start your next pack after not taking your pills for seven days — you may want to use an alarm or reminder to help you stay on track.
Some combination pills have 12 weeks’ worth of hormone pills in a row, followed by up to 1 week of reminder pills. This is so you’ll only have your period once every three months. The hormones will prevent pregnancy even if you have sex during the reminder pill week. Other pill brands can also be used to skip your period by skipping the reminder pills. Read more about how to use pills to skip your period.
Progestin-Only Pills (aka Mini Pills):
Progestin-only pills have 1 kind of hormone (progestin) — these pills don’t have any estrogen. You must take progestin-only pills within the same three hours every day to be protected from pregnancy. For example, if you take your progestin-only pill at 12:00 p.m., taking it after 3:00 p.m. the next day puts you at risk for getting pregnant. Alarms, reminders, or birth control apps can help you take your pill on time.
Progestin-only pills come only in 28-day (four-week) packs. All 28 pills have hormones. You must take every pill in a progestin-only pack to be protected from pregnancy — there is no hormone-free week. You may get your period during the fourth week. You could also have bleeding on and off throughout the month (spotting), or get no period at all.
Skipping your period with the pill is super easy. Basically you make sure you take an active pill with hormones every day. You can do this two ways:
You can use a brand of pills that has 3 months of active pills in a row so you only get your period 4 times a year.
You can skip the placebo pills in your pack and jump right to the next pack, either all of the time or just when you have something special coming up and don’t want your period then.
You may have some bleeding or spotting when you use the pill to skip your period. It’s totally normal and if you skip your hormone-free week every month, it should go away after about six months.
There’s nothing dangerous or harmful about using the pill to skip your period. And it comes in really handy if you want a special occasion (like a vacation or a hot date) to be period-free.
The pill works best if you take it at the same time every day, but almost everyone on the pill forgets to take it sometimes. Knowing what to do when you miss a birth control pill is important.
Here’s a handy tool to help you figure out what to do if you miss a pill. You’ll need to know the name of the pill you’re on in order to use this tool. You can find the name on your pill pack or by calling your doctor or the drugstore where you got it.
If you can’t find out the name of your pill, use a condom anytime you have vaginal sex until you’re able to talk with your nurse or doctor. If you’ve already had sex in the last 5 days since making a mistake, you may want to use emergency contraception.
When can I start taking birth control pills?
You can begin taking the birth control pill any day of the month. However, when you start taking your pill could affect whether or not you need to use a backup birth control method (like condoms) for the first 7 days.
Talk with your nurse or doctor about the best time for you to start taking the pill.
Combination Pills (COCs)
You can start the combination pill at any time.
If you start combination pills within 5 days of when your period starts, you’ll be protected from pregnancy right away. For example, if you get your period Monday morning, you can start the pill anytime until Saturday morning and be protected from pregnancy right away.
If you start combination pills any other time, you’ll be protected from pregnancy after seven days of taking the pill. Use another method of birth control — like a condom or female condom — if you have vaginal sex during the first week on the pill.
Progestin-Only Pills (Mini Pills)
You can start progestin-only pills at any time. Pregnancy protection will begin after 48 hours (two days). Use another method of birth control like condoms if you have vaginal sex during the first 48 hours.
You must take progestin-only pills at the same time every day. If you take it more than three hours past your usual time, use a backup method of birth control for the next 48 hours (two days).
Starting the Pill After Pregnancy
You can get pregnant again shortly after being pregnant, so talk with your nurse or doctor about starting your birth control as soon as you can.
You can start taking the progestin-only pill right after an abortion, miscarriage, or childbirth.
You can start taking the combination pill right after an abortion or miscarriage. In general, you can start taking the combination pill 3 weeks after giving birth, but you should wait 3 weeks whether you're breastfeeding or not. Read more about breastfeeding and birth control pills.
What do I do if I want to get pregnant?
If you decide you want to get pregnant, stop taking the pill. No matter what kind of birth control pill you’re on, it’s possible to get pregnant right after stopping. It can take a few months for your period to go back to the cycle you had before you started taking the pill, but that doesn’t mean you can’t become pregnant.
What side effects should I expect while taking the pill?
Taking the pill may cause some side effects. One of the most important things to keep in mind when starting the birth control pill is that most side effects usually go away in 2-3 months.
Some people have headaches, nausea, sore breasts, or spotting (light bleeding) between periods after starting the pill. These birth control side effects usually clear up after a couple of months. If you still don’t like the way the pill makes you feel after a few months, talk with your nurse or doctor. They may suggest another brand or birth control method. Some people try a few different types of pills or methods before finding the right one for them.
Taking the pill may change your period. It may be lighter and sometimes you might not get one at all, especially if you’ve been taking the pill continuously to skip your periods. Even though the chance of pregnancy is very low if you’ve been taking your pill every day, you can always take a pregnancy test if you miss your period just to be sure.
Remember, you can always call your doctor or a Planned Parenthood health center if you have any concerns while using the pill. They’re there to help and answer your questions.