Birth Control Pills: Do's & Don'ts

The oral contractive (OC) pills of today ain't yo' grandmamas birth control. Last week we went over the basics of birth control pills. If you missed that post, start by reading it here. This tinee tiny little pill has a <1% failure rate. That's a pretty awesome stat, which means that about 1 in 100 women will become pregnant when taking the pill.

Approximately 62% of women report using some type of contraception, with about a quarter of those women using the pill. Yet more than half of pregnancies in the US aren't planned. It doesn't take Sherlock Holmes to see that something isn't adding up. This week I'm going to go over the Do's and Don'ts to help you use your birth control more effectively. 

Do Take It Regularly

This means at the same time every day! Like all meds, the pill is only active for a certain number of hours in your body before it's broken down and eliminated. Once you start messing with the dosing and schedule you lose out on that awesome 99% success rate. It's effectiveness drops down 5-8%, which means that 8 out of 100 women may become pregnant even though they are "on the pill." 

If you are taking a progestin only OC, you can become pregnant if you miss your dose by more than 3 hours. Regardless of the type of OC, you are even more likely to become pregnant if you miss a pill at the very beginning or end of the pack. 

Even if you aren't currently having sex, get in the habit of taking your pills at the same time.

Don't Wait to Take Missed Pills

You're driving to work and suddenly think "Oh crap did I take my pill today?!" Or maybe you don't realize it until you go to take a pill and see the extra in the packet. What should you do? 

Take the missed pill as soon as your remember and and continue with your regular schedule to stay on track. (Warning: this might make you nauseous!) If you miss more than 3 pills in a row, call the healthcare provider who you get your prescription from. Depending on the specific medication they may want you to start a a whole new pack.

Do Use a Backup Form of Protection

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This is key if you miss a pill! If you have sex in the days before or after you miss a pill you have a higher chance of becoming pregnant. Remember, sperm can survive in your vagina/uterus for roughly 72hours! If you're gonna get it on when you're not 100% on your OC, make sure you have another method of protection such condoms or a diaphragm + spermicide. 

While I'm all for taking the morning after pill when you need to, try not to make it a habit. Not only will that get pricey (50 to 75 bucks a pop) but it's a risky habit to have unprotected sex and then think you can prevent pregnancy by taking something hours/days later. 

Did you know... That antibiotics make the pill less effective? This is called an interaction effect and can occur with other medications as well. Talk to your healthcare provider or pharmacist about how the medications you take may be working (or not!) together. 

Don't Wait to See Your Doctor If... 

- You are horrible about taking the pill regularly/on time. Thanks to the advances in medicine there are plenty of ways to prevent pregnancy for the forgetful ladies. Don't wait another year to see your gyno/PCP for a physical to bring this up. Be proactive now! 

- You experience the following side effects: blurred vision, severe stomach pain, severe headache, swelling or pain in the legs, chest pain, or slurred speech. Not to sound like an infommercial, but these could be warning signs of a more serious side effect. You can look up the side effects of the pill you take on by searching the name or using the pill identifier tool. 

Bottom line: The pill is only as reliable as the woman taking it. There are many different forms of birth control to consider if you're trending more towards the "don'ts" in this post.  


Current Contraceptive Use in the United States, 2006–2010, and Changes in Patterns of Use Since 1995. National Health Statistics Report, available at

Shifts in intended and unintended pregnancies in the United States 2001-2008. Available at