There’s a reason that birth control pills have been one of the most popular forms of contraception for decades. (Yes, decades! The pill was legalized in the U.S. way back in the 1960s.) During their childbearing years, many women opt to use oral contraceptives as a way to prevent pregnancy thanks to their availability, ease of use, safety, few side effects, added health benefits, and overall effectiveness. When taken properly, you have less than a 1% chance of getting pregnant when taking birth control.

There are a variety of pills on the market, and the right one for you can depend on your individual needs and recommendations from your healthcare provider. The two primary types include the combination pill and the minipill.

Combination pills

The most commonly used pill, combination versions contain a mixture of the estrogen and progestin hormones — estrogen suppresses ovulation and keeps your ovaries from releasing eggs, while progestin thickens the cervical mucus and thins the uterine lining, making it harder for sperm to reach the egg. There are a few options and factors to consider when it comes to combination pills, including how often you want to have your period and the appropriate dosage of hormones.

  • Monophasic pills: A one-month cycle of pills where each active pill provides the same dose of hormones. During the last week, you take inactive pills (typically either four or seven) and have your period.
  • Multiphasic pills: A one-month cycle of pills where the active pills provide varying levels of hormones. During the last week, you take inactive pills and have your period.
  • Extended-cycle pills: A 13-week cycle of pills where you take active pills for 12 weeks. During the last week, you take inactive pills (typically either four or seven) and have your period. As a result, you may only have your period only four times per year. Formulations that only contain active pills, therefore eliminating your period entirely, may also be available.

For women sensitive to hormones, low-dose pills are also available, though they may cause occasional bleeding or spotting in between periods.

The minipill

The minipill simply contains the progestin hormone, which primarily works by keeping sperm from reaching the egg. This progestin-only pill can be a good idea for a few reasons: if you’re sensitive to estrogen or are currently breastfeeding, or if you have a personal history of blood clots, high blood pressure, or cardiovascular concerns.

For maximum pregnancy prevention, it is imperative that the pill (whether combination or progestin-only) is taken at the same time each day and that new packs are started on time.

Benefits & side effects of oral contraceptives

Aside from those seeking pregnancy prevention, there can be a number of positives that come from taking the pill. First and foremost, the pill is an easily reversed birth control method if you find you wish to conceive. The pill can also help regulate your period, making them shorter and lighter — or even entirely absent, if you wish. PMS symptoms may be reduced, including menstrual cramps, mood swings, and acne. And some birth control pills may lower the risk of certain cancers such as ovarian, endometrial, and colorectal.

Some potential side effects of certain oral contraceptives may include breast tenderness, bloating, nausea, weight gain, and a slightly increased risk of heart attack, stroke, and blood clots. Skipping pills or taking them late (especially the minipill) are liable to reduce effectiveness, in which case a backup birth control method may be needed.

Contact Beaches OBGYN at (904) 241-9775 for more information or to schedule an appointment to further discuss your birth control needs.