The oral contraceptive pill is the most common form of contraception, and the most-used pharmaceutical drug around the world. But how much do we really know about it? Besides the fact that it keeps you pregnancy-free, did you know that it also helps treat acne, or that it helps lower period pain? We give you all the things every woman should know about the pill before starting to take it. Read on to know if it’s the best form of contraception for you.
Most pills are a combination of progesterone and estrogen, or sometimes just progesterone (female hormones our bodies produce). You’re supposed to take it every day starting from the fifth day of your period for a cycle that is about 21 days long. These hormones stop the egg that is produced every month from leaving the ovaries. Since no egg leaves it, there is no chance of fertilization or pregnancy. It’s NOT something you can start taking on your own; you need to discuss with your doctor and ask for a prescription based on your medical (specifically, gynaecological) history.
You’re supposed to take the pill every day at the same time; if you do so without skipping a dose then it is 99% effective in keeping you safe from getting pregnant, which is higher than the effective rate of condoms. Skipping one dose a month won’t increase your chances of getting pregnant, but skipping more than that will. So, basically, you cannot forget to take it no matter how hectic your schedule is. We suggest setting an alarm on your phone to ensure that you never miss a day.
There are plenty of pills available in the market, each with varying combinations of estrogen and progesterone. That’s why you should consult a medical practitioner who will prescribe you with one that is suited for you. The ratio of the hormones can sometimes contribute to side effects in some women, while others feel nothing at all. They can include nausea, bloating and tender breasts, though this can settle down after the first couple months of use. If you experience any side effects, you don’t need to go off the pill completely - you can speak to your doctor and try another one with less estrogen in it. Increased levels of estrogen also increase your risk of blood clots, especially in smokers - which is just another reason to add cigarettes to the quit-list.
The pill can be prescribed not just to avoid pregnancy but also to keep your hormones in check, especially in the case of those with PCOS/ PCOD (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome/ Disease) and endometriosis. It also helps treat acne as it lowers testosterone levels that cause those pesky breakouts. You can also take it to help regulate your periods and monthly cycle. Plus women on the pill tend to experience much less painful periods than women who aren’t on it.
The World Health Organization (WHO) lists birth control pills as carcinogenic (cancer-causing agent), as studies have found that it increases the risk of certain cancers, including breast cancer. However, there are no confirmations that it definitely causes cancer. Also, you’re only at risk if you take it for over 3 years. There’s no increased risk if you’re on it for less than that period. Plus, while it may be linked to certain cancers, the pill also helps lower your chances of ovarian and endometrial cancers.
A lot of people think that you need to get off the pill a good 3 to 6 months before you want to get pregnant. But in reality, the effects wear off as soon as you stop taking it. The hormones leave your bloodstream easily, so you really don’t need to worry about waiting for months. However, doctors may suggest waiting for a while after getting off it as it can deplete your body of essential vitamins and minerals like zinc. It’s best to take a multivitamin with it and follow a healthy diet that is rich in nutritional value.
The morning-after pill is an emergency contraceptive method and should only be used sparingly, in case of an emergency (like a condom breaking). It contains a lot of hormones and can lead to negative side effects and period problems if taken regularly. Some say that they it can even lead to complications in conceiving if you have swallowed it a number of times. Save yourself the hassle later on in life and stick to normal contraceptive pills instead of resorting to I-pill, Plan B, etc.