Oral contraceptives (commonly known as ‘the pill’) are one of the most popular forms of birth control used by women. Although most people know a bit about the pill it never hurts to have a quick overview, so read on!
There are two types of birth control pills- combination pills, which contain estrogen and progestin, and progestin-only pills. Estrogen and progestin are hormones naturally found in women’s bodies. A normal pill pack contains 21 active pills (meaning they contain hormones) and 7 inactive pills. Bleeding will occur during the inactive pill week, while still protecting against pregnancy. Extended pill packs will only have inactive pills every few months, so periods are less frequent. There is also the option to never take inactive pills and stop having a period altogether.
The pill prevents pregnancy in a few ways. First, it thickens cervical mucus which makes it harder for sperm to swim and reach an egg. Second, it prevents ovulation, which means no egg is released from the ovaries. Third, it thins the uterine wall so a fertilized egg will not attach.
The pill can be upwards of 99% effective but this is with perfect use. In reality, the pill is about 91% effective with regular use. Remembering to take the pill at the same time every day can be one of the hardest parts. Alarms, apps, friends, and partners can all be helpful reminders.
Not only do birth control pills help prevent pregnancy, some can also improve painful periods, prevent endometrial and ovarian cancers, and reduce acne. Unfortunately, the pill does not protect against STDs, and like any medication, there are possible side effects.
Most states currently require a prescription for the pill. Insurance plans usually cover a doctor’s visit and a monthly pack of pills, with little or no out-of-pocket costs. Anyone interested in learning more about the pill, and other birth control choices, should make an appointment with a health care provider to talk about which option may be best for them.
Erica Freese, MPH, Intern