All You Need To Know About Birth Control Pills
If taken correctly, birth control pills are 99.7% effective at preventing pregnancies.
Hormones not only control ovulation, that is, the release of the egg from the ovary, but also prepare the uterus for the implantation of the fertilized egg. Birth control pills, consumed orally and containing small doses of these hormones, have an effectiveness rate of 99.7% — if taken correctly. They work by interfering with the body’s normal hormonal cycle in a few ways: by preventing the body from ovulating, or by making it difficult for the sperm to fertilize an egg by thickening the cervical mucus, or by changing the lining of the womb so that fertilized eggs cannot successfully implant into the uterus, or by a combination of two or more of these effects.
Birth control pills are a reversible method of contraception, and one can ovulate within roughly two weeks after stopping the pills.
They are safe for most women and can be taken until menopause, but consulting a medical practitioner is necessary to ensure that one doesn’t take a version that may react with chronic health issues or react with other medication.
However, birth control pills don’t protect against sexually transmitted infections, which means condoms are still necessary during intercourse.
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What are the different types of birth control pills?
A variety of birth control pills exist, and the specific type prescribed depends on a variety of factors ranging from underlying health conditions, to other medications one may be on, to whether or not an individual is breastfeeding. But primarily, there are two main categories that birth control pills can be classified under:
Combination pills: These contain the hormones estrogen and progestin. Depending on a variety of factors — like which dosage may work best for a specific individual, or how frequently one would prefer to menstruate — one may be prescribed either of the following forms of combination pills:
- Monophasic pills: These are consumed in one-month cycles, with each pill providing the same, preset dose of the hormones for the first 21 days of the month. In the last week of the one-month cycle, individuals are supposed to consume inactive pills, allowing menstruation.
- Multiphasic pills: These are also used in one-month cycles, but provide varying levels of hormones through one’s cycle — mimicking the hormonal changes that naturally take place in the body. Akin to monophasic pills, the last week of each cycle comprises inactive pills, resulting in periods.
- Extended-cycle pills: These pills reduce the number of menstrual periods from ~13 a year to just four a year. This happens because the pills are supposed to be taken continuously for 12 weeks, followed by one week of inactive pills that result in periods.
Minipills: These contain only progestin, without estrogen, which is especially useful for people who are breastfeeding or who have high blood pressure or a history of blood clots. They are also useful for people who smoke, are over the age of 35, or experience nausea as a result of ingesting estrogen. However, they are considered slightly less effective than other forms of birth control pills with an effectiveness rate of 95%, if consumed properly.
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What are the advantages of taking birth control pills?
Birth control pills come with a set of benefits, including:
- less severe menstrual cramps;
- regular menstrual cycles;
- reduced migraines;
- improved acne;
- controled hot flashes while transitioning into menopause; and
- reduced likelihood of endometrial cancer, which is a long-term benefit.
What are the side-effects that birth control pills could have?
Birth control pills, despite their ease of consumption and high degree of effectiveness, can have a set of disadvantages and risks for individuals using them:
- changes in menstrual cycles, either in terms of increased or decreased flow;
- weight gain;
- ovarian cysts;
- mood swings; and/or
- breast tenderness.
Also, one major pitfall of birth control pills is that experts recommend they must be taken at the same time every day, failing which, they are rendered less effective.
Birth control pills can also increase the risk of strokes, heart attacks, and blood clots — making it all the more critical to consult medical practitioners before getting started with birth control pills and not self-medicate.
Devrupa Rakshit is an Associate Editor at The Swaddle. She is a lawyer by education, a poet by accident, a painter by shaukh, and autistic by birth. You can find her on Instagram @devruparakshit.