Oral contraceptive pills are drugs taken by mouth with the aim of preventing pregnancy. It contains hormone and works by preventing ovulation (release of eggs). It also helps in thickening of cervical mucus thereby preventing sperm from entering the womb. It does not cause delay in return to fertility.
It usually comes in a pack of 28. If pills are taken within 1-5days of the menstrual cycle, you may not need additional protection. If not, a backup family planning method like condom should be used for 2-7days after starting pills depending on the type as it might take that duration to be effective.
It is advisable to take pills at the same time every day. If taken as recommended, it is highly effective. You need to ensure there is no break between pills. You should start another pack immediately you finish one.
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General side effects of Oral contraceptive pills
It can cause irregular bleeding and spotting but this improves with time. An individual taking this may also feel nauseated occasionally and have breast tenderness.
Pills does not protect against sexually transmitted infections. Also, if you are vomiting or has had several episodes of watery stool, it can affect the effectiveness of the pill and you might need a back up family planning method.
Pills can be started at any time of your cycle although a pregnancy test might be requested for by your health care provider.
What if you miss a pill?
If you miss a pill, take the late pill as soon as you remember and continue to take the remaining pills as normal even if that means taking 2 pills on same day.
If you have missed more than 1 pill, take only 1 pill as soon as you remember and take the next pill the usual time even if it mean taking 2 pills on same day. Continue the remaining pills as normal.
You need to note that if you missed more than 1 pill, you are not protected against pregnancy, therefore you must use a backup family planning method like condom for 2 days.
Types of oral contraceptive pills
There are 2 types:
- Progestogen only pills
- Combined oral contraceptive pills
Progestogen only pills
This is also called mini pills. It contains only 1 hormone- progesterone. It can be taken by almost all women and this can be started 21days after delivery or 5days after a miscarriage. It is safe for breastfeeding mothers as it cannot harm their baby and it does not reduce breast milk production. If mistakenly taken by a pregnant woman, it cannot harm the baby.
Mini pills does not contain hormone free pills and effectiveness begins after the pill is taken for 2 days. If you forget to take your pill for 3-12hours (depending on the type), then you have missed a pill. You need to follow the instruction on ‘what if you missed a pill’.
Anyone who has had breast cancer or liver disease should avoid mini pill.
Combined oral contraceptive pills (COCP)
This also comes in a pack of 28 (with 7 days hormone free pill and 21 days hormone embedded pill).
It cannot be taken by breastfeeding mothers. Also, anyone who smokes and is over 35years cannot take COCP. This can put them at risk of blood clot and stroke. Anyone who stopped smoking less than 1year ago and is over 35 should not take COCP. Women with breast cancer or a woman who has had diabetes for over 20years should not take COCP.
COCP reduces your risk of ovarian, womb and colon cancer.
If you just had a baby and you are not breastfeeding, you can start COCP 21days after delivery. It can also be commenced 5days after a miscarriage.
You need to note that it takes 7days for COCP to be effective therefore a backup family planning method like condom should be used within the first 7days of commencing COCP.
If you forget to take a pill for more than 24hours, then you have missed a pill. You will therefore need to follow the instruction on ‘what if you miss a pill’.
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