Thinking about taking the pill? Make sure you read this first
What is the birth control pill?
The birth control pill is a hormone-based method of preventing pregnancy. The work by preventing ovulation, which means that no egg is produced, leaving nothing for sperm to fertilize, which means that pregnancy cannot occur. It is a really popular form of contraception, as it also has a lot of other health benefits; however, it is important that you take it every day for it to be effective.
On top of preventing ovulation, the hormones that are found in the contraceptive pill thicken the mucus that is found on the cervix. This makes it hard for the sperm to swim to an egg. Think of it much like a security guard!
It is the used by approximately 16% of women aged 15 to 44 years in the US. There are different forms of birth control pills, so if you have been told that you cannot use one particular kind, it is likely that there is one that would be suited for you. All forms contain synthetic forms of oestrogen, progesterone, or both. The combined pill, unsurprisingly contains both, whereas the ‘mini pill’ contains just the latter. You also have the choice of everyday pills, where, although they last for a month, seven of the pills are inactive, or the 21-day pills, where you take the seven-day break. If you are forgetful, the everyday pill might be better, as you can get into a routine with them.
When used correctly, the pill is 99.9% effective; however, some pregnancies do happen whilst people are taking the pill because they make mistakes in taking it. It should be noted, that although it protects against pregnancies, the pill does not protect you against STI’s.
How do you take it?
A lot of importance is placed on taking the pill correctly in order for it to be as effective as it is; but just how do you take it?
It really is super easy – you just need to swallow a small pill at the same time every day. Many people set an alarm to help them to remember to take it at a certain time; however, there might still be times when you do forget to take it, and it is important to know what to do if you do. If you have only missed one dose, just take it as soon as you remember. If you forget to take more than two birth control pills, you should call your doctor to discuss what to do, as you might need to begin your cycle again. It is also important that you use another form of contraception during this time, to prevent pregnancy. This is because, by even forgetting to take one date, you increase the chances of releasing an egg from the ovary.
It is important to know what point of your natural cycle you are in when you begin taking the pill as well. You might be required to use another form of contraception for the first seven days, so be sure to ask the nurse or doctor about this when it is prescribed to you.
Is there a reason I won’t be able to take it?
There are some medical conditions that might prevent you from taking the pill, so it is important that you discuss any known problems with your doctor before you take it. There are other options that you can turn to if you find you cannot take the contraceptive pill for any reason.
You should not take the combination pill if you; have a history of blood clots, a history of strokes or heart attacks, coronary artery disease, known or suspected breast cancer or cancer of the uterus, cervix or vagina, jaundice during pregnancy, liver tumour, if you smoke or have high blood pressure, if you have uncontrolled high blood pressure or diabetes, If you have lupus, migraines with aura, or if you smoke and are over the age of 35. The progesterone only pill is a good option for most; however, you should not take this if you have blood clotting problems that are not being successfully treated.
Benefits of the birth control pill
The pill is not just great at preventing pregnancy. There are a number of health benefits that attract people to it. They tend to lighten your periods, which is one reason as to why some people want to be put on it, and lowers your risk of ectopic pregnancy. On top of making your periods lighter, it is also really great for regulating them, as it makes them so easy to predict. The hormones in the pill will reduce your menstrual cramps as well. On top of this, you can actually use the pill to stop your period altogether, which is very convenient as it can work around your lifestyle a bit better.
If you suffered from severe cramps, and heavy bleeding during your period, by taking the contraceptive pill, it can really make your period feel like a breeze. It can reduce the cramps that you experience, and make your period lighter as well.
That’s not all though. If you suffer from acne, the contraceptive pill can really help. Dr Gary Goldenberg, who is a dermatologist in NYC said;
“Several studies have shown that the pill improves acne, both comedonal and inflammatory. This is even more pronounced in adult women with acne – and this is the fastest growing acne patient population…By controlling and balancing hormonal levels, the pill can improve this type of acne breakout.”
It should be noted though that it is important to be put on the right type of pill, as not all types will clear your skin, in fact, some can even make it worse.
People worry when they are long-term users of the contraceptive pill; however, regular use of the pill can potentially decrease the risk of some types of cancers, in particular, ovarian and endometrial. Dr Sal Nadkarni says;
“As women age, the uterine wall thickens, which can lead to the development and proliferation of precancerous cells that may eventually become malignant cancer cells…However, birth control pills prevent thickening of the uterine wall, which can lower the risk of endometrial cancer…Women on the birth control pill also ovulate less than women not on the pill. Less ovulation leads to less exposure of the ovaries to hormones that lead to cancer. This leads to a lower rate of ovarian cancer in women on the pill. The longer you’re on the pill, the less the risk of ovarian cancer.”
It can encourage hair growth as well. Research has suggested that oral contraceptives can help women reverse hair loss that has occurred as a result of conditions such as alopecia. This is because the birth control pill can reduce the number of male hormones in your body, and boost their level of oestrogen, which reduces hair loss.
If you suffer from polycystic ovary syndrome, some contraceptive pills can help you deal with the symptoms, as well as help protect you against pelvic inflammatory disease, which is an infection of a woman’s reproductive organs, which can be quite nasty if left untreated. Dr Welch said;
“Birth control pills have been found in a few well-done studies to reduce the risk of PID. In order for any beneficial anti-inflammatory properties to kick in, a woman has to have taken the pill for at least a year.”
Are there any side effects of the pill?
Just like any medication, unfortunately, there are some unwanted side effects from taking the contraceptive pill. As your body adjusts to taking it, some people experience mild nausea; however, these symptoms do normally subside after a while. If you experience this, try taking the pill with food, or at bedtime; however, if it is very severe, or lasts for longer than three months, you should seek advice from your GP.
It can also cause breast enlargement and tenderness; however, once again, this should normally go within a few weeks of starting the pill. If you are experiencing this, try reducing your caffeine and salt intake, and wear a supportive bra.
Unfortunately, one of the more common side effects is headaches and migraines. Again, as your body starts adapting to the hormones, they should improve, but if they become severe, or do not improve, it might be worth taking a trip to your GP.
One of the rather undesirable side effects of the contraceptive pill is, unfortunately, weight gain. Whilst clinical studies have not found a consistent link between the use of birth control pill and weight fluctuations; however, it is likely that this extra weight is due to fluid retention. On average, people tend to gain 4.4 pounds, after they had been taking the pill between six and twelve months.
Again, one of the more negative side effects is mood changes. Studies suggest that oral contraceptives might affect the user’s mood, and can potentially increase the risk of depression. If you are experiencing this, it is so important that you contact a medical professional right away.
The hormones that are found in the birth control pill can also affect your sex drive and libido. This can go either way, either increasing it, or decreasing it, but if you are finding that this is getting in the way of your relationship or everyday life, you should consider discussing this with a health professional.
Finally, one of the lesser known side effects is that it can cause the thickening of the cornea in the eyes. Although the oral contraceptive has not been associated with a higher risk of eye disease, it might mean that your contact lenses do not fit comfortable anymore. If this is a case, or you notice any changes in your vision or lens tolerance whilst taking the contraceptive pill, it is imperative that you visit your optician.