How to switch birth control pills properly
This article explains three ways of switching birth control pills. It also discusses what to consider when switching pill brands or changing between the combined pill and minipill.
Three ways to switch birth control pills
It is possible to switch between birth control pills safely. Below are three ways to do this:
1. No gaps
Switching types of birth control pill can help reduce side effects.
It is vital that a person does not leave a gap between ending one pill pack and starting another.
When switching, there is no need to complete the current pack. It is possible to start the new pack immediately by taking the first pill from it.
Leaving a gap between pill packs when switching birth control pills may lower protection from pregnancy.
When switching to birth control pills from a different method of contraception, the doctor may recommend overlapping both forms of protection initially.
This ensures that a person is protected by the original method while the new birth control pills take effect.
It is best to speak with a doctor to find out whether or not this is necessary.
3. Backup protection
The safest way of switching any birth control method is to use backup protection.
If there is a chance that a person could become pregnant, they may wish to use condoms for the first week or month of a new pill, depending on what the doctor advises.
Using backup protection ensure that a person remains protected from unintended pregnancy while the body adjusts to the new method of birth control.
For most people, using backup protection is not strictly necessary, but it is a good way to reduce anxiety about accidental pregnancy when switching pills.
Condoms are a form of backup protection, and they are available at many grocery stores, pharmacies, and online.
If a person experiences side effects for more than 3 months after starting a new pill, the doctor may suggest switching to another brand.
People may also switch brands with the aim of:
- managing skin problems, such as acne
- reducing or stopping periods
- changing from a combined pill to the minipill or vice versa
- having a lower-cost pill
Switching between the combined pill and minipill
Use condoms when switching pills to reduce the risk of pregnancy.
Switching between the combined pill and the minipill is straightforward.
A person should start the first pill of the new pack straight away. There is no need to complete the existing pack. It is vital not to leave a gap between the old and new packs.
Using a backup method, such as condoms or another form of barrier protection, during the first pack of the new pill ensures protection from unintended pregnancy.
A person switching to the minipill should discuss with their doctor whether or not they need to use condoms as well, as the minipill is less effective than combined pills at preventing unintended pregnancy.
Side effects of the birth control pill may include:
- Headaches: Getting a headache or a migraine is possible when taking birth control pills due to the hormones that they contain.
- Nausea: To reduce mild nausea, a person can take the pill with food or at bedtime. It is best to speak to a doctor if nausea continues for more than 3 months.
- Breakthrough bleeding: Spotting is common during the first few months of taking new birth control pills. This does not reduce the effectiveness of the pill.
- Breast tenderness: Breasts may get larger when a person first starts taking the pill. They may also feel tender or painful. If the pain persists for longer than 3 months, it is wise to seek medical advice.
- Decreased libido: Taking the birth control pill may reduce a person's sex drive.
- Mood changes: The hormones in birth control pills may increase the risk of depression.
- Perceived weight gain: Weight gain may occur while taking the pill due to fluid retention. However, a 2017 systematic review concluded that hormonal contraceptives are unlikely to affect most women's weight.
- Missed periods: Taking the birth control pill may cause a very light flow or missed periods.
- Changes in vision: Over time, the birth control pill may cause the cornea to thicken and may affect eyesight.
It is not uncommon to experience side effects during the first 3 months of taking a new pill. These effects usually become milder over time as the body adjusts to the extra hormones.
Many people find that one type or brand of birth control pill suits them better than others.
No one should feel obliged to continue with a birth control method that does not suit them.
Birth control pills and mood changes
Many people experience mood changes when taking birth control pills. Over time, this may affect their well-being.
Researchers do not fully understand how birth control pills affect mood. However, one study found that the risk of a depression diagnosis increased in adolescents during their first 6 months of taking hormonal birth control.
A 2015 study found that contraceptive pills might alter parts of the brain that play a role in:
- responding to rewards
- evaluating internal states
- evaluating incoming stimuli
The effect on these parts of the brain may help to explain why birth control pills increase the risk of depression, but more research is necessary to understand this link.
If people experience mood changes or symptoms of depression when they are on birth control, they should speak with a doctor about switching pills or trying a non-hormonal birth control method instead.
It may help to set a daily alarm to remember when to take the pill.
Birth control pills are very effective when people take them correctly. However, human error can increase the risk of unintended pregnancy.
Birth control pills often work by preventing ovulation. If a person does ovulate, there is a chance that they may become pregnant.
Ovulation is more likely to occur if a person delays or misses a dose of the pill. Therefore, it is best to take the pill at the same time every day.
Setting a daily alarm on a clock or cell phone can remind a person to take the pill at the same time each day.
If people miss a dose, they should use backup contraception, such as a condom. Taking the emergency contraceptive pill is an option if a person has sex before realizing that they missed a dose.
There is a small risk of the birth control pill causing high blood pressure and benign liver tumors.
However, risks for other types of cancer, including ovarian and uterine, is reduced in people taking birth control pills. Anyone with concerns should talk with their doctor to weigh up the risks and benefits.
People who should avoid taking pills containing estrogen include those who have:
- migraines with visual disturbances, or aura
- diabetes and vascular complications
- high blood pressure
- a history of blood clot or stroke
- breast cancer
- a habit of smoking at least 15 cigarettes a day while being over the age of 35
It is a good idea to discuss any existing health conditions with a doctor before starting birth control pills.
The birth control pill does not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Therefore, it is essential to use condoms or another form of barrier protection with new or casual partners.
Birth control options
There are many different brands of birth control pill. Across all brands, most pills are one of two types.
The two main types of birth control pill are:
- Combination pill, which contains synthetic estrogen and progestin.
- Minipill, which contains only synthetic progestin.
On the combination pill, a person takes pills for 3 weeks out of every month and takes no pills or pills without hormones for 1 week.
Combination pills are also available as continuous cycle pills, meaning that a person takes hormonal pills continuously with no breaks.
When using the minipill, a person takes the same hormonal pill each day with no breaks.
The minipill will reduce or even eliminate a person's periods. A doctor may prescribe these pills for people with heavy periods or an underlying health condition, such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or endometriosis.
Birth control pills prevent pregnancies by:
- stopping the release of an egg from the ovaries, or ovulation
- increasing mucus around the cervix to make it more difficult for sperm to enter
- thinning the lining of the uterus to make it harder for a fertilized egg to embed
If a person decides that birth control pills are not right for them, there are many other ways to prevent pregnancy.
Other birth control options include:
- copper intrauterine device (IUD)
- hormonal IUD
- vaginal ring
People should discuss these options with a doctor to determine which is most suitable for them.
Switching birth control pills can be straightforward. If a woman follows the methods above, the risk of unintended pregnancy is very low.
Although it is not always necessary, using backup protection is the safest way to prevent pregnancy during the process of switching birth control pills.