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Birth control pills are drugs that can stop ovulation and thicken the cervical mucus to prevent pregnany. Some may be suitable for people with health conditions, but they may also cause side effects or increase the risk of some cancers.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note that over 65% of females in the United States made use of birth control between 2017-2019. 14% used contraceptive pills.

This article explores birth control pills and the different types. It also provides a list of online platforms where birth control pills are available.

Learn more about the birth control pill here.

In the U.S., birth control pills are the most common form of contraception.

A person takes one birth control pill daily, containing hormones preventing ovulation. They can also thicken cervical mucus to prevent sperm from reaching an egg.

Some pills, such as those containing levonorgestrel or ulipristal, can prevent pregnancy if a person takes them as soon as possible after having sex without other forms of contraception. The sooner a person takes emergency contraception, the more effective it can be. Emergency contraceptive pills do not have any effect on an already established pregnancy.

Learn more about emergency contraception here.

Birth control pills are suitable for individuals having penetrative sex that do not wish to become pregnant.

They may also suit people who:

  • need a reversible option, as they can conceive once they stop taking the pill.
  • wish to reduce acne breakouts and premenstrual syndrome (PMS) episodes
  • regulate their menstrual cycle
  • are looking for a convenient option, as the pills are small and easy to carry

Birth control pills may also be an option for those with a lower budget. Insurance providers may pay for part or all of the cost of contraceptives, and some organizations may provide free birth control.

Learn how to get free or low cost birth control here.

Combination pills are usually the first thing a doctor would consider prescribing to a person.

This pill contains both estrogen and progestin. Estrogen prevents the eggs from developing, and progestin prevents ovulation and helps thicken the cervical mucus.

Combination pills are either monophasic or multiphasic. Monophasic means that each active pill has the same dose of estrogen and progestin; multiphasic means that each hormone’s dose varies weekly.

There are several ways of taking combination pills:

Conventional dosing

There are two conventional ways of taking combination pills, depending on whether the brand contains placebo pills.

The pill without placebo pills will usually consist of 21-day packs. A person takes one pill for 21 days and then does not take any for the next seven days. People will often experience breakthrough bleeding during pill-free days.

28-day packs also contain placebo pills. People take one pill daily for 28 days and immediately start another 28-day pack on the 29th day. The last few pills in each 28-day pack are placebo pills.

Some brands offer 91-day packs. People will take 12 weeks of active pills, followed by one week of placebo pills, before resuming the next pack of active pills.

Learn more about placebo pills in birth control here.

Continuous dosing

Continuous dosing means only taking active pills with no break between packs.

While monophasic and multiphasic pills are suitable for continuous dosing, healthcare professionals are most likely to recommend monophasic ones.

The main side effect of this method is unwanted breakthrough bleeding.

The progestin in these pills works by thickening the cervical wall, thinning the uterine lining, and stopping ovulation.

People take this pill once every day, without breaks, to protect from unintentional pregnancy. It is important to take it at the same time every day to ensure its effectiveness. If a person forgets or misses their next dose, they should use another method of contraception, such as condoms, for the next 48 hours.

The following are some advantages and disadvantages of combination pills:


  • Some brands of combination pill have FDA approval to treat acne.
  • These pills are suitable for people with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and period pains.
  • Combination pills are an easily reversible method of birth control, as a person can stop taking them at any time.
  • Taking oral contraceptives can lower the risk of endometrial and ovarian cancer.
  • People can continuously take the combination pill without breaks or choose packs with placebo pills.


  • Side effects include breakthrough bleeding, nausea, abdominal cramping, breast tenderness, and loss of libido.
  • Oral contraceptives increase the risk of breast and cervical cancer.
  • Missing or skipping pills reduces the effectiveness, leaving people at risk of unintentional pregnancy.
  • Combination pills are unsuitable for smokers over 35 years of age or people with hypertension, breast or endometrial cancer, ischemic heart disease, or migraine with auras.
  • Combination pills increase the risk of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
  • They can increase a person’s risk of having deep vein thrombisis (DVT), a stroke, or a heart attack. This mostly affects those who are older than 35 years and smoke.
  • Doctors do not recommend them for the first three weeks after a person goes into labor, as the risk for venous thromboembolism may increase.
  • They can increase people’s risk of developing blood clots if they have obesity.
  • They are effective when taking them at the same time every day. Individuals who miss four pills may have an increased chance of getting pregnant.
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Similarly to combination pills, progestin-only pills also have pros and cons:


  • Progestin-only pills may lessen or stop any bleeding.
  • Like combination pills, the progestin-only pill is an easily reversible form of birth control.
  • Progestin-only pills have fewer side effects than combination pills.
  • Suitable for most people, including those who cannot use medications containing estrogen


  • While progestin-only pills do not have as many side effects as combination pills, researchers are unsure of the long-term effects of this medication.
  • Progestin-only pill users have reported acne and follicular ovarian cysts as side effects.
  • This pill’s most common side effects are changes in menstruation and irregular bleeding.
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The NHS states that the combined pill is more than 99% effective if a person takes it correctly.

The NHS also says that the progestin-only pill is also over 99% effective with perfect use — meaning a person takes the medication at the same time, every day, without fail.

Healthcare professionals will take any health conditions and medications into account before prescribing contraceptive pills.

Pills containing natural or synthetically derived estrogen may not suit everyone, including people who smoke or those with specific conditions, such as:

Progestin-only pills are not suitable for people who take rifampin or drugs that prevent seizures or treat HIV. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), these medications may reduce the effectivess the pill.

Oral contraceptives do not suit those who prefer a non-hormonal method of birth control. Barrier methods, such as using a condom, are temporary solutions, whereas long-term or permanent solutions include IUDs and sterilization.

Learn more about non-hormonal birth control here.

Many online companies offer birth control pills. Below are some options for a person to consider.

Please note that the writer of this article has not tried these products. All information presented is purely research-based and correct at the time of publication.

Medical News Today follows a strict product selection and vetting process. Learn more here.

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Best for choice: Nurx

  • Consultation fee: from $15
  • Medication price: from $15
  • Accepts insurance: yes

Nurx stocks over 50 different brands of pills, including generic forms. These include combination and progestin-only pills. It also offers emergency contraception.

In addition, Nurx sells other types of birth control such as a ring, shots, and a patch.

Nurx accepts most private health insurance plans, apart from Medicaid and Medicare. How much an insured person pays each month will depend on the copayment set by their insurer.

Consultation fees start from $15, as the price depends on the health concern that a person may have. It is generally not eligible for insurance coverage, and uninsured people could pay around $15 per month for their medications.

Read our review of Nurx here.


  • a wide array of brands and prices to choose from
  • free shipping
  • accepts most forms of health insurance
  • also provides medications for acne, migraine, cold sores, and mental health


  • not available in all states
  • insurance providers do not usually cover the consultation fee
  • does not accept government healthcare programs
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Best free trial: Wisp

  • Consultation fee: $39
  • Medication price: from $15
  • Accepts insurance: no

Wisp offers new customers their first month free.

The company has 15 different types of birth control pills, including combination and progestin-only. They also have two types of pills for emergency contraception.

Prices start at $15 per month.

Wisp ships products for free in discreet packaging, or same-day pickup is available at a person’s local pharmacy. The company also provides medical advice 24 hours a day.

Read our review of Wisp here.


  • free shipping
  • available in all 50 states
  • offers a free trial


  • does not accept insurance
  • one-off consultation fee is more expensive than some competitors
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Best for medical support: The Pill Club

  • Consultation fee: $20
  • Medication priced: from $7
  • Accepts insurance: yes

The Pill Club offers contraceptives and ongoing personalized medical care.

It claims to have over 120 brands of birth control pills available, including combination and progestin-only pills. A person may also purchase emergency contraception and the contraceptive ring.

The company accepts many insurance plans, but individuals may need to pay a $20 consultation fee that insurers will not cover. Without insurance, prices start from $7 per pack for a 1-year supply.


  • available to all 50 states
  • offers free delivery
  • provides ongoing medical support


  • the company may require some states to have a video consultation
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NurxWispThe Pill Club
AvailabilityOver 50 brands15 brandsover 120 brands
Alternative birth control methodsring, shot, patchnonering
Emergency contraception?yesyesyes
Accepts insurance?yes, but not Medicaid or Medicarenoyes
Free shipping?yesyesyes

Here are some considerations when a person is looking for a contraceptive pill.

  • Speak with a doctor: A person should first consult a doctor or healthcare professional to discuss health conditions or medications that could negatively interact with a pill’s ingredients.
  • Menstrual cycle: Some pills may affect a person’s menstrual cycle, so discussing this with a medical professional may help to manage their expectations.
  • Costs: It is important to consider costs with prescribed medication. Some contraceptive pills may cost more than others, and some health insurance plans may cover only part of the costs. Individuals should explore all options to ensure they stay within budget.

A person may experience minor side effects when first taking or switching birth control pills, including:

If the side effects worsen or do not resolve after a few weeks, a person should consult a doctor.

Below, we look at some common questions relating to birth control pills.

Can you get pregnant while on birth control?

It is still possible to get pregnant while taking birth control.

However, the NHS estimates that fewer than 1 in 100 people become pregnant when taking the birth control pill perfectly. With typical use, this statistic rises to 9 in 100 people.

What happens when you stop taking birth control?

Individuals can stop taking birth control pills whenever they choose. However, anecdotal evidence points to some side effects when discontinuing use, such as irregular menstrual cycles, weight changes, and acne.

Does birth control stop periods?

A person can choose to take a pill to stop their periods completely. They may also take a series of active and inactive pills. A person takes the inactive pills seven days each month.

There are two main types of birth control pills — combination and progestin-only. They both aim to prevent pregnancy by either thickening cervical mucus, preventing ovulation, or both.

A person can receive the pills via an online service or an in-person prescription. Insurance companies typically cover the costs associated with birth control pills.