The pill is a popular form of oral contraceptive as it is safe, affordable and highly effective when used correctly. The pill is a hormonal tablet either containing progestin and oestrogen (the combined pill) or only progestin (progestin-only pill). The hormones in the combined pill stop ovulation—without ovulation, there is no egg for sperm to fertilise and pregnancy cannot occur. The progestin-only pill changes the cervical mucus making it difficult for sperm to reach the egg and changes the environment in the womb making it difficult for the embryo to attach.

How to use the pill

Using the pill is easy – just swallow a tiny pill every day. The challenge, however, is remembering to take it as close to the same time every day as possible.

Most pills come in a 28-day, 24-day or 21-day pack. Take one pill for 28 days and then start a new pack on day 29. 28-day pill packs will have a hormone-free reminder or placebo pills for 7 days while 24-day pill packs will have placebo pills for 4 days which you would usually take during the week of your period. A 21-day pack requires more memory strength as it does not have the 7-day reminder pills, so you may want to set an alarm to remind you to start your new pack after 7 days of not taking any pills.

Not all pills are the same, so it is important to follow the instructions that come with your pill pack. Missing pills or incorrectly taking pills can reduce its effectiveness and may result in pregnancy. If you are sexually active and have not been taking your pill diligently, it is best to take additional precautions such as using a condom or taking an emergency pill.

What are the side effects?

Most women experience side effects when starting the pill for the first time. These can include migraines, nausea, breast pain and spotting between periods. This usually dissipates within 2 to 3 months of using the pill, so if you’re still experiencing negative effects after 3 months of use, speak to your doctor. In some cases, the pill can have positive secondary effects such as reducing acne, eliminating heavy and painful periods as well as regulating your menstrual cycle.

How effective is the pill and does it impact fertility?

The pill is 99% effective however the same cannot be said for humans. In reality, the pill is reportedly 91% effective due to the human error in taking the pill.

It is a common misconception that the pill can cause infertility. If you wish to get pregnant, just stop taking the pill. It’s possible to fall pregnant immediately after stopping, however, there may be a slight delay for fertility to return to normal. This is uncommon so you should be careful if you are not trying to fall pregnant as stopping the pill is likely to end in pregnancy.

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