Birth control pills contain synthetic versions of hormones, estrogen and progestin, that your body produces naturally. Which specific pill is best for you depends on your body’s needs, plus the recommendation of your healthcare provider.
Here’s a brief explanation of the various types of pills on the market:
- Combination pills: Taken orally at the same time each day, combination pills regulate your menstrual cycle with a blend of the hormones estrogen and progestin.
- Extended cycle pills: A combination pill that contains both estrogen and progestin, these pills are designed to allow for longer menstrual cycles. For example, instead of having twelve periods per year, a female on an extended cycle pill will have her period every twelve weeks, so only four periods a year.
- Progestin-only pills: Also called the minipill, this birth control pill only contains the hormone progestin (a synthetic version of the natural hormone, progesterone). Like combination pills, it is taken orally daily.
- Low-dose pills: Available as both combination or progestin-only, low-dose pills contain a lower dose of hormones. Just as effective as high-dose pills, low-dose pills are believed to cause fewer side effects.
- Emergency contraception: Unlike other pills, these are used after sexual intercourse to prevent pregnancy, usually in the case of unprotected sex or a broken condom. There are various types, including combination, progestin-only and antiprogestin pills.
What is the best birth control pill?
It’s no secret, everyone’s body is different. That’s why, in order to determine the right birth control pill for you, you’ll need to have an open conversation with your doctor or gynecologist. There are many factors to consider when choosing a birth control pill, including your health history, how you respond to treatment, and your lifestyle and preferences. The journey to finding the best birth control pill for you can often take some trial and error and requires an open dialogue with your physician.
Combination birth control pills
Combination pills are a blend of two hormones, estrogen and progestin, typically taken once a day at the same time each day. The combination birth control pill prevents pregnancy in three ways:
- Preventing sperm from reaching the egg and fertilizing it. Sperm is stopped thanks to a thickening of cervical mucus.
- Suppressing ovulation. If eggs are not released, they are not there to be fertilized.
- Thinning the uterus’ endometrial lining so if an egg is fertilized, it cannot implant.
There are four types of combination pills currently on the market in the U.S: conventional combination pills, extended cycle combination pills, monophasic combination pills, and multiphasic combination pills. The conventional combination pill contains the two hormones estrogen and progestin, and follows a standard dosing schedule. This generally includes 21 days of the active pill along with seven pills that are inactive. This means that you’ll get your period each month when you take your inactive pills. When a combination pill contains the same amount of estrogen and progestin in each pill, it’s called monophasic. When the hormone levels vary in each combination pill to mimic a woman’s natural hormone changes through her cycle, it’s called multiphasic.
Combination birth control pills are 99% effective at preventing pregnancy if used correctly. However, if not taken perfectly, the combination birth control pill is only 91% effective. For maximum pregnancy prevention, make sure to take your pills at the same time daily and start new pill packs on time. If you want to be extra careful, use a backup method of contraception, such as condoms.