“The Pill” is what it is termed in the west. There are two different types of pills to prevent pregnancy. One that is taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex and other category are those that are taken every day to prevent pregnancy. In here, we will be mainly focusing on the pills that are taken on a daily basis. These pills alter the way the body works by controlling the hormones released by the body, especially the ovaries and uterus.
How do birth control pills work?
Most of these pills are a mix of hormones, estrogen and progesterone. Here is how they work:
- Some pills prevent ovaries from releasing the egg.
- Some pills thicken the mucus in the cervix region. Sperms find it difficult to swim through thick mucus and reach the egg, thereby preventing fertilization.
- Others weaken the lining of the uterus. When the lining of the uterus becomes weak, the fertilized egg, zygote cannot be held in the uterus and falls off. (Kind of very early abortion).
What is the course of birth control pills?
There are various types of birth control pills and each of them works in its own way.
- The 21 day pill pack – These are taken from day 1 after the periods. The pill has to be taken continuously for 21 days (each one per day). After the 21st day, a break for 7 days has to be given. During this break, the woman gets her periods.
- The 28 day pill pack – These are to be taken exactly like the 21 day pills. The only difference is, there will be 7 dummy pills in the pack (without hormone regulators or hormones) which are to be taken from 22nd They only help to keep the habit running without any gaps.
- Another group of pills work by changing (reducing) the frequency of a woman’s periods. They are to be taken every day for 12 weeks with a gap of 7 days. In this gap, the woman will have her period. Effectively the frequency of periods will be reduced from once in a month to once in 3 months.
- The Mini Pill – Usually birth control pills are a combination of estrogen and progesterone. But these mini pills are only progesterone based. They work by changing the cervical mucus or by altering the thickness of lining of the uterus. At times, release of egg may also be prevented by the mini pill. This pill should also be taken every day. A woman taking the mini pill may not have periods at all or may have irregular periods. This doesn’t work as efficiently as the combination pills.
Points to remember:
- Any type of birth control pill must not be administered on your own. You MUST consult a gynaecologist and take his/her advice regarding which pills are to be taken. Your gynaecologist will also explain the side effects of these pills. They may include vaginal dryness, itching and painful sex sometimes.
- Any birth control pill doesn’t stop transmission of Sexually Transmitted infections / diseases. If you are having sex with a new partner or unknown person, it is better to use condoms.
- During the course of pills, if you forget to take the pill on any day, it is better to use condom for the rest of the cycle to be sure to avoid pregnancy.
How effective are birth control pills in preventing pregnancy?
In 90% of the cases, birth control pills work. In rest of the cases, there can be pregnancy owing to different reasons:
- If the woman misses to take the pill even for a day, the chances of pregnancy will go up.
- If the woman is under a different medication that can interfere with birth control pills, that can also result in pregnancy.
- If the woman has any other health condition, the pill may not work effectively.
Side effects of taking birth control pills
- Irregular periods and duration of periods. (depends on which pills you are using)
- Nausea, headaches, tender breast
- Mood swings
- Vaginal dryness, irritation and painful sex.
Some gynaecologists recommend birth control pills for women who are suffering from severe acne or from menstrual problems.
It is important to remember that self medication is dangerous. You must consult a gynaecologist before taking any of these pills as this may affect your pregnancy at a later stage (if you want children in the future). Using condoms offer safer way to prevent pregnancy and also transmission of STDs. If you are not looking for children in the future, there are other surgical and non surgical ways of achieving contraception. Talk to your gynaecologist about them.