Updated: 2022, Apr 20

Birth Control Pills – What You Really Need To Know

Pregnancy and giving birth can be so exciting, but only if the involved partners are ready for the responsibilities involved. For the case of those partners or individuals not ready to take this crucial step in life but are sexually active, birth control is considered necessary.

Birth Control Pills – What You Really Need To Know
The image shows the girl thinking about birth control pills. Shutterstock Images.

Birth control pills are among the most popular birth control methods today with approximately 25% of women[1] between the ages of 15 to 44 currently using contraceptive using the birth control pills

Actually, there are many options to choose from, and making the right choice may be overwhelming. Understanding more about each of the available birth control pills is crucial to be guaranteed optimal results in preventing pregnancy.

What are Birth Control Pills?

These can simply be said to be oral contraceptives in form of medications prescribed and taken orally to help prevent unwanted pregnancies.

This birth control method is today one of the most common contraceptives due to the effectiveness and ease of using the pills. We have sorted the various birth control pills into a few categories making it easier for you to assess and determine the best option for you.

Types of Birth Control Pills

The two main categories of birth control pills are;

  • Combination birth control pills
  • Minipill/ progestin-only pills

Combination Pills

Combination Pills

The image shows the combination of pills. Shutterstock Images.

These contain artificial synthetic forms of estrogen and progestin hormones. They usually come in different combinations of active and inactive pills based on how frequently one wants to have menstruation. Some of the types of combination birth control pills include;

  • Conventional Pills – These are comprised of 21 active and 7 inactive pills or sometimes 24 active and 4 inactive pills. While taking these pills, you will have your periods each month as normal.
  • Extended-cycle pills – These are also known as the continuous dosing pills. The packs usually contain 84 active and 7 inactive pills. With these pills, you only have your periods four times in a year during the times when you are taking the inactive pills.
  • Monophasic Pills – This is another category of combination birth control pills where the active pills have equal amounts of estrogen as that of progestin hormones. They are usually used in one-month cycles with each pill giving you the same amount of both progestin and estrogen hormones. You will be needed to take inactive pills during the last week of the cycle and you will have your menstruation.
  • Multiphasic Pills – In this category, the active pills contain varying amounts of estrogen and progestin hormones. They are used in one-month cycles too to provide different amounts of estrogen and progestin hormones. You will need to take the inactive pills at the last week of the cycle to ensure you get your periods.

Some good examples of combination pill-brand names include;

Pill Brand

The image shows the girl taking the pills. Shutterstock Image.


*All individuals are unique. Your results can and will vary.

Express, Azurette, Bayaz, Seasonale, Velvet, Seasonique, Yaz, Yasmin, Natazia, Ocella, Loestrin, Low-Ogestrel, Kariva

Minipill/ Progestin-Only Pills

These pills lack estrogen hormone but contain the progestin hormone. Some women are cautioned against taking estrogen for various health reasons hence these types of birth control being the ideal ones. Another unique thing about the progestin-only pills is that there are no inactive pills hence one may or may not have a period while taking them.

Some good examples of these pills include
Heather, Errin, Camilla, Jencycla, Ortho Micronor, Nor-QD

Making Up Your Mind on a Type of Birth Control Pill to Use

Not Every Pill is Good for you

The image shows the girl is feeling pain in body. Shutterstock Images.

Not every pill is good for you. You, therefore, need to talk to your doctor to help you in deciding the type of pill that will work best for your body type and your situation. The following are some of the factors that may be crucial to consider when making your choice;

  • If you are breastfeeding
  • If you are suffering from other chronic illnesses like breast cancer[2]
  • Age- the combination pill is not ideal for women above the age of 35, especially those that smoke. This is because the pill may have other health risks. If you have a contraindication, any amount of estrogen is risky
  • If you are taking other medications such as the HIV and certain anti-seizure medicines
  • Your menstrual symptoms
  • If you have a history of heart disease[3] and heart attacks
  • If you have had diabetes for a longer period of time like more than 10 years
  • If you are suffering from a liver problem[4]
  • If you have a history of blood clotting problems
  • If you have a history stroke
  • if you have a history of uncontrolled blood pressure

For instance, if you are sensitive to nausea or breast tenderness (some of the side effects of estrogen), combination pills may not be ideal for you. Instead, it will be recommendable to take combination pills with less estrogen dosage. These, however, may cause spotting which is bleeding in between your periods.

In case you are taking other medicines including certain antibiotics and antifungals, it is advisable to have condoms as a backup to guarantee total prevention of pregnancy. You may also consider switching to other birth control methods in case you have used the medications for a longer period of time.

The bottom line for this is the need to have a medical doctor’s opinion regarding your risks and health problems and determine if the birth control pill is good for you.

The effectiveness of the birth control pills can also be lowered by not taking the dosage every day as directed. Once the pill has been prescribed to you by your doctor, you need to take it as directed. Otherwise, it may not be effective in attaining the goal-preventing pregnancy.

How Birth Control Pills Work?

Birth Control Pills

Infograph: How do oral contraceptives work?

The two categories of birth control pills work almost the same way in preventing pregnancy from taking place.


*All individuals are unique. Your results can and will vary.

For the case of combination birth control pills, they inhibit ovulation[5] where a fertile egg is released by the ovaries. This prevention thus ensures that the egg doesn’t meet with the sperm hence preventing fertilization and pregnancy. The pills also work by thickening the cervical mucus as well as thin the endometrium which is the uterine lining keeping off the sperms from joining with the fertile egg.

On the other hand, the minipill works by thickening the cervical mucus and thinning the uterus lining hence preventing the sperms from fusing with the fertile egg. Sometimes, the pills can also work by suppressing ovulation.

The only difference between the minipill and combination pills is actually the absence of estrogen in the progestin-only pill. The dosage of progestin in the minipill is also lower as compared to the dosage of the combination birth control pills.

Are There Risks Associated with Birth Control Pills?

A greater percentage of users indicate that birth control pills are actually safe. However, it has also been proven that the use of such pills especially the combination birth control pills can increase the risk of various health problems.

Though not common, the problems can be pretty serious including such health problems as heart attack, liver tumor, stroke and blood clotting among others. A few death cases have also been reported. The minipills that have only progestin are exceptional in such cases.

While seeking direction and advice from your medical doctor, it is therefore important to open up and tell them about all the medications prescribed to you and all the various health problems you may have suffered before or currently suffering.

There are also a few cases that have been reported where women become pregnant despite having used birth control pills. In the event you use the pills during the early days of your pregnancy, it has been proven that the pills may not have any serious risk of birth defects later on.

Though some of these risks are possible, the chances are indeed very low. It is even said that pregnancy can have even more serious health risks and problems than these pills will! It is, however, recommendable to seek professional medical intervention from your doctor to determine which the right birth control pill is for you.

Warning Signs to Watch Out

Warning Signs

The Image shows the girl feeling excessive sweating and breathing problems after using the pills.Shutterstock Images.

In many cases, birth control pills have been indicated not to cause any serious medical problem t the users. However, in case of the following signs, you will immediately tell something is wrong;

  • Discomfort and pain in the chest area
  • Nausea, excessive sweating and breathing problems after using the pills
  • Severe headaches that come suddenly and often after taking the pill
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes
  • Pain in the belly
  • Weight gain
  • Reduced libido and sex drive
  • Fatigue
  • Spotting
  • Acne
  • Soreness and aches in the leg

Usually, these side effects are caused as a result of hormone fluctuations once the pills are taken into the body. the two hormones in the birth control pills are only meant to suppress ovulation but in the unlikely event that they result in hormonal imbalance, the side effects are likely to be noticed especially when you miss a dose or get late with taking one.

In case of any of the above warning signs, you need to move immediately with speed and talk to your nurse or doctor or visit your nearby family planning health center. You may as well consult with your doctor about any health issue before taking the pills so you can be on the safer side all the time.

Birth Control Pills and Breastfeeding

Birth Control Pills and Breastfeeding

The image shows the women giving breastfeeding.Shtterstock Images.

The most common question many women ask is whether it is safe to take the birth control pills while breastfeeding. The truth is that the pills may affect the quality and quantity of breast milk in your early days of breastfeeding. It is for this reason that you are advised to wait at least 3 weeks after giving birth[6] before you start using the combination pills.

On the other hand, breast milk is said to contain traces of the pill’s hormones though such hormones are said not to have any negative effect on your baby.


*All individuals are unique. Your results can and will vary.

Before taking any birth control pill while breastfeeding, it is crucial that you share your concerns with your doctor so that they can advise on the best option you have regarding your birth control measures are concerned.

In the case of breastfeeding, the minipill is said to be the best since it only contains the progestin hormone only hence safe for you and the baby. The pills also don’t affect the production of breast milk.

Bottom Line

The use of birth control pills continues to be the most popular birth control method due to the pills’ effectiveness and ease of use. However, with the many options available in the market, making the right choice can be overwhelming.

In order to choose the best birth control pills for your body type, you will need to research widely and understand the pros and cons of the various options. The various pills actually have other benefits besides suppressing ovulation and preventing pregnancy.

The available options range from those that will guarantee a clear acne-free skin to those that allow you to have your periods only once a year! For each of the options, you may consider a specific brand of these birth control pills effectively.


The image shows the man is taking pills. Shutterstock Images.

  • Once-a-Year-Period Pills – You may choose to go for these pills especially when you experience painful cramps or heavy bleeding. A good example is Lybrel that helps suppress ovulation completely as well as preventing the monthly withdrawal bleed.
  • PMS-Free Pills – In case you are suffering from premenstrual mood disturbances including irritability, fatigue, bloating, muscle aches, and headaches among other challenges, you may need to consider PMS-free pills like Yaz since it helps prevent hormonal fluctuations in the body.
  • Bloat-Free Pills – Some pills like Yasmin and Yaz are good in preventing cases of bloating by getting rid of sodium from the body tissues and preventing water retention that usually comes with other pills. In case you are experiencing too much bloating, it may be time you considered this type of pills.
  • Acne-Free Pills – Brands such as Estrostep, Yaz, and Ortho Tri-cyclen have been proved to help with cases of acne and other skin disorders. If you need to use birth control pills that will also help you to get rid of acne, then combination pills with both progestin and estrogen are ideal.
  • Shorter Period Pills – Are you in need of birth control pills that will also guarantee shorter and lighter periods? Brands such as Loestrin and Yaz are ideal. Such pills also come in handy for the forgetful women who for one reason or the other forget to take their pills on time.

With the various considerations explained above, it is easy to choose a fail-proof protection plan using the birth control pills without necessarily breaking your bank. If you are sexually active but not ready to have babies, the right birth control pills offer the best option for you.

Image Credits
Feature Image: Shutterstock.com
In-Post Image: Shutterstock.com, jamanetwork.com



Sam Kramer is a Registered Dietitian, Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist, Six Sigma Green Belt Certified, and Certified Sports Nutritionis

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