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Birth control

Taking the contraceptive pill is a very reliable way to prevent pregnancy and is the most common contraceptive used by women. The pill contains hormones which ensure the monthly cycle is regulated and make a pregnancy virtually impossible. There are several types of contraceptive pill available.

Medically reviewed by Prof. Dr. O. Patho on December 17, 2018


  • Information

    What is a contraceptive pill?

    The contraceptive pill is the most common contraceptive for women and is mainly used to prevent pregnancy. Taking the pill regularly ensures no egg is released, nor can an egg attach to the wall of the uterus.

    Though it can prevent a pregnancy, the contraceptive pill is not effective against sexually transmitted diseases.

    The pill also helps to regulate the menstrual cycle, and many women suffer less from menstrual problems such as headaches, back pain and abdominal pain. It can also advance or delay menstruation, and some women use the pill as a treatment for acne.

    How does the contraceptive pill work?

    The pill’s active ingredients are hormones. They simulate oestrogen and progesterone, the hormones produced in a woman's ovaries. These hormones ensure an egg is released every month and the uterine lining is built up and renewed when an egg is not fertilised – a process called menstruation.

    The hormones in the pill ensure no egg is released, and also prevent implantation of a fertilised egg cell in the uterine wall. In addition, the pill thickens the mucus in the cervix, making it more difficult for sperm to reach the egg. This triple action makes the pill an extremely reliable way to prevent a pregnancy.

    When starting the contraceptive pill, begin on day one of menstruation. Then the pill will provide immediate protection. If started on any other day, the pill will not work immediately and will only act as a contraceptive after 7 days. In the meantime, is advisable to use a further contraceptive, such as a condom.

    What types of birth control pills are there?

    There are different types of pill. The main differences are the number of hormones they contain and the way those hormones interact.

    Most pill strips contain 21 pills followed by a stop week for menstruation to take place. Other pill strips contain 28 pills and there is also an extended-dosing cycle version which contains 91 pills per strip.

    • The mono-phasic pill: contains a fixed dose of oestrogen and progesterone. Each pill in a strip is exactly the same. The mono-phasic pill is almost one hundred per cent reliable.
    • The three-phase pill: multi-phase pill and pill with an extended-dosing cycle: also contain oestrogen and progesterone, but the ratio varies according to the phase. There are different coloured pills in a strip which must be taken in the correct order. The pill with an extended-dosing cycle should be taken continuously for 13 weeks. These pills are also almost one hundred per cent reliable, but only if taken in the right order.
    • The mini pill: contains just a small dose of progesterone and is slightly less effective than the other types of pill.

    Does the contraceptive pill have side effects?

    Contraceptive pill side effects are especially prevalent when first used. These side effects are:

    • Nausea
    • Mood changes
    • Headache
    • Sensitive breasts
    • Weight gain
    • Breakthrough bleeding

    These side effects usually pass in a few days or during the early months. Contact your doctor if such complaints persist.

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