Oral contraceptive pill

A daily tablet to prevent pregnancy.

A short-acting family planning method

The combined oral contraceptive pill (COC) is a tablet that contains two hormones, progestogen and estrogen, and is taken daily to prevent pregnancy.

The hormones in the pill work by preventing the ovaries from releasing an egg each month (ovulation). It also thickens cervical mucus so that it is harder for a sperm to reach the womb.

Contraceptive pills contain hormones, similar to those naturally produced by a woman’s body. The pill needs to be taken at the same time every day to effectively prevent pregnancy. It’s ability to prevent pregnancy depends on a person using it correctly.

It can take between five to seven days for the pill to start working. You can use a condom or abstinence during this time. Your normal fertility will return immediately after you stop taking the pill.

If you're starting to use contraception for the first time, or thinking about using a new method, it's a good idea to have a full consultation.

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Frequently asked questions about the oral contraceptive pill

How good is the oral contraceptive pill at preventing pregnancy?

The pill works well at preventing pregnancy. However, its ability to stop a pregnancy largely depends on a person using it properly. With typical use up to 7 out of 100 users will become pregnant.

If you think you will not be able to take a pill at the same time each day, it may not be the right method for you.

What are the advantages of the oral contraceptive pill?

Combined oral contraceptive pill advantages

The pill can offer advantages as a method of contraception.

  • As commonly used, the pill is 92% effective at preventing pregnancy.
  • Can sometimes be used to treat period pain, heavy periods, premenstrual syndrome, acne and endometriosis.
  • Does not interrupt sex.

What are the things to consider with the oral contraceptive pill?

When deciding if the pill is right for you, here are a few quick facts you should consider:

  • Has to be taken every day.
  • Not suitable for women with high blood pressure.
  • Not suitable for women over 35 who smoke.
  • May not be suitable for women who have migraines.
  • Missing pills, taking some other medications, vomiting, or severe diarrhoea can make it less effective.
  • Side effects include mood swings, breast tenderness and headaches.
  • There is a small risk of blood clots.
  • Does not protect against sexually transmitted infections.

What should I do if I miss a pill?

If you miss a pill or pills, or you start a pack late, this can make the pill less effective at preventing pregnancy.

Missing one pill anywhere in your pack or starting the new pack one day late isn’t a problem, as you will still be protected against pregnancy.

However, missing two or more pills, or starting the pack two or more days late (more than 48 hours late) may affect your contraceptive cover. In particular, if you make the seven-day pill-free break longer by forgetting two or more pills, your ovaries might release an egg and there is a risk of getting pregnant.

If you miss a pill and are not sure what to do, continue to take your pill, use another method of contraception and seek advice as soon as possible.

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Aftercare Advice

If you start the combined pill on the first day of a period or after menstrual regulation treatment, it will work straight away.

If started on any other day of the cycle, extra precautions such as condoms or abstaining from sex should be used for seven days. Take it for 21 days at about the same time each day, and then have a 7 day break.

During the break you should have bleed but it is usually lighter, shorter and less painful than a usual period. On the 8th day, start the next pack (the starting day of the week for each pack should always be the same if you are taking it correctly). It is common to spot bleed during the first pack of pills. Do not worry, it will still be effective.