Birth control pills are a form of hormonal contraception and work by preventing ovulation. They also thicken cervical mucus, making it harder for sperm to pass through to the uterus, and thin the uterine lining to discourage implantation of fertilized eggs.
There are two basic types of birth control pills. Combination pills contain both estrogen and progestin, while the mini pill is a progestin-only pill used for women who should not take estrogen because of a specific health condition. Your OBGYN will talk with you about the best choice for you and instruct you on how to take the pill.
Combination pills are available in 21-day, 28-day, 3-month or 1-year options. Progestin-only pills come in packs of 28. Continuous dose or extended-cycle pills are combination pills used to stop menstrual periods or reduce the number of periods.
Since birth control pills regulate the menstrual cycle and reduce menstrual cramps, many women find their periods are lighter, shorter, and less painful on the pill. Combination birth control pills can also reduce the risk of ovarian cysts, combat acne, and improve fibrocystic breast conditions. The pill is an easily reversible form of contraception and does not affect future fertility.
Most women can safely take birth control pills, but hormonal contraceptives are not right for everyone. Some women experience side effects that, while not serious, can be unpleasant. These include nausea, weight gain, sore breasts, and spotting between periods.
Women with certain health conditions should not take oral contraceptives. Most gynecologists recommend against the pill if you smoke and are over the age of 34; have high blood pressure that is not controlled; suffer from migraines with auras or have a history of blood clots, heart disease, liver disease, breast cancer or uterine cancer.
Birth control pills are most effective when taken at the same time every day. If you forget to take your pill, use another form of birth control through the rest of the pill pack.