What are birth control pills?

Birth control pills are oral contraceptive pills. It is one of the most effective methods to prevent unwanted pregnancy. To increase the effectiveness of this method of birth control, it should be taken on time. If taken perfectly, it can be up to 99% effective. However, it does not protect you against sexually transmitted diseases (STD) like HIV. Birth control pills are colloquially known as ‘the pill’.

What are the types of birth control pills?

Birth control pills are synthetic forms of two female hormones- estrogen and/or progesterone

There are 3 types of birth control pills:

  • Combination pills: It contains both synthetic estrogen and progestin hormones that are naturally produced by the ovaries. These pills are taken on a regular basis.
    • They keep the ovaries from releasing eggs.
    • It thickens the cervical mucus so as to make it difficult for the sperms to travel through the cervix and to attach itself onto an egg.
    • It makes the lining of the uterus thin to prevent the implantation of an egg, if it gets fertilized.
  • Progestin pills: Also known as mini-pills, they do not contain estrogen. It is suitable for women who are breastfeeding and for those who cannot take estrogen due to other reasons. Like combination pills, these pills are also taken on a regular basis.
    • It thickens the cervical mucus making it difficult for sperms to pass through the cervix and reach the egg
    • It makes the lining of the uterus thin to prevent the implantation of an egg if it gets fertilized.

Thus, these pills prevent pregnancy at multiple levels making it quite effective and reducing the risk of pregnancy to a minimum.

  • The 3rd type of birth control is the emergency contraceptive pill. It is not meant to be used on a regular basis and is taken to prevent pregnancy when no other birth control methods were put in place during sex. These pills work best when taken within 72 to 120 hours of having sex; they reduce your risk of getting pregnant drastically when taken as early as possible. Like regular birth control pills, these too prevent the ovaries from releasing eggs, stop the sperms from fertilizing eggs and may prevent fertilized eggs from implanting in the uterus.

Before taking any of these pills it is advisable to consult your doctor to see which of them suit you best.

What are the benefits of taking the pill?

It reduces:

  • Acne
  • Bone thinning
  • PMS
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Cysts in ovaries
  • Iron deficiencies

What are the side-effects of taking the pill?

Side-effects of taking the pill are usually not very serious. They may vary from person to person.

  • Weight gain
  • Mood fluctuations
  • Nausea
  • Tenderness or enlargement of breasts
  • Headaches
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Spotting between menstrual cycles
  • Vaginal discharge

It is vital to note that, if you experience any of the following side-effects, contact your doctor immediately. These side-effects can be remembered by this acronym ‘ACHES’

  • Abdominal pain
  • Chest pain
  • Headaches that are severe
  • Eye problems such as blurred vision or loss of sight
  • Swelling or aching of legs or thighs

These symptoms could be signs of diseases with respect to the liver, heart, gall bladder etc.

What do I need to keep in mind when I’m taking the pill?

If you are using the pill, it is important to take it every single day that you have to without missing any doses. It is advisable to take it at the same time of the day each day. If you miss taking the pill on one day, take two the following day. If you have forgotten your pills for longer than 2 days, call your doctor and follow his advice to the letter.

Keep your doctor informed of any medical issues you have had in the past before he prescribes the pill for you. If you need to take any other drugs while you are using the pill, you need to inform your doctor about it.

There are certain health risks associated with taking the pill. Women with a history of certain diseases have to consult their doctors about it before taking birth control pills.


There are various methods of birth control available. The pills may not suit all women. Talk to your doctor to see which form of birth control is appropriate for you before you start using it.