Yes, you most definitely can change the time you take your birth control pill. But there’s a right way to do it and it all depends on the kind of pill you’re taking.
Keep reading to find out everything you need to know for a smooth and safe transition.
“It’s always a good idea to try and take your pill around the same time every day,” says Julie Bowring, consultant gynecologist at London Gynaecology.
But you don’t have to take it at the exact same time, as each pill comes with a “safe” window.
“For some pills, such as the progesterone-only pill, this time window can be as small as 3 hours,” explains Bowring. “Taking it outside the recommended time window counts as a missed pill and can result in the pill no longer being effective.”
It can be easier to wait until the end of your current pill pack before changing your time. That way, you won’t get confused if you need to take two pills on the same day.
The exact way to do it, though, depends on the type of pill you take.
The general rule is to ensure that each dose is taken within 24 hours of the previous one.
So if you want to change your combination pill from 10 a.m. to 9 a.m., go right ahead.
But if you want to go from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., for example, just take two doses in one day — one at your usual morning time and one at your new evening time. This may mean you finish a pack a day earlier than normal.
However, if you have a break from the pill each month, you can just finish a pack, have your break, then take the next pack’s pill at any time you choose.
For pills that have a shorter window, like the progestin-only pill, Bowring says, “you may need to make small adjustments over a few days in order to reach your preferred new time.”
These pills can have windows as short as 3 hours, with some safe to take within 12 hours of your usual time.
So what do you do if your pill has a 3-hour window, and you want to go from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.?
Well, you could take one pill at the usual 10 a.m. time. The next day, take it a couple of hours later, and so on until you reach your desired time.
“The contraceptive pill should ideally be taken at the same time each day — even when traveling,” says Bowring.
(But for the likes of daylight savings, you can continue to take your pill at the same time, as an hour shouldn’t make a difference.)
For shorter time zone changes, Bowring advises making life easier by setting a watch or phone “to your home time and continuing to take the pill at the original time.”
“If you’re crossing several time zones,” she adds, “you may need to adjust when you take your pill to avoid the middle of the night, for instance.”
A bit of planning can help in these cases.
“You can adjust the time you take your pill a few days before traveling so when you arrive, you’ll be taking your pill at a convenient time,” Bowring states.
“Switching to a new time is safe as long as the total number of hours that have passed from when you last took your pill doesn’t exceed the recommended time window,” says Bowring, adding that a safe way to switch is to always bring “your next pill forward, rather than delaying it.”
But if you’ve missed the window or don’t want to go down the gradual route, you’ll need a secondary form of contraception to protect against pregnancy.
How long you’ll need a backup contraceptive, like condoms, depends on the pill you take.
With minipills, you’ll need extra protection for 2 days after switching times.
With the combination pill, it’s 7 days of additional protection.
That means there’s often no need to do anything about it, other than using the likes of tampons and pads if necessary.
But if you’re worried about menstrual irregularities, it’s always best to book an appointment with a healthcare professional.
While it’s often much easier to change to an earlier pill schedule, you can safely swap to any time.
Just make sure you follow the right instructions for your particular pill type and use additional contraception, like condoms or other barrier methods, where needed.
If you’re not sure how to go about things, speak to a healthcare professional for personalized advice.
Lauren Sharkey is a U.K.-based journalist and author specializing in women’s issues. When she isn’t trying to discover a way to banish migraine, she can be found uncovering the answers to your lurking health questions. She has also written a book profiling young female activists across the globe and is currently building a community of such resisters. Catch her on Twitter.