Your doctor may recommend going directly from one birth control pill type to another while skipping any placebo pills. You may also need to use a second form of birth control, such as condoms, for a full week to help prevent pregnancy.
Birth control pills contain synthetic hormones that are just like the hormones your body naturally produces. The two most common types of pills are the minipill and the combination pill.
The minipill contains just one hormone — progestin — which is a synthetic form of progesterone. The combination pill contains two hormones: synthetic estrogen and progestin. Both types of birth control pills are effective and safe.
Birth control pills work in three ways:
- First, the hormones prevent your ovaries from releasing a mature egg during ovulation. Without an egg, sperm cannot complete fertilization.
- The mucus production on the outside of your cervix is also increased, which can prevent sperm from entering your uterus.
- Birth control pills also thin the uterine lining, which can prevent a fertilized egg from attaching or implanting.
If your side effects don’t go away after 3 or 4 months on the pill, contact your healthcare professional. They may need to reevaluate the medication you’re taking.
The most common side effects include headache, nausea, breakthrough bleeding, and breast or chest tenderness.
Changes in hormone levels are a common cause of headaches. You may experience occasional headaches while your body gets used to the new level of hormones.
For some people, the dose of hormones may be too much, especially on an empty stomach. Taking your pill after a meal or before bed may help lower nausea and upset stomach.
Bleeding during your active pill days instead of only during your placebo pill days is a common side effect of birth control pills in the first months on the pill. Many people experience unscheduled bleeding while on birth control.
If this issue doesn’t resolve itself in 3–4 months, talk with your healthcare professional about changing your pill.
Breast or chest tenderness
Increased hormones can make your chest tissue more tender and sensitive. The tenderness should resolve once your body gets used to your pill’s hormones.
Birth control pills raise your level of certain hormones. For some people, their bodies can absorb this change in hormones without any unwanted side effects. But this isn’t the case for everyone.
Side effects of birth control are rarely severe. In most cases, the side effects will go away once the body has a few monthly cycles to adjust to the higher levels of hormones. This usually takes about 3–4 months.
If you’re still experiencing side effects after 3 or 4 months or your side effects become more severe, make an appointment with your healthcare professional.
Many people can find a birth control pill that doesn’t cause problems and is easy to take. Don’t give up if the first pill you try doesn’t work well for you.
When you and your prescribing doctor decide it’s time to switch pills, you should keep a few things in mind. Make sure you discuss each of these topics with your clinician before you fill the prescription.
How to transition
When switching between pills, most healthcare professionals recommend that you go straight from one pill type to another with no gap or placebo pills in between.
This way, your level of hormones doesn’t have a chance to drop, and ovulation cannot occur.
The backup plan
If you go straight from one pill to another without a gap, you may not need to use a secondary method of birth control. However, your healthcare professional may recommend using a barrier method for up to 7 days to be safe.
Some providers recommend that you wait an entire month before having sex without a condom or other barrier method. Ask your doctor what’s best for you.
If you’re switching from another form of birth control to the pill, talk with your doctor about overlapping your two forms of birth control. It’s not always necessary.
To keep yourself protected, you may need to discuss how to end your original form of birth control and start a new one.
For many people, the saying “It’s better to be safe than sorry” applies when switching between types of birth control pills.
If it makes you feel more comfortable, use a backup protection method, such as condoms, until you’ve had a full cycle while on your new form of birth control.
Knowing you have this extra protection may help lower any anxiety. Condoms can also help reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
When to take your pills
Many smartphones come equipped with a calendar that can remind you. Some smartphone apps are also designed to help you remember to take medication.
Importance of placebo pills
If you switched to a birth control pill that provides placebos, make sure to take them after you’ve finished the active pills. (Unless you want to skip your ”period” by starting your next month of active pills right away.)
Taking them will help you stay in the habit of taking a pill daily. This can also reduce the odds that you forget to start your next pack on time.
Missing or skipping a dose
If you accidentally miss a dose one day, take two the next day. Most healthcare professionals recommend you take the missed dose as quickly as possible and then return to your regularly scheduled time.
However, depending on the number of doses you skipped, your prescribing doctor may have another suggestion.
Switching between birth control pills is relatively straightforward. Developing a plan with your doctor can help make this transition as smooth as possible.
Once you and your clinician decide to change your birth control pill, make sure you talk about how you can make the switch while continuing to prevent pregnancy.