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The Pros and Cons of Your Birth Control Pill Options

The Pros and Cons of Your Birth Control Pill OptionsThinking about trying an oral contraceptive for the first time or switching from your current choice? Commonly called “the pill,” oral contraceptives are a popular choice for preventing pregnancy, as well as reducing the symptoms of some medical conditions. 


In general, birth control pills are effective, low-cost, and simple to use. But not every pill is the same. You have several options, and each one comes with its own pros and cons. 



Combination birth control pills

Combination birth control pills help reduce the likelihood of pregnancy by stopping ovulation and causing changes in the uterus and cervical mucus. These pills have two kinds of synthetic hormones: progestin and estrogen. However, the amount and specific types of these hormones can vary. 


Many pills contain the same dose of hormones for 21 days and then include 7 days of pills without hormones. Others may have different levels of hormones depending on where you are in your cycle. Your OB GYN can prescribe the right type of combination birth control based on your specific health and stage of life. 


The Office on Women’s Health says the pros of this choice include:

  • Lighter periods and reduced cramps
  • More regular periods
  • Reduced risk of several health conditions, such as ovary and uterus cancer, anemia, acne, and ovarian cysts


These pills may not be a good choice if:

  • You have previously had blood clots or have heart disease.
  • You are older than 35 and currently smoke.
  • You’ve had breast cancer or have risk factors that put you at high risk.
  • You are currently breastfeeding.
  • You have bothersome side effects, such as mood changes, nausea, or worsening headaches.



Extended-cycle pills


Extended-cycle pills are a specific type of combination birth control pills. Like others, they contain both estrogen and progestin. However, these pills extend your cycle by providing hormones for three months straight, which means you only get your period about four times a year. 


In addition to the advantages of traditional combination birth control pills, many women find the reduced number of periods to be a big pro for these pills. On the other hand, women on extended-cycle pills are more likely to have spotting or bleeding in between periods. 



Progestin-only pill or the “minipill”


Often called the “minipill,” progestin-only options do not contain estrogen. Like combination pills, the minipill prevents pregnancy by causing changes to your uterus and cervical mucus. They can stop ovulation as well, but they may not do it as consistently.


According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, some pros of this type of pill include:

  • Reduces the likelihood of heavy or painful periods
  • Does not increase the risk of heart disease like pills containing estrogen
  • Safe to use while breastfeeding and right after giving birth


Some cons of this choice include:

  • You have a greater chance of spotting or irregular periods.
  • You must take your pill at the exact same time every day, or it won’t be as effective.
  • Side effects are similar to combination pills and can include headaches or nausea. 
  • You may not be able to take the minipill if you’ve had breast cancer.



Emergency contraceptive pills


This type of oral contraceptive pill is meant for emergencies only. Unlike regular birth control pills that are taken once a day, emergency contraceptive pills are taken one time when other types of birth control fail or when you have unprotected sex.


The Food and Drug Administration says emergency contraception is more effective when taken as soon as possible after sexual intercourse—typically within 72 hours. A few types of emergency contraceptive pills are available to purchase over the counter. But it’s important to remember that this option should not be used as a routine method of birth control.



Making the right choice for you


Because you have so many options when it comes to oral contraceptives, your OB GYN can help guide your choice. Talk to your doctor about whether they may—or may not—be right for you. Even if you decide oral contraceptives aren’t a good fit, he or she can recommend other methods for preventing pregnancy beyond the pill. 


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