The pill is a small tablet for girls that you take every day. It helps prevent pregnancy by releasing hormones that stop the release of the egg from the ovary (ovulation). The pill also thickens the vaginal secretions which makes it more difficult for the sperm to travel into the uterus. The pill needs to be taken at the same time every single day, regardless of whether you are having sex or not.
There are several different types on the pill - some have two hormones and (oestrogen and progestin) and are called combination pills while some only have progestin. There are two kinds of pill. One type has two hormones (oestrogen and progestin) and are called combination pills. The second type, has only one hormone and are called progestin only pills. You may need to consult with a health provider to know the right one for you. Remember, the pill does not protect you from STIs or HIV. Always use a male or female condom to ensure you are safe. This is called dual method of protection (pregnancy and STI/HIV prevention or triple protection from pregnancy, HIV and other STIs
Your pill card will have two different kinds of pills:
Active pills: These pills contain hormones and must be taken in the correct order. They are usually numbered or labelled with days of the week. Follow their order exactly.
Inactive/Reminder pills: These pills contain no hormones. You can tell them apart from the active pills as they are usually a different colour or on a different colour strip on your pill card. During the time you take your inactive pills you will usually have a bleed. If you have a 21-day pill card, you may not have inactive pills and will most likely take a seven day break between pill cards.
But what happens if you miss your dose?
Help! I missed one pill. It’s been less than 24 hours since I should have taken my pill.
What to do: Take the missed pill as soon as possible even if it means taking two pills in one day. Continue to take the rest of your pills as usual. You do not need to abstain from sex or would usually be required to use a backup method of contraception (such as condom or a femidom) but using the backup condom provides additional protection.
I missed one hormone pill. It’s been more than a day but less than two since I was supposed to take it.
What to do: Take your missed dose as soon as possible, this may mean you need to take two pills in one day. Continue to take the rest of your pills as normal. You do not need to abstain from sex or would usually be required to use a backup method contraception (such as condom or a femidom) but using the backup condom provides additional protection.
If I missed 2 or more hormone pills in a row in the first or second week of my pill pack, what do I do? It’s been two or more days since I should have taken it.
What to do: Take the most recently missed pill as soon as possible even if it means taking two in one day. Do not take any of the other missed pills. Continue taking the rest of the pill in the pill pack or card. You will need to use a backup method of contraception (such as condom or a femidom) or abstain from sex for 7 days in order to prevent pregnancy.
If I missed 2 or more hormone pills in a row in the third week of my pill pack, what do I do? It’s been two or more days since I should have taken it.
What to do: Take your most recently missed pill as soon as possible but throw away all the other missed pills. Finish the rest of the hormone pills in your pack, but skip the reminder/inactive pills. Go straight onto a new pack and start with the active pills. You will need to use a backup method of contraception (such as condom or a femidom) or abstain from sex for 7 days in order to prevent pregnancy.
I missed my reminder/inactive pills in week 4 of my card.
What to do: Throw away your missed reminder/inactive pill - do not take a double dose. Take your next reminder/inactive pill as per normal. You do not need to use back-up methods of contraception.
With a progestin-only pill, if you take your pill more than three hours past your regular time, you may become pregnant.
If you have missed a pill:
• Take it as soon as you remember • Take the next pill at the usual time • Continue to take the rest of the pack as per normal. • Use backup methods of contraception (such as condom or a femidom) for 48 hours after taking the late pill.
You may experience some spotting or light bleeding when you miss a pill, even if you follow the steps above. Taking two pills in one day can make you feel slightly nauseous or sick, but it will pass quickly.
If you missed your pill and had sex, you need to take an emergency contraceptive to ensure you do not fall pregnant. Emergency contraceptives are available at government health facilities, private clinics or doctors and from pharmacies. You must take it within 72 hours of having unprotected sex. The sooner, the better.
Content adapted from Planned Parenthood of the USA