The Pill

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT:

What is the birth control pill?

  • The birth control pill (the pill) is taken orally (by mouth) by females to prevent pregnancy.
  • It contains artificial hormones similar to the natural hormones that already exist in a female’s body.

How does the pill work?

  • The pill stops your ovaries from releasing an ovum (egg cell) each month. If there is no egg cell, you cannot get pregnant.
  • The pill makes the cervical mucous thicker. This makes it harder for sperm to get into the uterus.
  • The pill makes the lining of the uterus thinner so it is harder for a fertilized egg to stick to the uterus. Even if an egg is fertilized, it will not continue to grow.

Does the pill protect me from STIs and HIV?

  • No. Using safer sex supplies every time you have sex reduces the risk of getting an STI (sexually transmitted infection) or HIV infection.
  • Consider getting tested regularly for STIs and HIV.

Where can I get the pill?

You can get the pill or a prescription from:

  • Your health care provider
  • A teen clinic if you are under 22 years old
  • A walk-in clinic
  • A community health clinic

How do I use the pill?

Your health care provider will tell you when and how to start the pill. Birth control pills come in packs of 21 or 28. The first 21 pills in both types of packs contain hormones. In the 28 pack, the last 7 pills don’t contain hormones. They are only there to help you to remember to take a pill every day.

  • When you first start taking the pill, use a birth control back up method, such as condoms, for 14 days.
  • Take 1 pill every day at the same time of day.
  • Take the pill orally (swallow it).
  • Follow the directions on the package to take the pills in the correct order.
  • Finish the package.
  • If you have a 21 pack, start a new pack of pills after 7 days off.
  • If you have a 28 pack, start a new pack of pills when the last pill is finished.

You will get your period during the 7 days off (if you are taking the 21 pack) or while you are taking the last 7 pills of the 28 pack. It may not start immediately. If you are taking the 21 pack, you cannot get pregnant during the week you are not taking the pills, unless you have not taken your pills correctly.

Will the pill affect my period?

  • The birth control pill should help make your period become more predictable.
  • You may not bleed as much.
  • Your cramps may feel lighter.

Does anything stop the pill from working?

  • Throwing up or having diarrhea up to two hours after you take your pill may mean that dose won’t work. Talk to your health care provider as soon as you can, or call Health Links at (204) 788-8200 or toll-free 1-888-315-9257 to ask what to do. To be safe, it is a good idea to to use another method of birth control such as condoms for the rest of your pill package.
  • Some prescriptions or drugs can stop the pill from working. If you take any other prescriptions or drugs, tell your health care provider or pharmacist about these so they can tell you if this is a problem and make a plan that is good for you.

How effective is the pill?

  • When used correctly, the pill prevents pregnancy 97-99% of the time.
  • You must take one pill every day at the same time.

Are there any side effects?

When you begin taking the pill you may feel some minor side effects. If they are very uncomfortable or last longer than a few months, talk to your health care provider.

Some common minor side effects include:

  • Nausea (feeling sick to the stomach). Sometimes taking the pill with food or before bedtime helps get rid of nausea
  • Sore breasts
  • Bleeding between periods
  • Very light or missed periods

Some uncommon minor side effects include:

  • Headaches
  • Mood swings or depression
  • Weight change
  • Less interest in sex
  • Acne (pimples)
  • Increased hair growth

Serious side-effects:

A very small number of users suffer more serious side-effects. These include heart attacks, strokes, blood clots in veins, high blood pressure, gallbladder disease, liver tumors, and migraine headaches.

See a doctor immediately if you have:

  • Severe abdominal (stomach) pain
  • Severe chest pain or breathing problems
  • Severe headache, dizziness
  • Weakness or numbness in any part of your body
  • Eye problems (vision loss or blurring)
  • Speech problems
  • Severe leg pain (calf or thigh)
  • Jaundice (yellow skin)

Your health care provider will help you decide if you should take the pill.

What if I miss a pill?

If you miss one pill in the first 7 days of your pack:

  • Take it as soon as you remember it. Take your next pill at your regular time. It is okay to take two together if you do not remember until the next day.
  • If you have penis-vagina sex over the next 7 days you might get pregnant – consider not having sex, having others types of sex, or using other birth control methods such as condoms to avoid pregnancy.
  • If you forget to take a pill, you may start to bleed (spotting). This is normal. Continue taking your pills.
  • If you think you may have had penis-vagina sex without taking your pills correctly, consider calling your health care provider to discuss taking emergency contraception (ECP). You can also get ECP right away at a pharmacy. The sooner ECP is taken, the more effective it will be.

If you miss one pill in the day 8 – 21 section in your pack:

  • Take a pill right away and then take the next pill at your regular time.
  • Continue your pack of pills.

If you miss two or more pills or are late starting a new pack:

  • Talk to your health care provider or pharmacist to discuss taking emergency contraception and how to start a new pack of pills.
  • Consider not having penis-vagina sex, or using other methods of birth control such as condoms for the next 14 days.

Some people will initially feel nauseated on the pill, but vomiting is rare. If you vomit within one hour of taking a pill, you must take another pill. The pill may not be absorbed if you have persistent vomiting or diarrhea. Use condoms until your symptoms are gone and until you have been on a new pack of pills for one week. Call your health care provider if you have any questions.

What if I miss my period?

  • Sometimes you can miss a period even if you have taken all your pills the right way. This can be a normal side effect of the pill, or you might be pregnant. Keep taking your pills and consider having a pregnancy test to find out whether you are pregnant.
  • If you miss periods often, talk to your health care provider.
  • If you have missed any pills and miss a period, consider having a pregnancy test done right away.

Is the pill safe for all females to use?

  • No. Ask your health care provider if it is right for you. Tell them about any medical problems you have (i.e. with circulation, migraines, cancer, etc.).
  • Smoking while taking the pill increases the chance of serious side effects.

Remember…

  • The pill is most effective when you take one every day at the same time.
  • To help you remember, consider combining taking the pill with something else you do every day at the same time, such as going to bed, eating a meal, or brushing your teeth.
  • The pill does not work right away. Use another birth control method such as condoms for the first 14 days (see ‘How do I use the pill?’).
  • The pill protects against pregnancy but does not protect against Sexually Transmitted Infections.
  • The pill does not protect against pregnancy once you stop taking it, or if you use it incorrectly.

Where can I get more information?

  • From your health care provider, community health clinic, or public health nurse. If you need a regular health care provider, call the Family Doctor Finder at 204-786-7111 or toll-free at 1-866-690-8260, or go to www.gov.mb.ca/health/familydoctorfinder.
  • From the Facts of Life On-Line: e-mail your questions to thefactsoflife@serc.mb.ca.
  • From a teen clinic if you are under 22 years old.

Glossary:

Cervical mucous – The fluid produced by the cervix (the lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina). 

Egg cell – The female reproductive cell. When meets with sperm, there is a chance of pregnancy.

Emergency Contraception – Medication used as soon as possible after sex, if other forms of birth control failed or were not used. These can be bought from a pharmacist, or acquired at a Community Health Clinic such as Klinic. EC is only effective if taken within 5 days of the sex act. If you can’t afford the pharmacy cost, talk to a health provider at a community health centre for options. 

Ovaries – The female organs that store and release egg cells. 

Uterus – Part of the female reproductive system, the uterus is a pear-shaped, hollow organ. If an egg cell is fertilized with a sperm, it nests within the uterus and a fetus begins to grow inside of it. 

SERC believes that all individuals have the right to access unbiased sexual and reproductive health information and services. They must also have the opportunity to explore their values and attitudes in making informed choices that are most appropriate for them, and have those choices respected and supported. SERC supports and defends a pregnant person’s right to choose parenting, adoption, or abortion.

Developed in collaboration with Klinic Community Health and Literacy Partners of Manitoba 2007
Sexuality Education Resource Centre 2016