Oral contraception pills are a popular birth control method for avoiding unplanned pregnancies. Combination and mini-pills have a cycle of dosage and need to be taken on prescribed schedule in order to maximize birth control pill effectiveness.
How effective are birth control pills?
When consumed in perfect fashion (no forgetting at all, taken according to prescription), birth control pills have a 0.3% failure rate. However, research shows that with typical use (occasional forgetting) the failure rate goes all the way up to 9%. This means an average of 9 women out of a 100 using the pill experience an unwanted pregnancy.
Proper use really is the key here. Pills should be taken diligently, but because of a busy lifestyle or other factors that may be very difficult.
Forgetting is actually quite common. Our own research has shown almost 80% of women forget the pill at least once per year.
How to Maximize Birth Control Pill Effectiveness?
Timing is the most important factor to ensure the effectiveness of the pill. You must take the contraceptive pill at the same time every day. This doesn’t need to be “on the dot” if using the combination pill, but if you’re on the mini-pill you should keep a very close eye on your schedule.
Timing is the most important factor to ensure the effectiveness of the pill.
Take the pill either in the morning or before you go to sleep. You can also mark the days on your calendar or set an alarm on your smartphone. For more tips on how to remember, check our earlier blog post on this very topic.
An American Accreditation Healthcare Commission approved research by the University of Maryland also stated that the perfect time for contraceptives to be used is right after intercourse occurs.
Consumption and digestion of foods and drugs:
To have a proper effect the pill should be absorbed by the body entirely. This can, however, be impacted by vomiting or diarrhea, which can expel the pill out of the body before it has had the chance to be absorbed (usually takes 1-2 hrs).
To have a proper effect the pill should be absorbed by the body entirely.
Also if you are having other drugs on the same day as the pill, they may interfere with the oral contraceptive. Medications of this sort include for example a certain type of antibiotic, seizure medications and antifungal treatments. Here is a more thorough listing of things that can cause birth control pill failure.
It is also possible that laxative supplements such as psyllium may have an adverse effect on pill absorption. If you are using such supplements, ingest them a few hours after taking the pill to make sure and maximize birth control pill effectiveness.
Speaking of supplements, a much discussed topic has also been how some foods and herbs and the phytoestrogens they contain interfere with the pill. Phytoestrogens are dietary estrogens that mimic the estrogen in the body.
For example soybeans, nuts and oilseeds have relatively high concentrations, but more research is still needed to draw any solid conclusions whether eating these in moderation interact with pill efficiency.
Limit alcohol use:
Alcohol doesn’t influence the pill’s effectiveness, but it can affect your ability to remember to take it. If you take your pill and then throw up within a few hours, whether from illness or alcohol consumption, you may need to take another pill.
What if I miss a pill?
With a busy schedule and a lot on your plate, it’s easy to not remember the pill. Or sometimes you just, well… forget. Here’s what to do in those cases to maximize birth control pill effectiveness:
If you have missed one pill or took your first pill from the pack late:
- Take the pill even if it means taking two on the same day and then go on with the dosage cycle as you normally would.
- Take the reminder pills (dummy pills) to stay on track with the cycle.
If you have missed more than one pill between packs:
- In case the number of pills left is more than seven, finish the pack and take the inactive pills accordingly before you start a fresh pack.
- In case the number of pills left is less than seven, skip the inactive pills and start a new pack.
- If you are about to have sex, use an additional contraceptive method such as a condom.
When you have missed a mini-pill:
- If you’re more than 3 hours late, have the pill immediately. Take only one pill even if you have missed more than one pill.
- The next pill must be taken as scheduled (even if it means taking two on the same day)
- Use condoms for the next 48 hours or do not have unprotected sex if you have missed a pill.
- If you have unprotected sex within the 48 hours, you may have to use emergency contraceptives.
It is important to note that a medical professional must be consulted with before using birth control pills and any issues must be reported immediately to ensure health and safety.
Mikko Veräjänkorva is a pharmacist and holds a BScBa in International Business. He has over 15 years experience in pharmaceutical field from pharmacy, medical and pharmaceutical industry. He is one of the founders and board members of Farenta since 2003.
My aim is to write informative high quality articles based on science in way that all of us can easily understand the point. Science and evidence based research is at the core of my writing. The main purpose of my articles are to provide practical information on healthy lifestyle and to provide reliable and practical information about different medical conditions.
Bringing medical jargon to the masses is my mission.