What Are the Different Types of Birth Control Pills?

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first birth control pill in 1960, and it is still the most popular form of female birth control, in the United States and abroad. It’s estimated that over 50 million women worldwide take the Pill. There are more than 40 different oral contraceptives available on the market. The three most common types of birth control pills are Progestin-only pills (POP), combination pills, and emergency contraceptive pills (ECP).

Progestin-only pills (POP)

Progestin-only pills contain no estrogen. Many breastfeeding women choose these types of birth control pills because estrogen decreases milk production, but progestin does not. Progestin-only pills work by thickening the cervical mucous and preventing sperm from entering the uterus. However, it must be taken every day at the same time, without fail, to be effective.

Advantages of POPs

  • Decreased menstrual blood.
  • Decreased menstrual cramps
  • Decreased pelvic pain during menstruation
  • Safe for breastfeeding women
  • Provides an option for women who can’t take estrogen

Disadvantages of POPs

  • Irregular menstrual bleeding and spotting
  • Must be taken at the same time every day
  • Does not protect against STDs

Side Effects of POPs

  • Absence of a menstrual cycle
  • Irregular and/or heaving bleeding
  • Abdominal pain
  • Headache

Combination Pills

The most common types of birth control pills are combination pills, containing both estrogen and progestin. Combination pills can be placed in three different categories – monophasic, multiphasic, and continuous use.

  • Monophasic Birth Control Pills – These pills come in a pack of 28 tablets. Twenty-one of these contain equal amounts of estrogen and progestin. The other seven are a placebo that contains no hormones. Menstruation happens while the placebos are being taken.
  • Multiphasic Birth Control Pills – These pills contain varying levels of progestin and estrogen, designed to be taken at specific times throughout the month to regulate the menstrual cycle. They were designed to reduce the side effects of higher doses of hormones contained in other types of birth control pills, such as bleeding, spotting, and the lack of a period.
  • Continuous Use Pill – Continuous use pills are designed to be taken continuously, with no break in hormone ingestion. There is no menstruation cycle at all, but breakthrough bleeding and spotting may be experienced in the beginning. Continuous use pills are the newest types of birth control pills, only recently being approved by the FDA.

Advantages of Combination Pills

  • Reduces risk of ovarian and endometrial cancer
  • Reduces risk of ectopic pregnancy
  • Decreases bleeding, cramps, and pelvic pain
  • Lessens the severity of premenstrual symptoms
  • Prevents bone density loss in women over age 30
  • Improves the skin and clears acne
  • Reduces the risk of ovarian cysts
  • Reduces excess facial hair and hirsutism
  • Prevents endometriosis
  • Decreases benign breast cysts

Disadvantages of Combination Pills

  • Possible unpleasant side effects
  • Increases risk of hypertension
  • May contribute to the formation of gall stones
  • May cause blood clots in a small percentage of women

Side Effects of Combination Pills

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headache
  • Irregular bleeding
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Breast tenderness and increased breast size

Emergency Contraceptive Pills (ECP)

ECPs were not created to be used as a regular method of contraception. They are used to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex has occurred. These pills should only be used under the guidance of a qualified medical professional. They are effective for up to 120 hours after unprotected sex, but it is recommended that the first pill be taken 72 hours after the incident, and a second pill is taken 12 hours later.

Advantages of ECPs

  • Reduces the chance of an unintended pregnancy
  • Can be obtained over the counter
  • Can be purchased in advance and kept on hand for emergencies, such as a condom breaking or failure of other traditional birth control devices

Disadvantages of ECPs

  • Must be taken at least 120 hours after unprotected sex

Side Effects of ECPs

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fatigue and dizziness
  • Headache
  • Causes the next period to come early or late
  • Heavier or lighter bleeding during next menstruation
  • Breast tenderness
  • Abdominal pain

Talk to your doctor to find out which types of birth control pills are right for you. Be sure to advise your doctor if you are taking any other medications to avoid a drug reaction, before being prescribed a certain type of birth control.


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