The combined pill

How does the combined pill work?

The hormones (oestrogen and progestogen) released from the combined pill stop you from ovulating meaning an egg doesn’t leave your ovaries once a month. When there is no egg, there is nothing for the sperm to meet. No egg, no pregnancy.

The pill also works by creating a sticky mucus barrier at the opening of your uterus. This stops the sperm from swimming into your uterus. But because no egg is released from your ovaries, even if a sperm happens to get through the mucus barrier, there will be nothing for it to fertilise. No egg, no pregnancy.

How do I take the combined pill?

Your contraception pack contains two different types of pills. The first 21 pills are the hormone pills. The last seven pills don’t contain hormones; these are known as “sugar pills”. The pills are different coloured, making it easier for you to tell them apart (helpfully, the sugar pills are the last 7 in the pack).

Taking the pill is easy. Pop one pill from your pack each day and swallow it with a glass of  water. The pill must be taken each day for it to be effective. It is best to take it at the same time each day, to help  you form a habit of taking it every day.

Once you finish the 21 hormone pills, you can either start on your next pack or take the seven sugar pills.

If you start on your next pack, continue taking the hormone pills (the first 21). This is referred to as “running your packs”. You won’t get your period if you don’t take the sugar pills. It is very safe to do this. In fact, running your packs makes the pill more effective.

If you do take the sugar pills, you will get your period. One you have finished the seven sugar pills, start on your next pack with the hormone pills.

You can take the pill however it works best for you. If you decide to take the sugar pills that is fine. f you choose not to take the sugar pills that is also fine. Choosing whether to get your period or not is up to you. On the pill you don’t have to have your period every 21 days.

Taking your pill each day

Remembering to take your pill each day can be difficult to start with. If you are taking the combined pill, it is best to make it a  habit to take it at the same time each day. If you are taking the mini pill, you need to take it within the same three hours each day.

Here are some tips to remind yourself to take your pill:

Keep your pack beside your bed.

It is a good reminder to take your pill when you wake up or before you go to bed.

Keeping your pack on your bathroom vanity

Is another great way to remind yourself when you brush your teeth, get ready for the day, or get ready for bed.

Set an alarm on your phone

For the same time each day.

Forgetting to take your combined pill

Whoops! We all forget things. So if you forget to take your pill, it’s okay, take it as soon as you remember.

You won’t need to use another form of contraception if you take your pill within the 12-hour window (from when you should have taken your pill). The effectiveness of the pill won’t decrease.

If it has been over 12 hours from the time you should have taken it, still take your pill, but you will need to use another method of contraception for the next 7 days.

Hormones in the combined pill

The pill is one of the many options of contraception that contains hormones.

The combined pill contains a very small amount of oestrogen and progestogen. Progestogen is like the hormone progesterone that your body makes naturally. The hormones are slowly released from the pill into your bloodstream. The oestrogen stops you from ovulating and the progestogen thickens the mucus in the cervix (opening to the uterus) so sperm can not swim through.

What happens to my period when I am on the combined pill?

The great thing about the combined pill is that you can choose whether or not you want to have your period.

If you don’t want to have your period, skip the sugar pills and start on a new pack. It is safe to “run your packs” and skip your period. You can skip your periods for as long as you like. Every once and a while, you may choose to get your period to have a good “clean out”, but you don’t have to.

If you would like to have your period take the seven sugar pills at the end of your pack. Your period should start within the first few days of taking the sugar pills. Your period may be lighter and less crampy than normal. Once you have finished the sugar pills, start on your next pack, even if your period hasn’t stopped. You are protected against pregnancy while you take the sugar pills. As long as you haven’t missed taking a pill and have been taking your pill at the same time each day.  

If you normally experience heavy, crampy, or irregular periods, the pill is a great way to make that time of the month more comfortable.

When can I have sex?

You can have sex as soon as you feel ready after starting on the pill. However, depending on where you are in your cycle you may need to use other contraception for a little longer also.

  1. If you take the pill within the first 5 days of your period, you are protected straight away.

  2. If you start the pill at any other time during your cycle, you are not protected for the first 7 days. Use another form of contraception for the first week will help prevent pregnancy.

  3. As soon as you stop taking the pill, or if you skip a day, you are no longer protected.

The pill is a great form of contraception, but it doesn’t protect you from STIs. Only condoms can protect against STI’s.

Stopping the pill

Once you decide the pill is no longer for you, you can stop taking it straight away.

As soon as you stop taking the pill, your body and fertility will return to normal almost straight away. You are likely to get your next period within a few days of stopping the pill. After your first period, your body will return to its natural cycle.

Learn more

The mini pill

Learn more

Your guide to IUDs

Learn more

Other contraception

Learn more

Interested in using contraception?

Reach out online or call 0800 226 784 to speak to one of our nurses. We value your decision about your health.

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