The Pill

The Pill is the most popular form of contraception in the UK. It can also be taken to make periods lighter and less painful.

When used properly, the pill is over 99% effective

What is it?

The pill (or contraceptive pill) is a tablet taken by women to prevent pregnancy, and is the most popular form of contraception in the UK. Women who are not having sex also use the pill, as it can be effective in making periods less painful, lighter and more predictable. There are two main types of the pill - the combined pill and the progestogen-only pill.

  1. The combined pill contains two hormones - oestrogen and progestogen. It's normally taken everyday for 21 days, followed by a seven day break, during which you will get your period. The pill needs to be taken at the same time every day.
  2. The progestogen-only pill (sometimes called the mini pill) is another option and is sometimes taken by women who can't take the combined pill for medical reasons. It's taken at around the same time every day, but unlike the combined pill there is no break. Many women on this pill don't have periods at all or will have less regular periods.

The pill may prevent pregnancy in three ways:

  • By stopping ovaries from releasing eggs (ovulation).
  • By thickening vaginal fluids so sperm can't get into the womb and reach an egg.
  • by making the womb slippery so fertilized eggs can't stick to it.

How do you get it?

If you think you might want to go on the Pill, see your GP or Family Planning Clinic who'll talk you through it. If you decide to go ahead they'll prescribe the best pill for you. Contraception is free for most people in the UK. Your GP will ask you some brief questions about your medical history and they check your weight and blood pressure.

Does it have any side effects?

The combined pill helps reduce heavy periods or symptoms of premenstrual syndrome.. Some types of pill can also help with spots.

Some people report minor temporary side effects like mood swings, breast tenderness, slight weight gain or headaches. These should subside once you've been taking the pill for a few months. If not, speak to your GP about trying a different brand. Many people don't experience any of these side effects, but it's not uncommon to have a few.

Your doctor will talk you through the pros and cons, and you should make sure you're happy before you try start taking the pill. Make sure you read and follow the instructions in your pill packet. Your doctor will usually want to see you in a couple of months time to see how you are getting on and then regularly usually every 6 -12 months for a general check up.

Does the pill always work?

When used properly, the pill is over 99% effective. This means that out of 100 women using the combined pill every year, only one will get pregnant.

However, it might not work if you take a pill late or forget to take it completely, or if you throw up or suffer from diarrhoea. You should get in contact with your GP or family planning clinic to ask their advice about what to do next if this happens.

Remember, the pill does not protect against STIs so it’s important to think about using condoms as well to stay safe. Check out our contraception factfile for other forms of protection.

BBC Advice factfiles are here to help young people with a broad range of issues. They're based on advice from medical professionals, government bodies, charities and other relevant groups. Follow the links for more advice from these organisations.


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