The combined pill: your guide to using it consistently

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By Maria Mulder, Third Year, Spanish and Portuguese

The Croft Magazine // Whether you are new to the contraceptive pill or need a knowledge refresher, this is your guide to using it responsibly!

When it comes to taking any kind of medication, it is important to be aware of what it is, how to take it and store it appropriately, and know when to stop using it. The contraceptive pill is hormone-based and used to prevent pregnancy – but it must be acknowledged that they are also often used to treat other health issues, such as the symptoms of endometriosis and acne.

The combined pill will be discussed in this article; it is the most common form of the pill and it consists of consuming one daily for three weeks, taking a seven-day break where you bleed, then starting a new pack after the seven-day interval.

Contraceptive pills come in combined and mini (latter pictured above), so read the leaflet enclosed with yours to ensure you take it correctly | Epigram / Rosie Angel-Clark

For pregnancy prevention, a concern for many university students, it is essential you take the pill at the same time every day. Even missing a single one can increase your chance of pregnancy, and it is due to these slip-ups that this medication is considered only 91 per cent effective with typical use (when it would otherwise reach 99 per cent efficacy with perfect use).

Hormonal contraceptive pills alter your hormone levels so an egg is prevented from being released for fertilisation (ovulation). Therefore, if you miss your doses, it means your changed hormone levels may not stay consistent enough to block ovulation.

A helpful way to ensure you are taking your pill regularly is to set a reminder, such as an alarm or alert on your phone, at a convenient time of day for you. There are (free) reminder apps designed for those who are forgetful, so browse through your device’s app store.

I found it useful to take my pill at the same time that I’d perform any other regular habit at specific points in the day

I didn’t use these methods, but what I found useful was to take my pill at the same time that I’d perform any other regular habit at specific times of the day – for example, with my dinner. It is good to pick a part of your day when you are less likely to be disturbed or caught up in other activities to take your birth control. For example, it would be unwise to make 4pm your daily time when you may be occupied at university at that hour during weekdays, or caught up with social commitments and work shifts during weekends! Be especially mindful after you take the week-long break, as you want to start your new set of pills punctually.

For clarification on how to take your medicine and what to do if you, for example, vomit or forget a dose, read the leaflet that should have accompanied your pill pack. Its instructions are better than what I’ve provided as they’re brand-specific. Don’t get into the habit of throwing those leaflets away; they truly do come in useful when you least expect it.

Some antibiotics, drugs used to treat HIV and herbs such as St John’s wort can result in decreased pill efficacy

It is also essential to be aware of other things that can influence your pill and reduce its ability to prevent pregnancy. Some antibiotics, drugs used to treat HIV and herbs such as St John’s wort can result in decreased pill efficacy. Read your information leaflet or contact your doctor if you need tailored advice about this.

Additionally, of course, do not take pills if they have expired! Check when they go out of date because old medication is almost certainly unreliable.

Another important factor is the way you store contraceptive pills. Like any medication, they should be carefully preserved to ensure their effectiveness is not interfered with. This means not leaving them in areas where they may be exposed to light and/or extreme temperatures – such as in a hot vehicle during the summer, near radiators or in steamy bathrooms. Lastly, for the best outcomes, you should ideally keep the pills in their original pack.

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My final points relate more to general wellbeing when on the pill. If you are new to the drug, you may experience some unpleasant symptoms as your body adjusts. These can include nausea, unexpected spotting, skin breakouts and low mood. Personally, I lost a lot of my appetite and experienced significantly more acne than usual. These ailments can and do clear up over time, but some individuals are more sensitive than others.

If you experience persistent symptoms – mental or physical – seek medical advice. Your body may not agree with preparations containing hormones and you could find success with other forms of birth control that are not dependent on them, such as the copper IUD (intrauterine device).


Featured image: Epigram / Savannah Coombe

AUTHOR

Maria Mulder

Second year student at the University. Originally from the Netherlands but settled in the UK, I am currently working towards a degree in Spanish and Portuguese.