Oral contraceptives are more commonly just called ‘The Pill’. They are a small tablet you swallow to try to prevent pregnancy. The main way oral contraception works is by stopping the egg being released from the ovaries, it also thickens the mucus at the neck of the womb (making it harder for sperm to get through) and thins the lining of the womb (making it harder for a fertilised egg to implant).
They offer no protection against sexually transmitted infections. There are two types of oral contraceptive – the ‘combined pill’ and the ‘progestogen-only pill’ (also known as the ‘mini pill’).
How effective is 'the pill'?
When taken correctly, the pill is over 99% effective at preventing pregnancy. This means that less than 1 woman in every 100 will get pregnant in a year.
Remember, missing pills or not taking them according to the instructions makes them less effective and increases risk of pregnancy.
Their effectiveness can also be affected if you have sickness, vomiting ,diarrhoea or if you are on other medication (such as epileptic, HIV, medic certain antibiotics, some herbal remedies).You should inform your doctor or nurse if you are taking any sort of medications including St John’s wart.
The progestogen-only pill
Also known as the ‘mini pill’, the progestogen-only pill only contains one hormone – progesterone. It is taken every day at the same time. Progestogen only pills must be taken within three hours if you forget others have a 12 hour window period .So check which pill you are taking.
As with other drugs, both types of 'the pill' can have side effects. Don't worry if you're not getting on with one you've been prescribed. It might take a while trying different types of pill until you find one that suits you. You have to take 'the pill' regularly to stay protected from pregnancy. If you miss a pill you risk pregnancy.
For more information please see FPA - progestogen only pill guide
Easy Read information; Mini Pill leaflet
The combined pill
The combined pill contains two hormones – estrogen and progestogen. It is taken for 21 days then no pill is taken for 7 days before the next pack is started. Not all women can take the combined pill. You might not be able to take it if you smoke, overweight, aged 35 or older, have other medical conditions or are on certain medications. The doctor or nurse will discuss with you to decide further.
For more information please see FPA - the combined pill guide
The contraceptive patch is a sticky patch (rather like a nicotine patch), which delivers hormones (both estrogen and progestogen) into your body through your skin.
Each patch lasts one week. You stick it to your skin and leave it there for a week; it is then changed for a new one. After three weeks you have a week off without a patch when you will have your period and you start your next patch after one week on the same day on 5th week again.
If you forget to replace the patch at the right time or stop using it then you could get pregnant. When used correctly, the patch is more than 99% effective.
For more information please see FDA - contraceptive patch guide
The Vaginal ring
The ring is inserted inside the vagina and remains for 3 weeks then is removed for a ring free week. You then insert the ring again on 5th week. It contains both progesterone and estrogen and is absorbed through the vaginal walls. When used correctly, the patch is more than 99% effective.
For more information please visit - FPA - Contraceptive Vaginal Ring Guide