Birth control pills are an easy way to prevent pregnancy, but when you forget to take them, it can send screaming panic alarm bells to your brain and a feeling of insurmountable dread. Nearly every woman on birth control forgets to take it at some point, so you should know how to react in the wake of the misstep.
There are two kinds of birth control pills, the progestin-only pill and combination pill (estrogen and progestin). Most women are on a combination pill. Progestin pills are often one active pill taken at the same time every day for 21 days, then placebo pills for the seven remaining days of your cycle. The combination pill is a pack of different hormone-dosed pills each week of the month. The last week is generally an “off” week where you don’t take pills or take placebo pills not containing any hormone.
Regardless of whether you take your daily birth control pill in the morning, afternoon or at night, going off schedule can mess you up and depending on where in your cycle you forget, leave you open to possible unwanted pregnancy. Concerned that taking your pills at inconsistent times during the day may impact their effectiveness?
Symptoms of pregnancy often mimic symptoms you get before menses, so it’s difficult to tell if what you’re feeling when you missed in that month is your period coming, or early pregnancy.
If you’ve missed more than two pills you should call your doctor as soon as possible to get more information. Here are some additional questions to ask:
- Will I automatically get pregnant if I forget to take my pill? If you regularly remember to take your pills on time, you will likely be okay. However, it may be a good idea to use backup birth control (condom, female condom, diaphram, abstination, etc.) until your next cycle begins and you start a new pack of pills. If you take the progestin-only pill more than three hours past your usual time, you will need to use backup birth control for the next 48 hours (continue to take pills regularly).
- I forgot to take my pill. How do I get back on track? If you take a combination pill (often containing different shaded pills each week) the following should help you to know what to do if you miss taking your pill.
• If you miss the first one or two pills in a pack take a pill as soon as you remember, then take your next dose at the regular time (you’ll end up taking two this day and get back on track). You may want to use backup contraception this month. Use back-up contraception this week.
• one or two pills in the first three weeks of the pack – take a pill as soon as you remember, then take your next dose at the regular time (you’ll end up taking two this day and get back on track). You may want to use backup contraception this month.
• three or more pills in the first two weeks of the pack – take a pill as soon as you remember, then take the next pill at the regular time (you’ll end up taking two this day and get back on track). Use back-up contraception this week.
• three or more pills in the third week of the pack – do not finish the pack. Instead, throw away remaining pills and start a new pack. Use back-up contraception this week.
• If you miss any of the reminder pills (28 day packs) – throw away the missed pills and take the next one at the regular time.
- If you take the progestin-only pill more than three hours past your usual time, you will need to use backup birth control for the next 48 hours (continue to take pills regularly).
- I had vaginal sex before I realized I missed taking one or more pills. What should I do? If you take a combination pill regularly, and missed one or two pills, immediately take one or two pills and then get back on track (see above guidelines) continuing the rest of your pack. If you missed more than two pills, call your doctor. Regardless, you may want to consider emergency birth control which can prevent pregnancy if started up to five days after unprotected intercourse.
- I haven’t gotten my period, or it was light this month, am I pregnant? You may want to take an over-the-counter pregnancy test if you are late or your period was light where it usually is heavy. You generally can trust a pregnancy test, but if you’re still concerned after taking one, call your doctor or clinic to schedule an appointment.
If you regularly miss taking pills, the birth control pill may not be right for you. Ask your doctor about options to help give you peace of mind and eliminate stress about pregnancy. Remember too, the birth control pill doesn’t guard you from sexually transmitted infection, so always practice safe sex by not having multiple partners, getting tested if you’ve had unprotected sex, using condoms or abstaining from sex.
This information is not meant to be a replacement for talking with your doctor. Be responsible if you’re going to be sexually active and openly talk with your doctor or clinician about your concerns and symptoms as needed.
www.plannedparenthood.org/health-topics/birth-control “What to Do If You Forget to Take the Pill”
www.mayoclinic.com Birth Control, Birth Control Pill FAQ
Do you have a question about birth control and sexual health? Check out EmpowHER’s page. Sign-up, post a question, share your story, connect with other women in our community and feel EmpowHERed!
Christine Jeffries is a writer/editor for work and at heart, and lives in a home of testosterone with her husband and two sons. Christine is interested in women’s health and promoting strong women.