Don’t forget your pill this party season

The run-up to Christmas and New Year can be pretty stressful. With presents to buy, cards to send and party dresses to pick out, it can be easy to let the little things slip your mind. And we’re not talking about forgetting to buy the cranberry sauce.

According to one study carried out by the Central Statistics Office, birth rates in Ireland are highest in September. Take a moment to do the maths and you’ll realise that means that conception rates are highest around Christmas.

In an article from the Independent, MummyPages.ie spokeswoman Laura Haugh offered the explanation that this spike in conception rates was due to people being more relaxed and spending more time together at Christmas. However, in the UK (where the trend is very similar) a contrasting explanation was offered by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service: ‘contraceptive slip-ups’ during the festive period.

BPAS representative Clare Murphy explained that women often find it harder to access contraception (particularly the contraceptive pill) during the busy festive period – with their GPs on holiday and appointments booked up way in advance – and that, on top of this, taking your pill can often be forgotten during the chaos and stress of the holidays. Combined with the fact that the party season can often go hand-in-hand with one night stands and unprotected sex, you could be looking at an unplanned pregnancy.

So what’s the best way to go about ensuring you’re protected against pregnancy this festive season? We put together a few tips.

1. Stock up on your contraceptive pill in advance

It’s a good idea to plan ahead and make sure you have enough pills to get you through the busiest time of the year. Bear in mind that the closer you get to Christmas, the busier GPs will be, and the more likely pharmacies and doctors surgeries are to be running holiday hours. If you order your contraceptive pill online, you should also be aware that delivery times can be affected by the Christmas rush. You can order your pill online through our Contraception Clinic.

2. Make a plan for remembering to take your pill

It’s not always easy to remember your contraceptive pill, but there are some ways you can trick your brain into keeping track! Smartphone ‘pill reminder’ apps, visual reminders in your home, keeping your pill in the same place (e.g. in your phonecase or next to your toothbrush), and making sure you take it at the same time every day are all good ways of creating a memorable routine around your contraception.

3. Use barrier contraception if you’re not sure you’re protected

The most effective form of barrier contraception is the male condom – although you might also consider using a diaphragm, cap or female condom. If you have missed more than one pill, you should ensure you use barrier methods during sex as it is likely you will not be fully protected from your hormonal contraception.

4. Get organised if you’re leaving the country

If you’re leaving the country for a holiday and will be changing time zones, it’s a good idea to get a plan in place for your contraceptive pill before you leave. Entering a country that is more than a couple of hours ahead or behind the UK can mess up your timings and – with jet lag to handle and sightseeing to be done – it’s not always easy to remember your pill. Setting a daily timer on your phone corresponding to the new time zone can be helpful.

5. Consider other forms of contraception

If you’re finding it hard to take the pill correctly, you might consider other forms of long-term contraception such as the IUS (hormonal “Mirena” coil), IUD (non-hormonal coil), implant or injection. Any of these can be easily fitted by a medical professional, and are proven to be very effective in preventing pregnancy.

What to do after unprotected sex

Sometimes unplanned unprotected sex happens – and it’s not the end of the world. The important thing to do afterwards is act quickly to prevent pregnancy. Depending on which kind you use, the morning after pill can be effective for three to five days after unprotected sex, however it offers more protection the sooner you take it (ideally you should take it within the first 24 hours).

An emergency IUD (coil) can also be fitted for up to five days after unprotected sex, although this needs to be done by a trained medical professional in a doctor’s surgery, hospital or sexual health clinic.

Pregnancy, of course, is not the only consideration when it comes to unprotected sex. If you aren’t sure that your sexual partner was STI-free, you should get checked for sexually transmitted infections – even if you have no symptoms. Many STIs can be easily cleared up with the right medicine, but it’s best to get them treated as soon as possible to prevent any complications.

The good news is, you can test for certain STIs from the comfort of your own home – Lloyds Online Doctor offers home test kits for chlamydia and gonorrhoea, the two most prevalent STIs in Ireland. For more information, visit our Sexual Health Clinic.

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