The combined pill (commonly called "the pill" is the number one contraception choice for women (along with condoms) according to a study by the Irish Contraception and Crisis Pregnancy Study. However commonly spread myths and ideas mean that today, many women remain confused about the effect the pill may have on their body. Below I have clarified a series of misconceptions surrounding the contraceptive pill so you can separate myth from fact once and for all.
1. “The pill makes you gain weight”
Myth: This myth has been around since the 1960s when the pill was first brought to market in the UK. The first pills contained much higher levels of oestrogen and this caused weight gain through increased appetite and fluid retention. Today pills contain far less oestrogen and very rarely cause weight gain. If you feel bloated or think you may have gained weight after starting a new pill, wait around three months to see if this effect passes before switching.
2. “The pill can cause infertility”
Myth: This is absolutely not true, taking the pill will not affect your chances of conceiving and you can start trying for a baby straight after stopping your pill. In fact, I recommend taking folic acid or prenatal vitamins for three months before going off the pill as some women will fall pregnant sooner than they think.
3. “If you are overweight or smoke then the pill isn't suitable”
Fact: This may be true - there are different pills for different women depending on their lifestyle. If you are overweight, are over 35 and a smoker or have high blood pressure then the combined pill will not be suitable, and the mini-pill may be more suitable.
4. “It’s risky to stop your period”
Fact: When you are on the combined pill you don’t get a "period" – you get a withdrawal bleed as the levels of hormones change. Some women prefer to reduce the frequency of their withdrawal bleed by taking the pill continuously which is fine. However it is usually recommended that no more than three packets are taken continuously back to back as it is important to shed the lining of your womb.. As long as a woman does not experience any negative side effects, and she has no risk factors for pill use, she may be able to take the pill up to the age of 50.
5. “Some antibiotics stop the pill from working”
Fact: Certain antibiotics can stop your contraceptive pill from working but these are not commonly used. The only antibiotics which reduce your pill’s effectiveness are Rifampicin-like drugs e.g. rifampicin and rifabutin which can be used to treat tuberculosis and meningitis. If you’re going to be taking these you must use additional contraception such as condoms, or switch contraception methods to the progestogen injection (depo-provera), the intrauterine device (IUD) or the intrauterine system (IUS).
6. “The pill causes different types of cancer”
Myth: There is significant evidence to suggest that a woman’s chances of getting ovarian and endometrial cancer are reduced the longer she takes the pill. Studies have shown that with every five years use of the pill there is around 20% reduction in the risk of ovarian cancer and after 15 years use a women's risk is around half of those who have never used the pill. A reduction in risk of at least 50% has also been noted for endometrial cancer in pill users. However, there is a small increased risk of breast and cervical cancer with pill use. If you have a past history of breast cancer, carry one of the genes for breast cancer or are have a high risk family history for breast cancer then the combined pill is not safe for you.
7. “Missing a couple of pills means I could get pregnant”
Fact: The combined pill and the progestogen pill are 99% effective at preventing pregnancy but only when taken correctly. With the combined pill this means every day, and with the mini-pill this means at the same time every day. When taken correctly, out of 100 women using the pill, fewer than one will become pregnant. However with typical use around nine in 100 women will fall pregnant. If you do forget to take a pill, then you should take it as soon as you realise. You should read the patient information leaflet that accompanies your pill to follow the latest missed pill advice.
If you'd like to change pills or get the patch or ring, then one of our doctors will be able to assess you for a prescription. See our contraception clinic page here.