Birth control pills offer reliable and easy-to-use contraception, but sometimes life gets in the way and you simply forget to take a pill or miss a pill due to illness. Knowing what to do for a missed pill and how to effectively manage this situation can keep you feeling safe and prevent an unplanned pregnancy. Your pregnancy risk depends on the type of pill you take and when during your cycle you miss a pill.
Birth control pills work in three ways. First, the pill prevents ovulation. The pill also thickens the cervical mucus, providing a physical barrier. Finally, the pill thins the uterine lining, creating an inhospitable environment, according to Planned Parenthood. Together, these three effects make the pill a highly effective contraceptive.
There are several types of birth control pills, and the type of pill you take may impact what you should do if you miss a pill. Combination birth control pills rely on both estrogen and progesterone, while the mini-pill uses only progesterone. Dosages vary, and combination pills may be either monophasic with one hormone dose throughout the cycle or multi-phasic with two to three different doses. Combination birth control pills include spacer or placebo pills without active hormones, typically for the last 7 days of the 28-day pack. The mini-pill does not include inactive pills.
Combination Birth Control Pills
If you miss just one birth control pill in a pack of combination pills, you can relax. Take the pill as soon as you remember, even if it means taking two pills at once, according to UC-Davis. There’s no need for a backup contraceptive if you miss a single pill. If you miss two or more pills while taking active hormonal pills, use a backup method, like a condom, for the next seven days, according to ThePill.com.
If you take the mini-pill instead of a combination pill, a missed pill poses a much higher risk of pregnancy. If you miss a progesterone-only birth control pill, take it as soon as you remember and continue taking your pills as scheduled. Be sure to use a backup contraceptive for 48 hours after missing the pill, according to Planned Parenthood. If you had sex before you realized you missed a pill, consider taking emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy.
The risk of pregnancy due to a missed pill is highest if you miss pills at the beginning of a pill pack or the end of the pill pack. Avoid going more than seven days without active hormonal pills, and make sure to always take at least 21 consecutive active pills. If you miss more than one pill in the last week of your pill pack, finish out the week, then begin your next pack immediately, skipping the inactive pills to reduce the risk of pregnancy, according to UC-Davis. If you miss pills during the inactive week of pills, don’t worry. These pills have no contraceptive value, just be sure to continue taking them so you’ll remember to start your next pack on time.