Everything you need to know about the combined pill, its effectiveness, which one is right for you and how it works.

The combined pill

The combined oral contraceptive pill is generally known to most as "The Pill". Each pill contains artificial versions of the female hormones, oestrogen and progesterone. All the brands are to stop you getting pregnant but can also be prescribed to treat spotty skin or heavy/painful periods.

The combined pill is NOT suitable for all women so please consult your GP or Nurse who will need to know about your own and family history to make sure the Combined Pill is suitable for you to take.

The 3 main types of pill and how they work

  • Monophasic (21 day pills) are the most common type of pill. You take a pill every day for 21 days and then have 7 pill free days. Each pill contains the same amount of hormone.
  • Phasic (21 day pills) packs contain several different coloured pills and each section has different amounts of hormone. You take a pill for 21 days and then have 7 pill free days. These pills must be taken in the correct order so please read instructions carefully.
  • Every Day Pills (ED) are supplied in packs containing 21 active pills and 7 dummy pills. You take a pill every day for 28 days with no break. These pills must be taken in the correct order so it is important to read instructions carefully before use.

The effectiveness of the combined pill

If used correctly and according to the instructions, the combined pill can be more than 99% effective. It is less effective if:

  • Taken more than 24 hours late
  • Suffering severe diarrhoea for more than 24 hours.
  • Vomiting within 2 hours of taking it

What to do if you miss a combined pill

If you have missed a pill

If you have missed a pill or if you have started the new pack one day late, you should still be protected against pregnancy. You need to:

  • Take the last pill you missed as soon as you realise you have missed it
  • Take the rest of the pack as usual, even if it means taking 2 pills in one day
  • If there are less than 7 pills left in the pack after the missed pill, then you need to finish the pack and start a new pack straight away, missing out the 7-day break or placebo pills
If you have missed two or more pills

If you have missed two or more pills or if you have started the new pack two or more days late, you need to:

  • Take the last pill you missed as soon as you realise you have missed it
  • Take the rest of the pack as usual, even if it means taking 2 pills in one day
  • Continue to take your pills as usual, leaving any earlier missed pills
  • Use condoms for the next 7 days to protect against pregnancy
  • If there are less than 7 pills left in the pack after the missed pill, then you need to finish the pack and start a new pack straight away, missing out the 7-day break or placebo pills
  • If you have had sex without a condom in the previous seven days, you may need emergency contraception

Progesterone Only Pill

The progesterone only pill, also known as the Mini Pill doesn't contain the hormone, oestrogen. This pill can be taken if you are not able to use the combined pill.

The small pills come in a packet and you need to make sure the first tablet you take is at a time that suits you best as you will need to take the pill at the same time every day. When you reach the end of one packet, you have to start the next packet immediately without missing any days.

Like the combined pill, the POP pill is NOT suitable for all women so please consult your GP or Nurse who will need to know about your own and family history to make sure the POP Pill is suitable for you to take.

How the POP pill works

The pill stops ovulation in some women but it mainly works by thickening cervical mucus to prevent sperm reaching an egg and also by thinning the lining of the womb so it is more difficult for a fertilised egg to implant.

Effectiveness of the POP pill

When taken correctly, the POP pill is 99% effective in reducing the chances of getting pregnant. Effectiveness levels do decrease if:

  • Take the last pill you missed as soon as you realise you have missed it
  • Take the rest of the pack as usual, even if it means taking 2 pills in one day
  • Continue to take your pills as usual, leaving any earlier missed pills
  • Use condoms for the next 7 days to protect against pregnancy
  • If there are less than 7 pills left in the pack after the missed pill, then you need to finish the pack and start a new pack straight away, missing out the 7-day break or placebo pills
  • If you have had sex without a condom in the previous seven days, you may need emergency contraception