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Your Guide to the Contraceptive Pill

Andrew Bellingham

Andrew Bellingham

Pharmacist | 20+ Years | BPharm | Dip Clin Pharm

Like most medications these days, there are so many different types of contraceptive pill, each with different benefits, risks, and side effects. This can make the decision of what to take, and whether or not to take anything, feel a little daunting.

First we’ll go through the basic details to build an understanding, but keep on reading if you’d like more in depth information. 

Before we begin, it’s important to note: this is just a guide!

If you have any medical concerns, please contact your GP or sexual health professional.

(If you’re looking for a quick answer, check the FAQs at the bottom of this page)

Myth Busters

Widespread misinformation about contraceptive pills is scaring women around the world into not taking them at all. 

To help you make a decision based on facts, let’s go over some of these myths and play a little game of true or false

(Note: the pill affects everyone differently!)

The contraceptive pill makes you gain weight: FALSE

This is one of the most Googled questions when it comes to the contraceptive pill, so let me be the first to tell you:

There is no scientific evidence that there is a link between the contraceptive pill and weight gain.

While the pill can increase your water retention in the initial months of starting to take it, your body will adapt.

The contraceptive pill causes infertility: FALSE

As the contraceptive pill doesn’t work by stopping or decreasing your productive capacity, once you stop taking it your natural ovulation cycle should return.

If you do have difficulties getting pregnant after you stop taking the pill, the doctor will look for other reasons that are causing this.

The contraceptive pill causes hair loss: TRUE

Though this myth is true, the effects are generally temporary and only last a few months while your body adjusts.

The severity of hair loss is dependent on several factors, like your family history, and how prone you are to hormonal hair loss.

Taking the contraceptive pill causes high risk of cancer: FALSE

It is even possible for the contraceptive pill to protect you against certain types of cancers, and reduce the risk of cancer in those that have an average risk.

According to some research, there is a slight increase in risk for some other cancers including breast and cervical cancers. However in these cases, the risk is still considered low, and the cervical cancer risk tends to decrease after stopping the pill.

The contraceptive pill causes depression: TRUE/FALSE

While the contraceptive pill in itself will not cause depression, the answer to this myth depends on the person.

If you have depression or depressive tendencies, the hormones in the contraceptive pill can make this worse.

The contraceptive pill causes weight loss: TRUE/FALSE

The contraceptive pill doesn’t affect your appetite or metabolism.

However, for those that tend to retain water, the pill can give you a slimmer appearance by reducing water retention (providing similar results to a diuretic).

Contraceptive Pill Benefits

Of course, the main benefit of the contraceptive pill is protection from unwanted pregnancies.

But, you may be surprised that people experience various benefits from taking the contraceptive pill: 

  • Reduced menstrual cramps
  • Lightened menstrual flow
  • Reduced risk of ectopic pregnancy

Contraceptive Pill Side Effects

The side effects of the birth control pill varies from person to person – some may experience several, while others experience none at all.

Most common side effects include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Acne
  • Breast pain
  • Low libido
  • Mood swings
  • Irregular bleeding

If you find the side effects difficult to manage, you may be able to change the pill you’re on and find one that works best for you.

Combined Pill vs Mini Pill: What's the Difference?

Before we dive into more detail, let’s look at the main difference between these two types of pills.

  • Combined pills contain oestrogen and progesterone
  • Mini pills contain only progesterone

By the end of this section, you should have an idea of which pill may be better for you!

How the Combined Pill Works

Put simply, the combined pill works by preventing ovulation (the release of the egg) by thickening the mucus, and thinning the lining of the womb.

When used correctly, the combined pill is over 99% effective.

To find out more detail about how the combined pill works, read here on the NHS website. 

Pros of the Combined Pill

The combined pill carries some additional benefits such as reducing acne, PMS and the risks of cysts in your breasts and ovaries, and more.

You can find more information about these potential benefits on the Planned Parenthood website.

Cons & Side Effects of the Combined Pill

People with a family history of heart conditions, blood clots, or strokes are generally advised to not take the combined pill. This is due to an increased risk of developing these conditions. 

Most Common Combined Pill Brands in the UK:

  • Rigevidon
  • Microgynon
  • Yasmin
  • Cilest

How the Mini Pill Works

The progesterone-only pill works by thickening the mucus in the cervix to stop sperm from reaching the egg, while some can also stop ovulation.

This option must be taken strictly to be as effective as the combined pill, but on average (due to adherence), it’s about 92% effective.

Pros of the Mini Pill

The mini pill has less health risks associated with taking, due to it not having oestrogen as an ingredient.

Cons & Side Effects of the Mini Pill

There are a couple of things to have in mind when considering the mini pill:

  • It becomes less effective quickly when misused 
  • It has less potential health benefits than the combined pill

While side effects of the mini pill are rare, some people do experience them: 

  • Acne
  • Breast tenderness
  • Change in sex drive

Most Common Mini Pill Brands in the UK:

  • Cerazette
  • Noriday
  • Norgeston
  • Desogestrel
  • Cerelle

How to Take Them

It is imperative that you take your contraceptive pill exactly as instructed.

While you have slightly more flexibility with the combined pill, the mini pill’s effectiveness is heavily reduced when pills are forgotten.


Mimicking the average menstrual cycle, the contraceptive pill tends to also follow a 28 day (4 weeks) cycle.

In some cases this means taking a pill for all 28 days, and in other cases this would be taking a pill for 21 days and then taking a break for 7.

Every Day

  • The mini pill only comes in 28 day packs, and must be taken within the same 3 hours every day
  • 28 day packs for the combined pill contain 7 days worth of placebo pills (that contain useful supplements) to give your body the necessary break at the end of the 21 day period

21 Days

This only applies to the combined pill.

If you receive a 21 day pack, you’ll need to take a 7 day break before starting the next pack and you’ll likely have some bleeding during this time.

What to Do If You Missed Your Pill

Missing the contraceptive pill is incredibly common – it’s hard to keep on top of sometimes.

In the case of the combined pill, missing one dose is fine, and you just need to take it as soon as you remember.

But, it’s important to note that once two doses of the combined pill are missed, or a single dose of the mini pill, the ability of the contraceptive pill to prevent pregnancy will have been reduced. Therefore it’s recommended that you use a condom for the next 7 days.

In cases where you have missed contraceptive pill doses and had unprotected sex, you have the option of an emergency contraceptive pill, otherwise known as Plan B or the morning after pill. You can read more about that here.

Did you know you can use the Healthera app to set medicine reminders?

(Never forget your pill again, simply by clicking the button below the following section!) 

Ordering Your Prescription

The contraceptive pill can be ordered as a repeat prescription. Though you will need to have annual check-ups with your GP for your “pill check”, where your blood pressure will be monitored, along with your weight/height, and any side effects you may be experiencing.

Between GP visits, it will be your responsibility to ensure you have a new packet of contraception ordered and ready by the time you need to start your new pack. 

Order your contraceptive pill online with Healthera, and have it sent direct to your home by clicking the button below! 

Stopping the Contraceptive Pill

If you decide that you no longer want to take the contraceptive pill, your body will generally return to how it was prior to when you started.

This means that your fertility levels will return to normal, as will your hormone levels, risk levels, and your experience of side effects.

If this doesn’t happen – or you’re concerned about it, consult your GP.

Other Birth Control Options

If any of what was discussed worried you or made you feel like the contraceptive pill isn’t right for you, there are many other options available to you. Whether your main intention is to prevent unwanted pregnancies or even regulate your menstrual cycle. You can read more about them and find out what suits you better here.

If you have more questions, check out the FAQ section below to see if we’ve covered it already!


To summarise, these are some of the most common questions surrounding the contraceptive pill and their answers.

Simply click the question you need the answer for, and it’ll pop up! 

Generally speaking, it is safe to be on birth control for years.

However when taking the contraceptive pill, you will be required to have regular check ups with a medical professional. They will discuss physical symptoms, and do an assessment that will include checking your blood pressure.

You will be informed if it’s no longer safe for you to be on the pill, so it’s important that you attend these appointments.

Birth control pills don’t have an effect on your fertility.

A side effect of taking a form of contraceptive pill can be an increase or decrease in your libido.

If this is the case and it doesn’t improve with time, you can look into changing your pill until you find one that doesn’t have this effect on you.

Other than that, you can take the contraceptive pill at any stage in your sex life.

Studies have been done on the link between the mini pill and weight gain, one of which found that the participants gained “fewer than 4.4 pounds after 6 or 12 months of using a progestin-only pill”.

The conclusion therefore is that if you experience a significant weight gain that doesn’t go away after a few months, it is likely that it has been caused by a separate factor.

Rigevidon has a slightly negative reputation in the UK.

This could be linked to rigevidon being one of the cheaper contraceptive pills for the NHS to produce, and therefore the starter pill for many women. The rigevidon pill has been linked to weight gain, depression, and an increased risk of blood clots.

However, doctors have stated that rigevidon and microgynon (which seems to have better reviews) are almost identical, and therefore shouldn’t have a significantly different side effect profile.

If you do have severe side effects, or are concerned about a missed rigevidon pill, consult your doctor about alternatives.

This is entirely dependent on how your body reacts to the pill.

Some have an increased period, some have a reduced period, some experience spotting between periods, and some have no period at all.

It is difficult to say how your body will react, but it is generally recommended that you give it a few months for your body to get used to the new medication to see what your period is likely to be like in the long term while you are taking it.

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