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Things you should know before going on the pill

 The pill is an oral contraceptive taken to prevent pregnancy (Photo: Shutterstock)

There are different types of contraceptives i.e. the implant, IUD and the pill. The pill is an oral contraceptive taken to prevent pregnancy.

Types of pills

According to Healthline, there are two types of pills: combination pills (COCs) and Progestin-only pills (Mini pills).

Combination pills contain the hormones oestrogen and progesterone which are taken throughout your cycle. You don’t have to take combination pills at the same time everyday but they will still be effective.

Progestin-only pills only contain the hormone progesterone. To effectively prevent pregnancy, progestin-only pills must be taken within the same three hours everyday.

Before deciding on which pill to take, consult your doctor. He will be able to advice you on which one is most suitable based on your medical history, any health conditions you might have, whether or not you are breastfeeding and any medications you might be on.

How does it work?

Birth control pills prevent pregnancy by stopping ovulation which is the process by which an egg is released from the ovary to the womb. With no ovulation, there will be no egg for sperm to fertilise.

The pill also thickens cervical mucus making it harder for sperm to swim to an egg. 

Progestin-only pills make the uterus lining thinner making it harder for an egg to get implanted.

For the pill to be more effective, make sure to take every day. It is advisable to take it at the same time everyday so that you don’t forget. You can set a reminder or alarm on your phone or place the pill near something that you use everyday so that you remember to take it.

How soon can I be protected from pregnancy?

This is dependent on at which point in your cycle you start taking the pill.

If you take the combination pill within five days of the first day of your period, you get immediate protection. If you take it at any other time of your cycle, you need to wait seven days for protection.

The progestin-only pill works after 48 hours no matter at which point in your cycle you start taking it. 

What effect will it have on your period?

For the first two to three months, your period might change. It could become lighter, start early or late or stop coming. 

Risks involved

While most women can safely go on the pill, certain health conditions, medications and lifestyle habits might mean you are not a good candidate. Discussing these with your doctor will give you more insight on which contraceptive method is good for you.

The combination pill is unsuitable for anyone who suffers from blood clots or blood clot disorders, heart problems, breast cancer, bad liver disease or diabetes, uncontrolled high blood pressure and severe migraines.

You should avoid the combination pill if you are a smoker since the combination pill contains oestrogen and these two, smoking and oestrogen, shouldn’t mix.

The pill is also unsuitable for those who are overweight or are on extended bed rest.

 The pill is only effective when taken every day (Photo: Shutterstock)

What side effects should you be concerned about?

Some side effects you might experience include a reduced sex drive, sore breasts, bleeding in between periods and nausea.

However, you should consult your doctor if you notice any of the following:

i. Chest pain and discomfort

ii. Trouble breathing

iii. Sudden, severe headache

iv. Sudden jaw or back ache accompanied by nausea, trouble breathing or sweating

v. Sore leg

vi. Seeing zigzagging or flashing

vii. Yellowing of skin or eyes

viii. Severe pain in stomach

Are there good side effects?

As well as preventing pregnancy, the pill can be used to reduce the severity of cramps and premenstrual syndrome (PMS). It can also be taken to make heavy periods lighter, regulate irregular periods and stop periods all together.

They are also used to prevent acne, some cancers, cysts in ovaries and breasts, thinning of bones and anaemia.

Can you use it while breastfeeding?

Avoid taking the combination pill in the first three weeks of breastfeeding and instead opt for another contraceptive method such as condoms. This is because the pill can alter the quality and amount of your breastmilk. Your milk can also have traces of the hormones. 

Does it protect against STDs?

No, the pill does not protect against sexually transmitted infections. For more protection use a condom.

Going off the pill

You can choose to go off the pill at any time. Your body and cycle should go back to the way it was before you got on the pill. 

How soon can you get pregnant?

You can get pregnant as soon as you get off the pill. If you want to prevent pregnancy, use other contraceptive methods. 

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