The pill. Where would over three million women in the UK be without it? Probably covered in baby sick, frantically rocking a screaming bundle of blankets. It’s been over 50 years since the pill was invented and celebrated as feminism’s new firm friend. But the honeymoon period (no pun intended) has lagged somewhat in recent years, and there’s many a news outlet keen to dramatise the pill’s evil side effects.
So should you be worried? The pill works by replacing your real hormones with synthetic ones, and anything with hormones can potentially cause side effects. But most women aren’t aware of the vast variety of pill brands out there and how, usually, you can find one to fit you.
How do I know if I’m on the right contraceptive pill for me?
Easy peasy. You’ve not had any problems with it and you’re not even sure why you’re reading this article.
“On the whole, most women want to go on the pill, they get a prescription, start taking it, and it’s absolutely fine,” says Lynn Hearton, a helpline manager at the Family Planning Association.
“It’s one of the most researched drugs in the last 50 years and millions of women are on it. If you’re established on it, happy, and not having any problems then it’s probably not wise to change it.”
So if you’ve not got any annoying side effects and you’re as happy as Larry with your prescription, then go forth, have wonderful sex, and don’t worry about multiplying because you’ve got your contraception sorted.
But if your mood, appearance, or entire personality have undergone a negative makeover since you started swallowing the pill, then it might not be your perfect match.
Why does the pill have side effects and what are they?
Common irritants related to the pill include: breakthrough bleeding, PMS-type symptoms, spots, weight fluctuation and tender boobs. Not great fun. But usually these all settle within three months of starting a new brand of pill.
“It’s quite normal to experience side effects in the first three months,” says Lynn. “You’re taking extra hormones to effectively put your ovaries to sleep, so it takes a while for your body to adjust. It’s actually a very small increase compared to the hormones you are normally producing, and the longer you take it, the more your body adjusts to the changes.”
But if the test period is over and you’re still spottier/moodier/boobier than you would like to be – don’t panic. Rather than chucking the foil packet out of the window, consider talking to a health professional and switching to a new brand instead.
Why are there different kinds of pill?
Every woman is different. We’ve all got different amounts of hormones charging around our bodies largely responsible for chocolate binges, unexplained tantrums, and kissing inappropriate menfolk. So to assume there’s a one-contraceptive-pill-fits-all isn’t logical.
“Not every woman is the same,” says Lynn. “That’s why there are so many different types of pill, with varying amounts of oestrogen and progesterone. Finding the right pill can be very hit and miss. It’s really a case of trial and error, but not enough people know this.
“That said – it’s very unlikely there isn’t a combination amongst the huge range that would suit you.”
I’m not happy with my pill. How can I change it?
It’s important to remember contraception is a lifestyle choice, not a medical problem. Therefore the usual formula of simply going to the doctor, telling them what hurts and being handed a prescription doesn’t apply.
“It’s definitely worth putting the effort in to finding the right pill,” says Lynn. “You need to be assertive about what you want, which can be difficult when you’re young.
“I would consider going to a family planning clinic to talk through your contraceptive options. They deal with contraception all day every day so are going to have the most up-to-date guidance – although there are some brilliant GPs out there as well. It’s about finding someone you feel comfortable discussing your sex life with and getting the best service for you.”
My friend keeps raving on about how great her pill is. Should I switch to hers?
If you’re happy with your pill – don’t. Your body isn’t the same as your mate’s body and your hormones are not the same as your mate’s hormones. Plus, if you’re body has already adjusted to your pill, what’s the point of upsetting it and going through the three month adjustment period again?
Sharing advice about sex and contraception is great, but there is the hidden danger of making you worry unnecessarily.
“More and more women are sharing their pill experiences with each other. But with that comes misinformation and it gets a bit like Chinese whispers,” say Lynn.
“Because women are so different, we need to get away from this thinking that because a side-effect happened to someone else, it will happen to you. Message boards in particular can cause unnecessary worry. If you’re happy with your pill, don’t let others influence or worry you. And if you’re not, the best person to talk to about contraception is a healthcare professional.”
Photo of woman taking pills by Shutterstock.
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By Holly Thompson
Updated on 25-Sep-2012