There are two main kinds of contraceptive pill: the combined pill, and the progestogen-only pill. Here we outline the basics of the progestogen-only pill.
What is it?
A method of hormonal contraception that acts on the female reproductive system to prevent pregnancy. It's also known as POP, or the mini-pill.
Missing the pill
Hormones are basically chemicals that occur naturally in the body, and which are used to control certain functions. The progestogen-only pill is a useful alternative for women who are unable or unwilling to use hormonal contraception containing oestrogen (such as smokers over 35 and breastfeeding mothers). When used correctly, it can be over 99% effective in preventing pregnancy.
Unlike the combined pill (which contains oestrogen) the progestogen-only pill does not always prevent ovulation. Instead, it makes the mucus around the cervix thicker, which makes it difficult for sperm to get into the womb. The progestogen-only pill is available on prescription from a GP (doctor) at your local surgery or sexual health clinic.
How is it taken?
It's a one-a-day tablet that must be taken at the same time every day - with no break taken between finishing one pack and starting another. Women using the progestogen-only pill can usually expect their periods to continue, but must not stop taking the progestogen-only pill even when menstruating. In some cases periods become irregular or stop altogether. This is normal but consult your GP if you are concerned.
- Suitable for many women who are unable to use the combined pill;
- Can be used by women who are breastfeeding or smokers over 35;
- May help relieve premenstrual symptoms.
- Protects against pregnancy but not sex infections. Always use a condom as well, to keep all risks to a minimum;
- Most women detect changes to their menstrual cycle, and some may experience irregular bleeding and missed periods;
- The pill must be taken within a three-hour window every day to remain effective.
Not suitable for:
- Women with cardiovascular conditions, liver disease or ovarian cysts;
- Women who think they might be pregnant or who have had an ectopic pregnancy;
- Terrible timekeepers.
(Note that if the progestogen-only pill is unsuitable, your doctor can advise on alternative hormonal contraceptive methods).
If you miss a pill
- As you're supposed to take the progestogen-only pill at the same time every day, missing one by more than three hours means you won't be protected against pregnancy (except Cerazette® which has a time window of 12 hours);
- Take it as soon as you remember (even if you've missed it by 24 hours, in which case take two pills together);
- For the next two days, use condoms for sex to allow the effects of the hormonal contraception to kick back in;
- Read our frequently asked questions about missing the progestogen only pill.
If you throw up, or suffer from a bout of diarrhoea
The progestogen-only pill is absorbed through the digestive system. This means vomiting or getting the runs could compromise the hormone level required for effective contraception. To protect against pregnancy, be sure to use condoms for seven days (as well as continuing your normal pill cycle).
There are various different brands on offer in the UK, such as Micronor®; Noriday®; Femulen®; Microval®; Norgestonâ; and Neogestâ. Talk to your GP if you're considering any form of hormonal contraceptive. They can advise you on a method that's safe and appropriate for you.
Missed a pill?
Read our guide or click on the audio link at the top of the page to listen to the podcast. Skip through the first half if you don't need to hear about what to do if you miss a combined pill.
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