birth control pill pack and woman

Birth control pills have been around for more than 50 years. The pill is a combination of female hormones used to inhibit fertility. Current birth control pills are more than 99-percent effective at preventing pregnancy. Birth control pills are an effective means of preventing pregnancy, but protected sex is still a must. Birth control pills do not stop sexually transmitted disease (STD) infection, so women can still contract STDs from partners during sexual contact while taking the birth control pill. 

How Do Birth Control Pills Prevent Pregnancy?

Birth control pills are made up of female hormones. The hormones work in three ways – prevention of egg release, change in cervical mucus and change in uterine lining.

  • If a woman does not release a mature egg, sperm cannot fertilize the egg and thus pregnancy is prevented.
  • The cervical mucus is the roadway sperm use to reach the egg. During ovulation, cervical mucus changes to a slick, thin substance that sperm use to swim faster and more efficiently to the egg. The birth control pill causes cervical mucus to remain thick and sticky so sperm gets caught up and cannot reach the egg. 
  • Before ovulation, the uterine lining thickens with a blood-rich lining ideal for fertilized egg implantation. Hormones in the birth control pill prevent this from happening, so the egg does not have a soft, healthy lining where it can implant and grow.

Who Can Take Birth Control Pills?

Doctors use birth control pills for pregnancy prevention and to help control menstrual cycles. Typically, the birth control pill is considered safe and effective for young women as soon as they become sexually active. There is no set age limit for use of birth control pills, but there are risks associated with this form of pregnancy prevention.

Side effects associated with birth control pills may include pain in the abdomen or chest, headaches, swelling of the legs and changes in vision. Women who are over the age of 35 or who smoke are at increased risk of serious, life-threatening side effects of the birth control pill, including blood clots, heart disease, liver disease and certain forms of cancer. It is best to be completely honest with your gynecologist or other prescribing doctors if you smoke.

A birth control pill is a safe option for most sexually active women. Some birth control pills are taken every day and others are taken 21 days of the month. Newer varieties of birth control pills limit the number of menstrual cycles to three or four a year.

Birth Control Pill Q & A