What's the best contraceptive pill for me?
There are so many different brands out there that it can often be difficult to know the best contraceptive pill for you.
This guide aims to provide an overview, and to answer some initial questions like the different types of pills, how the pills work and who they might be suitable for. However, it should not be used as a substitute for a doctor’s consultation. You should always seek a doctor’s advice before taking the pill or changing brand.
All types of contraceptive pill are equally good at preventing pregnancy: they can have a 99% success rate if they are always used correctly.
Is the combined pill right for you?
The combined pill is safe for lots of people, and unless you have any of the specific issues mentioned later on, the combined pill (commonly known as ‘the pill’) is probably the best contraceptive pill for you.
The combined pill is the most common type of contraceptive pill and it's estimated that around 100 million women worldwide use it.
Benefits of the combined pill
The combined pill:
- Gives you regular periods
- Reduces period pain and heavy periods
- May help to relieve premenstrual symptoms
Combined pill brands
The most common brands of the combined contraceptive pill are:
Side effects of the combined pill
Although the combined pill suits most women, like all medications it can cause some side effects, such as:
- Mood swings
- Sore breasts
But some people experience more severe side effects like increased risk of blood clots, stroke and liver disorders. But these are rare.
If you do experience side effects on the combined pill, a low dose pill might be a contraceptive option for you. These types of contraceptive pill contain both oestrogen and progestogen, but with a lower dose of oestrogen compared to the regular combined pill. This means that oestrogen-related side effects are often reduced.
If you’re over 35 and a smoker, you experience migraines or have a family history of breast cancer, you might be advised not to take the combined pill. It might increase your risk of certain conditions and the mini pill might be a better option.
Is the mini pill right for you?
As just mentioned, if you're over 35 and a smoker or you’re breastfeeding, overweight, experience migraines or have high blood pressure, you might not be able to take oestrogen, which is in the combined pill. The mini pill might be the best contraceptive pill for you as it contains only progestogen, meaning that women who cannot take oestrogen can use it.
Benefits of the mini pill
Unlike the combined pill, the mini pill will not raise your blood pressure, but it may not control your periods in the way that the combined pill does. Some women who take the mini pill have irregular bleeding. Bleeding may be irregular, light, more frequent, last longer or stop altogether. This may settle down and isn’t harmful. If you have any concerns, speak to your doctor or nurse. Changing to a different mini pill may help.
The mini pill is also taken every day; there is no seven-day break as there is with the combined pill. If you take a break, you will not be protected. Another important difference to the combined pill is that, in most cases, the mini pill allows you only a three hour window in which to remember to take the pill. If you take the mini pill more than 3 hours after you usually take it, you will not be protected against pregnancy.
One of the exceptions to this rule is Cerazette, which is the most popular brands of mini pill. It offers a 12-hour window in which you can take your pill, so if you suffer from any of the above, Cerazette may be the best pill for you.
Mini pill brands
The two types of mini pill available in Ireland are Cerazette and Noriday.
Side effects of the mini pill
Generally, people experience less side effects on the mini pill, as you don’t get the oestrogen-related symptoms. However, like with all pills, there is a potential for side effects, common ones include:
- Sore breasts
- Mood changes
- Decreased sex drive
Does the contraceptive pill help with acne?
Generally speaking, combined contraceptive pills are ‘skin-friendly’. Yasmin is a popular brand of the combined contraceptive pill, sometimes thought of as being particularly ‘skin-friendly’. However, there is evidence to suggest that it carries a higher risk of blood clots in the legs and lungs than older generation combined contraceptive pill brands.
‘Skin-friendly’ pill brands
Yasmin is prescribed because the hormones in the pill can help balance hormone levels in the body, this in turn can prevent acne flare ups caused by changing hormone levels during your menstrual cycle.
You can find out more about the pill and acne here.
Do you forget to take your pill?
Many women find that remembering to take the pill around the same time each day can be difficult. Failing to do so can cause ‘spotting’ and reduce your protection against pregnancy.
You may want to consider long-acting methods of contraception, such as:
If you are interested in these methods you should see your GP or family planning clinic.
Or you may want to consider other ‘routine’ types of contraception like the contraceptive patch or a vaginal ring. These are combined contraceptives and work in similar ways to pills, but you don’t have to remember them daily.
The contraceptive patch
The patch is a combined contraceptive which is placed on your skin and replaced once a week. You change the patch every week for three weeks, then you can have a four or seven-day break without a patch. Or you can choose to have no break at all.
The patch delivers the hormones into your body through your skin.
Find out more about the patch here.
The contraceptive ring
The vaginal ring (also a combined contraceptive) is a small plastic ring placed inside the vagina for three weeks. You leave it in for 21 days, then remove it and have a four or seven-day ring-free break. You'll remain protected against pregnancy during the ring-free break. Or you can choose to have no break at all.
You then put a new ring in for another 21 days. If you are uncomfortable with the idea of putting it in and taking it out yourself, this might not be the best contraceptive for you.
Find out more about the ring here.
Where to get the contraceptive pill
All the types of contraceptive pill mentioned, as well as the patch and vaginal ring, are available through our convenient online service.