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The contraceptive pill - myths and facts

The contraceptive pill - myths and facts

The combined pill (commonly called "the pill" is the number one contraception choice for women (along with condoms).  However commonly spread myths and ideas mean that today, many women remain confused about the effect the pill may have on their body. Below I have clarified a series of misconceptions surrounding the contraceptive pill so you can separate myth from fact once and for all.

The pill makes you gain weight

Myth: This myth has been around in Ireland since the 1960s. The first pills contained much higher levels of oestrogen and this caused weight gain through increased appetite and fluid retention. 

Today pills contain far less oestrogen and very rarely cause weight gain. If you feel bloated or think you may have gained weight after starting a new pill, wait around three months to see if this effect passes before switching.

The pill can cause infertility

Myth: This is absolutely not true, taking the pill will not affect your chances of conceiving and you can start trying for a baby straight after stopping your pill. In fact, I recommend taking folic acid or prenatal vitamins for three months before going off the pill as some women will fall pregnant sooner than they think.

If you are overweight or smoke then certain pills aren't suitable

Fact: This may be true - there are different pills for different women depending on their lifestyle. If you are overweight, are over 35 and a smoker or have high blood pressure then the combined pill will not be suitable, and the mini-pill may be more suitable.

Find out more about the difference between the combined and mini pill here

You can still have your period

Fact: When you are on the combined pill you don’t get a "period" – you get a withdrawal bleed as the levels of hormones change. Some women prefer to reduce the frequency of their withdrawal bleed by taking the pill continuously which is fine. However it is usually recommended that no more than three packets are taken continuously back to back as it is important to shed the lining of your womb. As long as a woman does not experience any negative side effects, and she has no risk factors for pill use, she may be able to take the pill up to the age of 50.

Some antibiotics stop the pill from working

Fact: Certain antibiotics can stop your contraceptive pill from working but these are not commonly used. The only antibiotics which reduce your pill’s effectiveness are Rifampicin-like drugs e.g. rifampicin and rifabutin which can be used to treat tuberculosis and meningitis. 

If you’re going to be taking these you must use additional contraception such as condoms, or switch contraception methods to the progestogen injection (depo-provera), the intrauterine device (IUD) or the intrauterine system (IUS).

The pill causes different types of cancer

Myth: There is significant evidence to suggest that a woman’s chances of getting ovarian and endometrial cancer are reduced the longer she takes the pill. Studies have shown that taking the combined pill can reduce your risk for ovarian and womb cancer

However, there is a small increased risk of breast and cervical cancer with pill use. If you have a past history of breast cancer, carry one of the genes for breast cancer or are have a high risk family history for breast cancer then the combined pill is not safe for you.

Missing a couple of pills means I could get pregnant

Fact: The combined pill and the progestogen pill are 99% effective at preventing pregnancy but only when taken correctly. With the combined pill this means every day, and with the mini-pill this means at the same time every day. When taken correctly, out of 100 women using the pill, fewer than one will become pregnant. However with typical use around nine in 100 women will fall pregnant. If you do forget to take a pill, then you should take it as soon as you realise. You should read the patient information leaflet that accompanies your pill to follow the latest missed pill advice. 

Looking for contraception?

Go to our contraception service

References

https://wellwomancentre.ie/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Dublin
https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/causes-of-cancer/hormones-and-cancer/does-the-contraceptive-pill-increase-cancer-risk
https://www.sexualwellbeing.ie/sexual-health/contraception/your-choices/combined-oral-contraception-the-pill/
https://www.sexualwellbeing.ie/sexual-health/contraception/your-choices/the-mini-pill/

Authors and editors

Reviewed and updated by: Our clinical team Date reviewed: 28-01-2023