Contraceptive pill types

What are the differences and which one would suit you best?


Depending on where you live in the world the contraceptive known as ‘the pill’ has now been available for well over half a century.  It has, over the years, been refined and there are now many brands and several options available.


How does the contraceptive pill work?

It is important that we understand how the pill works in order that we can understand the differences between the options that are available.

A woman becomes pregnant when the egg that has been released from her ovary is fertilised by a sperm from the male.  The fertilised egg then attaches itself to the wall of the female uterus or womb where it subsequently develops into a foetus and ultimately a baby.

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The ovulation or initial release of the egg from the ovary is controlled by female hormones and these hormones also prepare the body for the fertilised egg.

Contraceptive pills contain man-made oestrogen and progesterone which when taken serve to inhibit the body’s own hormones and so prevent the woman from becoming pregnant.  The man-made forms of oestrogen and progesterone prevent the body from ovulating and in addition further serve to prevent pregnancy by making the mucous of the cervix thicker and so impeding the passage of sperm into the uterus.  They also alter the lining of the uterus so that the egg, should it be released and should it become fertilised so that the egg will be implanted

The contraceptive pill is 99.9% effective provided it is taken correctly.


The combination pill

There are several types of combination pill and they contain synthetic forms of progesterone and oestrogen.  The levels of the hormone in each pill or the cycle vary according to which type of combination pill you are taking:-

  • Monophasic pills - these are taken for a whole month and for each day of the first three weeks the pill contains the same level of hormone whereas for the fourth week the pills are inactive and at this time the woman will experience

A form of menstrual bleeding or period

  • Multiphasic pills - These are also taken for a whole month but contain varying levels of the hormone for the first three weeks of the cycle and for the last week the pills are inactive and again the woman menstruates
  • Extended cycle pills - typically these are used in 13-week cycles.  Active pills containing hormones are taken for 12 weeks and only in the final week are inactive pills taken and menstruation ensues.  As a result of the women-only experiences menstruation 3 to 4 times per year


Progesterone only pills

These pills do not contain oestrogen, only progesterone.  They are also referred to as the mini pill.  They may be given to women who cannot take oestrogen for health or other reasons.

There are no inactive pills so people taking this type of pill may or may not menstruate


So which type of contraceptive pill is best for you?

This needs to be discussed with your GP and it will depend on a number of factors including

  • How you experience your periods and the types of symptoms you have
  • If you are breastfeeding this will influence the decision
  • The health of your cardiovascular system
  • Any chronic health conditions you may suffer from
  • Medication that you may be taking


Benefits of the contraceptive pill as opposed to other forms of contraception

You are protected from becoming present at all times and so there is no need to use other forms of contraception to prevent pregnancy.

They are exceptionally effective when compared to other forms of contraception giving 99.9% protection when taken correctly

If you have a history of struggling with menstrual problems, the pill can help regulate the cycle if you suffer from heavy or irregular periods

Should you wish to become pregnant having taken the pill for a period of time, the effects of the pill are fully reversible and as soon as you stop taking it, you will return to normal


Other benefits of taking the combination pill include:

  • Reducing levels of acne
  • Reducing menstrual cramps
  • Protection against osteoporosis
  • Protection against non-cancerous breast growths
  • Protection against endometrial and ovarian cancer
  • Relief from heavy periods


Progesterone only pills also offer some added protection for the following:

  • Suitable for those who are unable to tolerate the combination pill
  • Suitable for women who are smokers
  • Suitable for women over 35 years of age
  • Suitable for women with a history of blood clots
  • Suitable for women who are breastfeeding


Disadvantages of the contraceptive pill

If you do not have a regular partner the contraceptive pill does not protect against sexually transmitted infections.  If you regularly have different or new partners is it highly recommended that you protect against STI’s by using a condom

It is also absolutely necessary to take the pill every day in order to maintain protection. If a pill is missed then the risk of pregnancy becomes higher



  1. Your contraception guide
  2. Birth control pills: are they right for you
  3. Progesterone only contraceptive pills
  4. Birth control pills

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