The birth control pill was created in 1960 as a way for women to control their menstrual cycle, help alleviate hormonal imbalance symptoms and, of course, to prevent pregnancy.
These small pills, loaded with progesterone and/or estrogen, work together to prevent ovulation (the monthly release of an egg from the ovaries to the uterus where it prepares for fertilization). The pill also makes the lining of the uterus unreceptive to the implantation of a fertilized egg (necessary to get pregnant).
Types of Birth Control Pills
- Progestin-only Pills: They contain no estrogen and are ideal for women who have just given birth.
- Combination Pills: The most common form of oral contraceptive. Most packages contain three weeks of hormone pills and one week of sugar pills (or spacer pills). They come in two different doses: monophasic and multiphasic.
- Monophasic: These pills contain a level amount of progesterone and estrogen, meaning side effects are minimal.
- Multiphasic: These pills contain three different doses of hormones, changing every seven days. They were designed to reduce side effects like breakthrough bleeding and spotting.
- Emergency Contraceptive Pills: These are designed to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex. A good example is Plan B.
- Extended-cycle pills. These are typically dispensed in 13-week cycles. You take active pills for 12 weeks. During the last week of the cycle, you can take or skip the inactive pills and have your period. As a result, you have your period only three to four times per year.
RELATED: Getting Pregnant After Birth Control
What Are The Benefits Of Birth Control Pills?
Generally, taking the pill is simple, safe, and convenient. It does not interfere with having sex. Many women say it improves their sex lives because it helps them feel more spontaneous.
Women who do not need birth control often choose to take the pill for the other benefits it offers. In particular, combination and progestin-only pills can:
- Reduce menstrual cramps
- Make periods lighter
- Offer some protection against pelvic inflammatory disease, which often leads to infertility when left untreated.
The combination pill offers many additional benefits, including some protection against:
- Bone thinning
- Breast growths that are not cancer
- Ectopic pregnancy
- Endometrial and ovarian cancers
- Serious infection in the ovaries, tubes, and uterus
- Iron deficiency anemia
- Cysts in the breasts and ovaries
- Premenstrual symptoms, including headaches and depression
- Bad cramps
- Heavy and/or irregular periods
The Pill: Protects Against Pregnancy, Not HIV
Women take the pill by mouth to prevent pregnancy, and when taken correctly, is up to 99.9% effective. However, the pill does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV (the virus that causes AIDS). The latex male condom provides the best protection from most STDs.
How Does Hormonal Contraception Work?
Normally a woman becomes pregnant when an egg released from her ovary (the organ that holds her eggs) is fertilized by a man’s sperm. The fertilized egg attaches to the woman’s womb (uterus), where it receives nourishment and develops into a baby. Hormones in the woman’s body control the release of the egg from the ovary and prepare the body to accept the fertilized egg.
Hormonal contraceptives (the pill, the patch, and the vaginal ring) all contain a small amount of synthetic estrogen and progestin hormones. These hormones work to inhibit the body’s natural cyclical hormones to prevent pregnancy. Pregnancy is prevented by a combination of factors. The hormonal contraceptive usually stops the body from releasing an egg from the ovary. Hormonal contraceptives also change the cervical mucus to make it difficult for the sperm to find an egg. Hormonal contraceptives can also prevent pregnancy by making the lining of the womb inhospitable for implantation.
Extended-cycle pills contain the same hormones as other birth control pills, but they are taken in a longer cycle to