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What To Expect When You Start Taking Oral Contraceptives

Updated on September 23, 2010

If used correctly, oral contraceptives can be a highly effective method of contraception. However, some women find that oral contraceptives are not the right option for them due to side effects or the need to remember to take the tablets at the same time each day. 

Changes to your periods

To prevent conception, oral contraceptives contain estrogen and progestin. These hormones work to avoid eggs becoming fertilized, in much the same way that your body would if you were already pregnant. Taking oral contraceptives means that no egg is released during your menstrual cycle. At the same time, fluid in the neck of the womb becomes thicker so that it is harder for sperm to travel into the womb, and the womb lining is prevented from becoming thick enough for an egg to grow there. This will frequently alter your periods, and many women experience periods that are much lighter than before. Depending on the length of your periods prior to taking oral contraceptives, you may also find that your periods are shorter than before. It is also common for your periods to be less painful due to the fact that the womb lining does not become as thick as it otherwise would. 

Taking contraceptive pills

Oral contraceptives need to be taken at the same time every day to work properly. It does not matter when they are taken, but it can be beneficial to choose a time that will be easy to remember (such as when you go to bed or breakfast time). In this way, it becomes part of your daily routine and it is less likely that you will accidentally forget to take a pill. Depending on the type of oral contraceptive that you are taking, you may be able to take the pill up to twelve hours late without losing effectiveness, but this will not always be the case. Most oral contraceptives require you to take one per day for three weeks, at which point you will have a 'week off' to have a period. For most oral contraceptives, your 'bleed' will start two to three days after you take the last pill of the packet, and you begin the next pack exactly seven days after finishing the previous pack (regardless of whether your 'bleed' has actually finished or not). 

Side effects

There are many different brands of oral contraceptive, and you may need to try more than one before you find one that suits you. While some women do not experience any side effects at all, common complaints include headaches, breast pain, anxiety, depression, irritability, weight gain, nausea, stomach upsets, loss of libido and an intolerance to wearing contact lenses. These side effects are particularly common in the first few months of starting oral contraceptives and may go away once your body has become more used to taking them. If the side effects are severe or persist beyond the first few months, you may prefer to consult your doctor about switching brands. In many cases, you may need to try a few brands before you find one that you are comfortable with. 


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