Contraceptive tablets, also known as birth control pills, contain hormones that prevent a woman’s ovary from releasing an egg. They do this by thickening the cervical mucus, which makes it more difficult for sperm to travel to an egg, and by changing the uterine lining to prevent a fertilized egg from implanting. Since the first birth control pill was released in 1960 there have been many advances in contraceptives, and there are now many forms of the pill available. Women can now choose from combination, progestin-only and extended cycle contraceptive tablets. Emergency contraceptives are another type of birth control pill.
Combination contraceptive tablets contain both estrogen and progestin, hormones naturally produced in the body. This type of birth control is the most commonly prescribed and the most well known type of birth control pill. Combination pills come in 21-day packs, where all 21 tablets are active pills or 28-day packs, which contain 7 placebo pills.
There are three different types of combination birth control pills — monophasic, biphasic and triphasic. Monophasic pills maintain a consistent level of estrogen and progestin throughout the month. Biphasic contraceptive tablets change the amount of progestin that is delivered throughout the month, while also containing the same amount of estrogen. The dose of hormones contained within a triphasic pill changes every five to nine days.
Progestin-only contraceptives, also known as mini pills, do not deliver any estrogen throughout the month. Women who are breastfeeding or have blood-clotting disorders are usually prescribed this type of contraceptive because estrogen reduces lactation. Progestin-only pills are less effective than combination contraceptives, so women must be diligent about taking the pill at the same time every day.
Extended cycle pills contain both estrogen and progestin. The pill packs reduce the number of periods a woman has per year to three or four periods. They can also completely eliminate a woman’s menstrual cycle by containing 365 days worth of active pills.
Emergency contraceptive tablets contain a type of progestin that prevents ovulation and a fetus from attaching to the lining of the uterus. The contraceptive will be effective if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, but it will not terminate a fetus that is already developing. This medication is available over the counter, but there are age restrictions. Emergency contraceptives can cause vomiting and cramping. Woman should consult a physician or gynecologist to determine which type of contraceptive is right for them.