Birth control pills 101: The hows and whys of the contraceptive

Hailey and Justin Bieber are all over media these days because they are finally opening up about their relationship. Hailey didn’t just talk about the intricacies of married life with Vogue. Speaking with Refinery29, she also talked about starting birth control for the first time. “Over the last few months, I’ve been on birth control, which I’ve never done before, and that threw off my hormones for sure and made my skin go off. I was getting little tiny things here and there, and they just hurt. It was like, how do these hurt so bad?” she said. “I talked about it with my doctor and came to find it’s because the hormones from the birth control mess with your natural balance. You just have to be patient, let it happen, and let it even out. For me, I’d take that over having a baby right now, so…”

For first-timers like Hailey, birth control pills are understandably a big question mark. If you’re looking into it too, it’s completely fine. Married or not, birth controls shouldn’t be taboo. There are actually many types but for now we’ll cover oral contraceptives or birth control pills.

How does it work?

The birth control pill works by essentially stopping ovulation through the hormones found in the pill, which prevents the eggs from leaving the ovaries. Aside from that, it “thickens the cervical mucus, making it difficult for sperm to penetrate, and it also makes the Fallopian tubes move slower so the egg and sperm don’t get together quite as efficiently,” Jill Rabin, MD, explained to Reader’s Digest. “It also makes the uterine lining hostile to implantation.”

How effective is it?

The pill actually has a 99 percent rate of effectiveness against unwanted pregnancy—that is, if used diligently, as prescribed. However, most women usually miss a beat and often forget to take the pill at around the same time everyday, so its effectiveness in “real life” is about 91 percent. That means, 9 out of 100 pill users get pregnant every year.

Teen Vogue notes that apart from the regularity of intake, there are other factors such as vomiting and diarrhea, as well as medications and supplements, that could interfere with the pill’s effectiveness. So if you add something new to your routine, like antibiotic, it’s still best to fill in your doctor.

Also, please note that although it works well for preventing pregnancy, it won’t protect you at all from sexually transmitted infections, so you still have to use precautions like condoms.

What are the types of oral contraceptives?

There are basically two types of birth control pills. One type contains the female sex hormone progesterone, and the other is a combination of hormones. Most doctors prescribe combination pills with estrogen and progesterone, though there are some that contain more hormones than others. For those who are sensitive to estrogen, it’s likely the doctor might suggest progestin-only pills.

If you’re unsure, it’s best to consult a doctor which one is best for you.

Will it make me gain weight?

I’m putting this here, because it’s one of the biggest myths surrounding oral contraceptives. Multiple studies have actually found no evidence that birth control pills cause weight gain, although many women who take the pill claim otherwise. According to Women’s Health, it might depend on your prescription. Those with high doses of estrogen causes weight gain due to increased appetite and fluid retention, thus making some women feel bloated. The progestin found in the pill may also increase your appetite, so proper diet and exercise is recommended.

Very Well Health notes: “Additionally, women often begin using the pill during a time of life that happens to coincide with weight changes. This may also contribute to the pill’s unfair reputation for causing weight gain.”

What are the ACTUAL side effects?

In addition to bloating, the common side effects include sore breasts, nausea, and spotting between periods. Teen Vogue also notes that, “Increased levels of estrogen are also linked to an increased risk of blood clots, particularly if you’re a heavy smoker.” In addition, It can also cause emotional changes or mood swings. Some people experience feeling overwhelmed or stressed and anxious.

These side effects will typically clear up after two to three months, but if they persist or if you notice any major changes physically and mentally (like a lump in your breast, or depression), it’s important to talk with your doctor. You may be prescribed a different birth control pill. Exercise, dietary changes, and getting the right amounts of sleep might also be suggested to help you combat the side effects. Pandia Health stresses that “About ten percent of women need to try a few different types of pills before finding the right one for you.”

Don’t worry, there are good side effects too. Speaking with Teen Vogue, gynecologist Dr. Dena Harris cited that, “The pill also takes care of certain medical conditions, like problems with fertility, polycystic ovaries, endometriosis, acne, and other issues.” Plus, according to the publication, “If you want to bypass your period by skipping over the week of placebo pills, you won’t cause yourself any harm. Skipping your period doesn’t decrease the pill’s efficacy, and because oral contraceptives thin the lining of your uterus, there’s less for your body to shed every month anyway.”

Where do I get one?

It’s available over-the-counter at drug stores. Prices range from as low as P50 per pack, to around P900.


Art by Marian Hukom

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