Hesperian Health Guides
Oral Contraceptives (Birth Control Pills)
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Most birth control pills contain 2 hormones similar to the hormones that a woman’s body normally makes. These hormones are called estrogen and progestin. Usually, brands that contain a smaller amount of both hormones are the safest and work best for most women.
Birth control pills come in different strengths of each hormone and are sold under many different brand names. We list only a few brands in the chart below. Groups 1, 2, and 3 list different types of combined pills.
Group 1 - Triphasic pillsThese contain low amounts of both estrogen and progestin in a mix that changes throughout the month. Since the amounts change, it is important to take the pills in order.
Group 2 - Low dose pillsThese contain low amounts of estrogen and progestin in a mix that stays the same throughout the month.
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Group 3 - Low dose pillsThese pills are high in progestin and low in estrogen.
As a rule, women who take birth control pills have less heavy monthly bleeding. This may be a good thing, especially for women who are anemic. But if a woman misses her monthly bleeding for months or is disturbed by the very light monthly bleeding, she can change to a brand with more estrogen from Group 2.
To assure effectiveness and minimize spotting (small amounts of bleeding at other times than your normal monthly bleeding), take the pill at the same time each day. If spotting continues after 3 or 4 months, try one of the brands in Group 3.
For a woman who has very heavy monthly bleeding or whose breasts become painful before her monthly bleeding begins, a brand low in estrogen but high in progestin may be better. These pills are found in Group 3.
Progestin-only pills should be taken at the same time every day, even during monthly bleeding. Menstrual bleeding is often irregular. There is also an increased chance of pregnancy if a woman forgets to take even one pill.
Group 4 - Progestin-only pills (minipills)
Minipills contain only progestin.