When I was asked to offer my advice to young women thinking about using the combined pill I have to be honest and say I was a little hesitant. After all, I’m not a medical professional and I certainly can’t offer any medical or personal guidance about whether it is right for you as a choice of contraceptive.
But it’s also something I’m not embarrassed about and I believe women should be able to discuss openly; when my daughters are of an age they might be thinking about going on the pill, I hope to be able to discuss it honestly with them and help them come to an informed decision over whether it is right for them.
After all, I used a combined pill for over twelve years as a method of birth control before the time I was ready to become a Mum Muddling Through. I can conclude that it worked for me, so I can at least share my honest thoughts on my own experience and things to be aware of when it comes to taking the combined pill.
The science bit – how the combined pill works
The pill I took was a 21 day combined dose of synthetic versions of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. The teeny tiny tablet is taken each day (often pinging out of the pack and having to be retrieved from under the bed / chest of drawers /book case) at roughly the same time over a period (pardon the pun) of 21 days, followed by a seven day break in which the body has a period type bleed. After seven days a new pack is started and the cycle starts over.
The pill has three main effects on the body which prevent pregnancy (Source: Lloyds Pharmacy)
The synthetic oestrogen stops your body from producing two hormones that are involved in the menstrual cycle: Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) and Luteinising Hormone (LH). This prevents your ovaries from producing an egg because it stops your eggs from ripening and ovulating.
The synthetic progesterone thickens the mucus at the entrance of your womb so that sperm can’t get through to fertilise your eggs.
The synthetic progesterone also thins the lining of the uterus, making it difficult for a fertilised egg to implant itself.
It’s all pretty clever stuff that artificial simulation of hormone levels can do, ultimately making you 99% less likely to fall pregnant if used correctly.
Bear in mind…
Of course the pill does not prevent you against sexually transmitted infections, so you need to protect yourself with a barrier method such as a condom to prevent catching any nasties. I waited until I was in a serious long term relationship, and confident of both our sexual health before relying confidently on the pill alone.
Advantages of the pill
Obviously the main advantage of taking the pill is that you can control when (and with whom) you choose to have a baby. I absolutely was not ready or in a position to even contemplate having kids until I was almost thirty and I’m so glad I took care of my family planning through my twenties to make sure no surprises were had along the way.
Another positive about taking the pill is that you can (with advice from your GP) take two packets back to back to prevent having a monthly bleed – ideal for those epic dream holidays we used to have before having kids.
The pill is also a relatively simple, non invasive method. It’s also fairly temporary and can be stopped when the time is right with no major intervention – you just stop taking it. Everyone is different and your natural cycle may return straight away, or perhaps it may take time.
There are also other positive side effects which are that the pill can make periods lighter and less painful, reduce PMS, improve acne and some other health advantages.
Disadvantages of the pill
Firstly, it relies on being taken every day! If missed or taken late there is a risk if being ineffective, and as such additional measures need to be taken. Not ideal if you are a total nightmare for forgetting to eat your breakfast / keys / purse…this is one thing you don’t want to be forgetting three times a week. I did temporarily go back on the pill after having kids, and I can honestly say it did not work well with my mum brain – not at all. I eventually opted for a less manual approach and am probably not nursing a newborn for it!
The pill is a hormone that you are putting into your body and as such we all react differently – it can make your blood pressure increase and so you need to be checked every few months. Also, looking back I wonder if the pill actually affected my emotions a little? Something I perhaps wasn’t aware of until I came off it for good, over a decade later.
As mentioned – the pill does not protect you from sexually transmitted infections, something to bear in mind and take seriously.
Some antibiotics, herbal remedies and also vomiting or diarrhoea can reduce the effectiveness of the pill, so it’s important to be be clued up and always use a back up method if you think there is a risk your pill may be affected.
One of the other headaches about taking the pill was managing the repeat prescriptions – like many of us, my GP appointment situation was a total nightmare and it would always be a last minute panic to grab another pack – and not be able to get a doctors appointment! Nowadays you can use the Online Doctor Lloyds Pharmacy which would have been really useful for me back then. Nothing like the last minute…
Ultimately, if taking the pill keep a close eye for any side effects and discuss them with your doctor. There are loads of different variations and you may just need to switch types or find a method that works for you.
In my twenties, when trying to NOT get pregnant, wanting a baby obviously wasn’t on my agenda. That said, after years of avoiding getting pregnant, when the time came to actually WANT to get pregnant and I came off the combined pill, it took some time for my cycle to return to it’s normal rhythm, and ultimately to conceive our first child. Ironically after years of panicking after missing one pill, it turned out it wasn’t actually so easy for me to conceive after all. I don’t know if the long term use of the pill was to blame, and obviously we are all different – I do know folk who fell pregnant on the pill, so it’s always better to be safe than sorry, but it’s something that I certainly thought about in those many impatient months of trying to conceive.
Obviously, for me, being one of the 99 out of 100 women who successfully used the combined pill for an extended time, I have no complaints. As a Mum of two daughters I would be more than happy to help them choose this method, and know the facts if the time was right, as discussing options openly is a far easier conversation than guiding them through being a Mum before their time.
Always consult your doctor before taking any medication.
Disclosure:This is a collaborative post