Birth Control for Beginners: 5 Things to Know Before You Start the Pill

A pack of birth control pills ready to be taken for the first time.

The birth control pill is one of the greatest innovations in women’s health. By providing safe, effective, and convenient protection against unwanted or unplanned pregnancy, the pill has given women more control over their own sex lives and reproductive health. Knowing what to expect when you start using the birth control pill is the best way to determine if it’s right for you and ensure you use it the right way.

 If you’re considering using the pill for the first time or are about to get started with your first pack, here are a few things you should expect within the next few months.

1.) Protection May Not Be Immediate

Depending on where you are in your cycle when you begin and the type of pill you’re taking, you may need to use a backup method of birth control when you start the pill. There are two types of birth control pills—the combination pill, which contains estrogen and progestin, and the progestin-only or mini-pill.

For the combination pill, protection is immediate only if you start within five days of your period. If you begin mid-cycle, you’ll need to use backup for 7-14 days (depending on what your doctor recommends for that brand). If you’re starting on a progestin-only pill, you will be protected after 48 hours no matter where in your cycle you begin.

2.) Minor Negative Side Effects

As your body reacts and adjusts to the increase and initial fluctuations in hormone levels that take place when you start the pill, it is not uncommon to experience any of the following side effects:

Woman holding a pack of birth control pills while holding lower abdomen and experiencing some mild negative side effects of the pill.
  • Nausea (due to suddenly high levels of estrogen)
  • Headaches
  • Breast tenderness
  • Bloating
  • Weight changes
  • Mood/emotional fluctuations

Once your body is used to the birth control pill, and your hormone levels have regulated—usually after about three months—these effects should subside.

3.) You Might Spot

Intermittent spotting and a small amount of irregular bleeding are very common in women who are first starting the birth control pill. The reason we’ve singled out this side effect is because if it catches you off guard, it can be very alarming. It will take a few months for your period to develop a pattern, so there’s no need to worry if you’re spotting in between for the first few months.

It is also common that you may not start your period on the first day of your inactive pills but with one of the later pills during that week. Depending on which pill you’re taking, you may even skip menstruation during the first month or so altogether. You only need to contact your doctor about irregular bleeding if it’s excessive or especially abnormal.

4.) Positive Health Benefits

Although you may not notice or fully reap the additional health benefits of birth control until you’ve made it past that three-month mark, you can expect a few extra perks once any negative effects have subsided. These benefits may include:

  • Clearer skin/reduced acne
  • Increasingly regular (and sometimes shortened) periods
  • Milder cramps
  • Lighter bleeding
  • Fewer mood swings throughout your cycle
  • Reduces risks of ovarian cysts

5.) Daily Responsibility

Alarm clock next to birth control pill pack, reminding you to take your pill on time.

To reach the 99% effectiveness that makes the birth control pill such a popular option for contraception, you need to take your pill at the same time each day. This can be difficult to remember when you’re just starting out, so it’s important to take any extra steps necessary to help you develop the habit—such as setting a daily alarm or keeping your pills on your nightstand to take right before bed each night.

If you do miss a pill, there’s no need to panic. You’ll want to consult the specific instructions for your brand, but the general guidelines for missing an active pill are as follows:

Combination Pills:

Take the missed pill as soon as you remember (even if you’re taking two on the same day) and continue with your pack as usual. In this case, you will not need backup protection. If you miss more than one active combination pill, take one as soon as you remember, toss the other, and use backup contraception until you’ve taken seven consecutive active pills. If you’ve missed two active pills and had unprotected sex in the last five days, you may want to use emergency contraception.

Progestin-Only Pills:

Take the missed pill as soon as you remember (again, even if you end up taking two on the same day). Use backup protection for the next two days. Even if you miss just one progestin-only pill, you may want to use emergency contraception if you’ve had unprotected sex in the past five days.

If you’re at the beginning of your contraceptive journey, our medical professionals at South Avenue Women’s Services can assist you. We offer various birth control options, and our trained medical staff has the experience necessary to help women understand what is best for their unique bodies.

If you have any questions about using the birth control pill or need help accessing it, give us a call at (585)271-3850. We are proud to offer an environment that welcomes and cares for women of all ages while providing confidentiality and professionalism.