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How to start taking contraception

Woman taking a pill with a glass of water
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There are lots of different contraception options out there, but many women favour the pill. It’s not hard to understand why – the pill is easy to take, non-invasive, and doesn’t need to be administered in person by a healthcare professional. It’s also one of the only types of contraception available over the counter in pharmacies.

If you’re thinking about starting the pill, or about switching to the pill from another type of contraception, read on to find out how to get started.

Which contraceptive pill is the best to start with?

There is no right or wrong option when it comes to choosing a contraceptive pill for the first time.

Depending on your preferences, it might come down to factors like convenience or cost – for instance, the progestogen-only pills Hana and Lovima are available over the counter, which means you won’t have to make an appointment with your GP. However, unlike prescription contraception, you do have to pay for them.

If you go to your GP for free contraception, you’ll probably be offered a standard combined pill, unless this isn’t considered safe for you to take. Two good alternatives are the low dose combined pill and the progestogen-only or mini pill.

Whichever pill you’re prescribed, you’ll need to take it in a similar way i.e. swallowing one pill, once a day at around the same time. With certain types of the progestogen-only pill, you only have a three-hour window in which you can take your pill each day – if you think you may struggle to remember this, an alternative type may be better.

Can I start contraceptive pills at any time?

Generally, it’s fine to start your pill at any time during your menstrual cycle, however there are some specific recommendations to take into account. Depending on when you start, you may need additional contraception for the first seven days.

Read the section below for more detailed guidance.

How do I start the contraceptive pill?

Combined pill

If you take your first combined pill between the first and fifth day of your period, you are protected from pregnancy and you won’t need to use any additional contraception when you’re having sex. However, if you start taking it after the fifth day you will need to use additional contraception (e.g. condoms) during sex for seven days.

This guidance may not apply to women who have very irregular periods or a menstrual cycle that’s much shorter than the average. If in any doubt, consult your GP or pharmacist before starting the combined pill.

Progestogen-only pill

If you take your first progestogen-only pill between the first and fifth day of your period, you are protected from pregnancy and you won’t need any additional contraception.

Starting the mini pill on any other day of your cycle means you’ll need to use additional contraception for a few days as stipulated by the Patient Information Leaflet.

As with the combined pill, this guidance may need to be altered if you have irregular periods or a short menstrual cycle.

After giving birth

If you’ve just had a baby, you can start the progestogen-only pill on day 21 after you’ve given birth. This will provide protection straight away. Starting later than this means you’ll need to use condoms for up to seven days as stipulated in the Patient Information Leaflet.

You can also start on the combined pill 21 days after giving birth, unless you’re breastfeeding. If you’re breastfeeding you should wait to start the combined pill until six weeks after you’ve given birth.

After a miscarriage or abortion

You can start using the combined pill or the progestogen-only pill up to five days after having a miscarriage or abortion, and you’ll be protected straight away. If you start after this you’ll need to use additional contraception for up to seven days as stipulated in the Patient Information Leaflet.

After emergency contraception

If you’ve taken levonorgestrel (Levonelle) you can resume taking the combined or the progestogen-only pill within 12 hours. If you’ve taken ellaOne you’ll need to wait five days to restart your contraceptive pill – and during this time you’ll need another form of contraception like condoms.

Once you’ve restarted your routine contraceptive pill you’ll need to use additional contraception for seven days. If you’re using the combined pill Qlaira, you’ll need to use additional contraception for nine days.

How do I switch to the contraceptive pill from another type of contraception?

It’s fine to switch from one type of contraception to another. However, you might have to use additional contraception for a few days. The best way to work out what to do is to speak to your GP or pharmacist, however you can also use the Patient Information Leaflet that comes with your pill.

As an example, the progestogen-only pill Hana advises that you’ll need additional contraception if you’re switching from the combined pill and you start your new pill after the seven-day break.