What are progestin-only birth control pills?
Progestin-only birth control pills, as the name implies, contain progestin alone. It’s a dead giveaway, we know. Most progestin-only birth control brands are simply called the “mini pill,” which may sound more recognizable to you. The distinction between progestin-only birth control pills and other birth control pills is essential because the more common birth control pills typically contain a combination of two hormones – estrogen and progestin.
Before we dive in, here are the most critical facts you need to know about progestin-only birth control pills:
They contain progestin alone, a synthetic form of the female hormone, progesterone
They work like other hormonal birth control pills and are just as effective when taken correctly
They need to be taken at the same time every day
Most progestin-only birth control brands simply refer to it as the mini pill
Read on to learn more about how progestin-only birth control pills work, who should be taking them and any potential side effects they could cause.
How does progestin-only birth control work
First of all, what is progestin, and how does it work to prevent pregnancy? Progestin is a synthetic form of the female hormone progesterone. Progesterone plays a vital role in regulating your cycle. More importantly, it’s one of the active ingredients in birth control pills that prevent pregnancy. Progestin is often used alone or in combination with estrogen in many birth control methods.
Progestin-only pills work much like typical birth control pills. They are taken at the same time each day and work by making it hard for sperm to reach your cervix when you have sex. It does this by
Making the mucus in your cervix thicker, which makes it challenging for sperm to get to the uterus
If an egg does get fertilized, it thins the lining of your uterus to prevent it from attaching.
Unfortunately, one of the most common disadvantages of progestin-only birth control pills is irregular periods or spotting between periods. Not everyone on the mini pill will experience this, but people who do may find it bothersome.
It’s also crucial to take the mini pill at the same time every day. Taking it late or missing a pill can significantly reduce its effectiveness. This is unlike the combination pill which has a little more “wiggle room” when a pill is taken late.
What is the difference between a progestin-only and a combination birth control pill?
Combination birth control pills contain two hormones – estrogen and progestin. They are the most common type of hormonal birth control. As mentioned, progestin-only pills contain progestin alone, a synthetic form of progesterone.
Both progestin-only and combination birth control pills need to be taken daily. The difference in how they are taken is that progestin-only pills need to be taken at the exact same time of day, while combination pills have a little more flexibility if you’re a little late (but for full effectiveness, even combination pills should be taken at the same time daily)
Estrogen is responsible for many of the side effects experienced when taking the combination pill. Because the progestin-only pill has no estrogen, people who take it report fewer side effects than those on the combination pill.
Progestin-only birth control brands
There are several progestin-only birth control brands to consider if you are considering starting the mini pill.
Some of the most commonly used include:
The lack of estrogen in these pills means that you are unlikely to experience common side effects that estrogen can cause such as nausea, headaches, bloating, and breast tenderness.
Who should consider progestin-only birth control?
If you are thinking about starting progestin-only birth control or switching to it from other birth control methods, you should speak to your healthcare provider. Your healthcare provider will be in the best place to advise on whether it’ll be the best option for you. However, progestin-only birth control is typically recommended for people in the following categories:
People who are breastfeeding, as the mini pill doesn’t affect milk production
People older than 35 with other risk factors (such as smoking)
People living with obesity
People with high blood pressure
People who experience migraines with aura
People who have a medical history of blood clots
People who can’t take estrogen
People who are at risk of developing heart disease or stroke
On the other hand, progestin-only birth control pills aren’t recommended for everyone. Some research suggests that the mini pill, similar to the combined pill, might not be suitable for the following people:
People who have had breast cancer
People who have had malabsorptive bariatric surgery
People who have liver disease
People who are on anti-seizure medication
How to take progestin-only pills
It’s crucial to take the mini pill every day at the same time for maximum effectiveness.. If you forgot to take your progesterone-only pill (POP), take your pill as soon as you remember - even if that means taking two pills in one day. If you’re more than 3 hours late, you’ll need to use back-up contraception, like a male or female condom, for the next 48 hours. Continue to take your POP daily, even if you miss a dose. If you had unprotected sex at any time in the 5 days before you missed your pill, it’s recommended that you take emergency contraception (Plan B or My Way) as directed. Emergency contraception is available without a prescription at your local pharmacy. You may also consider purchasing emergency contraception from The Pill Club to have on hand for future events. It’s important to take emergency contraception as soon as possible, so having it available "just in case" is recommended.
Are progestin-only birth control pills effective?
Birth control pills are one of the most effective ways to prevent pregnancy. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the failure rate of progestin-only birth control pills is 7%, the same as the combination pill. If used perfectly, research shows that less than one out of a hundred people are likely to get pregnant in their first year of use. However, typical use, which gives room for occasional mistakes, lowers the effectiveness to a failure rate of about 9 out of 100 people.
What are the side effects of progestin-only birth control pills?
It’s common to experience breakthrough bleeding on the mini pill in the first few months. As your body adapts to the pill, this will likely stop in a couple of months. Other side effects you may experience when taking progestin-only birth control pills include
Light bleeding between your periods
With time, you can expect some of these side effects to resolve on their own. It’s rare to experience severe side effects while taking the mini pill. However, if you observe any of the following symptoms, contact your healthcare provider as soon as you can:
A color change in your legs
To recap, progestin-only birth control is a great alternative to combination pills for people who have experienced severe adverse effects while taking the combination pill, or who can’t safely use the combination pill It’s important to remember that birth control pills can’t protect you from sexually transmitted infections. The Pill Club's healthcare team can help determine the best birth control option for you, with delivery right to your doorstep.
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