When used correctly, the pill is 99.9% effective. But nobody is perfect. So in actual daily practice — for real, mortal people living busy lives — effectiveness drops to 91%. Wrongly administered or missed doses are primarily to blame for approximately one in ten women who get pregnant on the pill each year in the United States. An unwanted pregnancy is a high price to pay for hitting snooze on your birth control alarm, or worse, not setting one at all.
The best way to combat this is to simply find a birth control routine that works with your schedule and sticks to it. That’s a big reason you received your birth control prescription, and your doctor or medical professional likely advised that you take your pill within the same three-hour window each day.
You might read or hear that depending on the type of birth control pill you are on, you may not need to adhere to this three-hour rule 100%. However, regardless of which type of birth control pill you have been prescribed, there is a reason your doctor likely instructed you to stick to a schedule.
Here are three reasons why your body will thank you in the long run for fostering a timely daily dose habit...
While less common than combination hormone pills, the progestin-only pill, AKA the “minipill,” is prescribed as an alternative oral birth control option for people with a history of blood clots in the legs or lungs, or who are unable to take a pill containing estrogen.
Unlike combination pills, progestin pills don’t prevent ovulation. The “minipill” prevents pregnancy by thickening the cervical mucus and thinning the uterine lining, barring the sperm from reaching the egg. Because progestin-only pills don’t prevent ovulation, an egg may still be released. That means if the progestin hormone isn’t introduced on time each day to work its magic, you are putting yourself at risk for an unplanned pregnancy. If you miss your dose time by more than three hours and plan to be sexually active that day, doctors recommend using a backup contraception method such as a condom.
One of the reasons your birth control comes in a pack rather than a bottle is because each pill contains a particular amount of hormones designed to be administered every 24 hours. This is true of both progestin-only and combination (estrogen + progestin) pills. Since combo pills may contain different hormone levels in each dose, it’s especially important to be cognizant of what type of combo hormonal birth control you are on.
Monophasic pills contain an equal amount of estrogen and progestin in each active pill. In biphasic pill packs, active pills contain two different combinations of estrogen and progestin. Triphasic pill packs will include three different combinations of estrogen and progestin. In some types of triphasic progestin levels increase, while in others, progestin remains the same, and estrogen increases.
Whether they are your own hormones or ones from a pill, your body’s regulation of your Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Gonadal Axis, AKA the intricate feedback loop from your brain to your ovaries, is a hard-working and highly organized system. Any interruptions (such as changing the timing of your pill) can cause your hormone levels to change unexpectedly. As a byproduct of this, you may experience certain side effects like spotting and mood swings.
The stakes for missing a birth control dose are high, and without a backup tracking system, it’s tough to remember exactly when you took each dose. And despite being a super common method of birth control, as many as 80% of women report missing one or more pills per month.
There are many reasons to take the birth control pill, but if pregnancy prevention is a primary motivation for you, you should think twice about going rogue on your birth control schedule. Thankfully, the Emme app and smart case — proven to reduce missed pills by 80% — can help you stay on track and make the most of your pill.