Choosing a birth control pill
Choosing a birth control pill
If you're considering taking birth control pills, you're not alone. Birth control pills are some of the most popular contraceptives. And for good reasons — they're effective and easy to use. The variety of birth control pills available, though, can seem daunting. Fortunately, they can be sorted into just a few categories to make it easier to assess your options.
What are the different kinds of birth control pills?
There are two main kinds of birth control pills — combination birth control pills, which contain estrogen and progestin, and the minipill, which contains only progestin.
Combination birth control pills come in different mixtures of active and inactive pills, depending on how frequently you want to have periods:
Combination birth control pills are also categorized according to whether the dose of hormones stays the same or varies:
Combination birth control pills that contain less than 50 micrograms of ethinyl estradiol, a kind of estrogen, are known as low-dose pills. Women who are sensitive to hormones may benefit from taking a lower dose pill. However, low-dose pills may result in more breakthrough bleeding — bleeding or spotting between periods — than do higher dose pills.
The minipill doesn't offer as many choices. There's a single mixture and formulation, and all the pills in each pack are active.
How do the different birth control pills work?
Combination birth control pills suppress ovulation in most cycles — keeping your ovaries from releasing an egg. Combination birth control pills also thicken cervical mucus and thin the lining of the uterus (endometrium) to keep sperm from joining the egg.
The minipill thickens cervical mucus and thins the endometrium — preventing sperm from reaching the egg. The minipill also sometimes suppresses ovulation. Unlike combination birth control pills, the minipill doesn't contain estrogen. The progestin dose in a minipill is also lower than the progestin dose in any combination oral contraceptive pill.
Are all kinds of birth control pills appropriate for everyone?
No. Your health care provider will ask about your medical history and any medications you take to determine which birth control pill is right for you.
Your health care provider may discourage use of combination birth control pills if you:
Your health care provider may discourage use of the minipill if you:
What are the pros and cons of combination pills?
What are the pros and cons of the minipill?
What's the bottom line?
You have many options for birth control. If you choose to take birth control pills, work with your health care provider to decide which type of birth control pill is right for you.
Last Updated: 2012-01-21
© 1998-2015 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). All rights reserved. A single copy of these materials may be reprinted for noncommercial personal use only. "Mayo," "Mayo Clinic," "MayoClinic.com," "Mayo Clinic Health Information," "Reliable information for a healthier life" and the triple-shield Mayo logo are trademarks of Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research.
Terms and conditions of use