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forget-the-pill

What is ‘the pill’?

The contraceptive pill, or ‘the pill’, is the most popular form of prescription contraception used in Ireland today. When used correctly, it is over 99% effective in preventing pregnancy.

The pill is swallowed orally, and is available in two types: the combined oral contraceptive pill (COC) and the mini-pill or progesterone-only pill (POP). The combined pill contains synthetic versions of the two hormones produced naturally by the female body, oestrogen and progesterone, while the mini-pill contains progesterone only.

What do you do if you forget the pill?

The pill is most effective when it is used correctly. Forgetting to take your pill can be a stressful experience, but for many of us, it can be all too easy to do. However, a missed pill will not necessarily result in unwanted pregnancy if you follow the advice specific to your pill.

What you should do will depend on your individual situation:

  • which type of contraceptive pill you take (COC or mini-pill/POP)
  • how late you are in taking your pill
  • where you are in your cycle
  • how many pills you have missed

If you are ever unsure about what to do, you can seek advice from your local sexual health or family planning clinic, your GP, nurse or pharmacist.

Missing a combined pill (COC):

Missing one pill (up to 24 hours late)

If you miss just one of your combined oral contraceptive pills, or it has been more than 24 hours since you should have taken it, you will still be protected against pregnancy. You will not need to use additional forms of contraception if you are having sex. This is the case wherever you are in your current pack or your menstrual cycle. You should:

  • take your missed pill straight away, even if this means taking two in the same day
  • carry on taking the pills in the rest of your packet as usual
  • take your 7 day ‘break’ period as normal after you finish your pack

Missing two or more pills, or one pill (more than 48 hours late)

If you have missed two or more of your combined contraceptive pills, or forget to take one of your pills for more than 48 hours, then you may be at risk of pregnancy. You should:

  • take your missed pill(s) straight away, leave any earlier missed pills
  • carry on taking the rest of your packet as usual
  • use an additional barrier method (like condoms) for the next 7 days

You may also need to seek emergency contraception if you’ve had unprotected sex in the last 7 days of missing your pills.

Starting your next pack of pills:

  • If there are 7 or more pills left in your pack after your last missed pill, take your pill-free ‘break’ period as usual.
  • If there are less than 7 pills left in your pack, finish your current pack and skip your ‘break’ period, starting a new pack on the very next day.

Missing a mini-pill or progesterone-only pill (POP):

Because this type of pill contains less hormones, there is a smaller time window allowed for taking your pill.

Less than 3 hours late (or less than 12 hours for Cerazette)

If you are 3 hours or less in taking your usual mini- or progesterone-only pill, then you will still be protected against pregnancy. If you are taking the Cerazette (POP) pill, and you are less than 12 hours late in taking your usual pill, then the same applies. You should:

  • take your missed pill straight away
  • take your next daily pill at the usual time
  • carry on taking the rest of the packet at usual
  • You will not need to use an additional barrier method of contraception (like condoms) or seek emergency contraception if you are having or will have unprotected sex.

More than 3 hours late (or more than 12 hours for Cerazette)

If you are more than 3 hours late in taking your usual mini- or progesterone-only pill, then you could be at risk of an unwanted pregnancy. The same applies if you are taking the Cerazette (POP) pill and are more than 12 hours late.

You should:

  • take your missed pill straight away (but only take one, even if you have missed more than one pill at a time)
  • take your next daily pill at the usual time (even if this means taking two in the same day with your other missed pill)
  • carry on taking the rest of your packet as usual
  • use an additional barrier method (like condoms) for the next 48 hours if you are having sex
  • seek emergency contraception if you have had unprotected sex during these two days as you may be at risk of pregnancy.

What if I’m not sure what to do?

If you’re ever unsure about what to do, you should take your missed pill(s), seek medical advice as soon as possible, and use an additional form of contraception (like condoms) if you are having sex over the next 7 days. You can get advice from your local sexual health clinic, GP, nurse or pharmacist.

Sources:

http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/contraception-guide/pages/miss-progestogen-only-pill.aspx

http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/contraception-guide/Pages/miss-combined-pill.aspx

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