For many women, birth control pills are a good choice to prevent a pregnancy. It's easy to get a prescription from your doctor, and they're generally safe and effective. They’re pretty hassle-free, too. You just have to remember to take a pill every day.
Different types are available. If you’re thinking about using one of them, here's what you should know to help you make a smart choice.
With traditional birth control pills, you'll take 3 weeks of hormone-containing active pills, followed by one week of inactive pills. You'll get your period the week you the inactive pills.
With a type called extended-cycle, you take active pills for a longer amount of time. Most often you'll take 3 months of active pills before taking a break. That means you have your period only three or four times a year.
It can make them lighter, too. Heavy menstrual bleeding (called menorrhagia) affects about 10% of reproductive-age women. If it's not treated, it can lead to anemia. The pill lowers your blood loss by thinning the lining of your uterus.
It may make you more comfortable. Birth control pills keep your ovaries from releasing eggs every month. "It essentially tricks your body into thinking you're pregnant," says Michael Thomas, MD, professor and director of reproductive endocrinology and fertility at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. Because of that, your uterus makes less of the chemicals that trigger painful cramps. This pain, known as dysmenorrhea, is the most common menstrual problem, affecting up to 90% of reproductive-age women.
Birth control pills with the hormone drospirenone can also help ease symptoms of a severe form of PMS called premenstrual dysphoric disorder, or PMDD.
It can stop menstrual migraines. 60% of women who get migraines associate the timing of them with their period. "Migraines can be triggered by a drop in estrogen, which occurs during menstruation," Thomas says. Taking extended-cycle birth control pills stops hormonal ups and downs.
It can help your skin. All women make male sex hormones, just in much smaller amounts than men do. Some women, though, make more than others, which can result in acne and excessive hair growth. Among other things, the pill slows the making of male hormones. As a result, many women have fewer breakouts and less unwanted body or facial hair.