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Birth Control Pill Users Need Better Information

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The third week of a pack of pills is a very important time not to miss pills, Zlidar tells WebMD. "If a woman misses two or more pills in a row during the third week of the pill pack, she should be sure to take at least seven pills straight." She should then skip the placebo pills, since they do not contain hormones. Start a new pack the very next day, without the usual seven-day wait.

Some women believe they need to give their bodies a rest from the pill, writes Zlidar: "Some health care providers incorrectly advise pill users" to take a rest ... [but] there is no scientific justification for it."

"The simple basic instruction for effective pill use is, of course: Take one pill each day," she says. "Beyond that, thinking in terms of seven days can help a woman avoid pill-taking errors and correct for mistakes. For full protection against pregnancy, do not go for more than seven days without taking hormonal pills. If you miss two or more pills, keep taking hormonal pills for at least seven days straight to stay protected."

The "seven-day" guideline is based on the fact that seven straight days of taking pills are needed to suppress a woman's hormonal cycle at the beginning of a pill pack.

Because the traditional guidelines can be confusing for women, Zlidar encourages health care providers to emphasize the principle behind the seven-day guideline. "Providers must tell women how pills work, and that for seven days every month they are not taking hormonal pills. This is especially important for 28-day [pack] users to remember. ... Telling women that the pill puts their ovaries to sleep and that missing pills can wake their ovaries up is a good way to explain it in understandable terms."

As for remembering -- daily -- to take that important little pill, Zlidar offers a suggestion: "Women have a lot of success when they link it to a routine, like when they take it when the alarm clock goes off. It acts as cue, a reminder to take my pill."

Ask your doctor about new types of birth control pills, she advises. Some have low-dose hormones in the placebo pills, which can help eliminate some side effects like breakthrough bleeding. Other new pills can eliminate the monthly period for up to three months, "especially good if they're experiencing painful menstruation or endometriosis," Zlidar says.

"We want to send a wake-up call to women, ask them to get more involved, asking questions, demanding answers," she tells WebMD. "Every woman really has the ability to make this an effective method. If she can take the time to get the information she needs, she can be a successful user and be happy with the method."

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