Miss a Birth Control Pill? Side Effects, What to Do

Medically Reviewed by Nivin Todd, MD on February 28, 2023
4 min read

You can probably remember to check your phone every day, but taking your birth control pill might slip your mind from time to time.

The first thing you need to do is know what type of pill you take. The pill comes in two forms: ­the combination pill and minipill. Most people take the combination pill, which includes the hormones estrogen and progestin. Some people take the minipill, which only has progestin. If you buy your pill over the counter, it's the minipill. 

You should also talk to your doctor if you constantly forget to take your birth control pill. They can help you find another method that is a better fit for your lifestyle.

You’ll need to use a backup form of birth control for 2 days if you’re more than 3 hours late to take a pill or miss any number of pills.

If you should have taken your pill 3 or more hours ago, take it as soon as you remember.

If you missed one day’s pill, take it right away, then take today’s pill on schedule if you haven’t yet. It’s OK if you take two pills in one day. You’ll take the rest of your pills as normal.

If you forgot two or more pills back to back, you need to take two pills on the day you remember. Then, you’ll take two pills again the next day. After that, take your pills as normal.

Your pack may have seven (or fewer) pills at the end of it that are a different color from the others. These are usually hormone-free pills that help you stick to the habit of taking a pill every day. The days you take those are when you have your period. 

However, there are many different pills with different colors, so it is best to ask your pharmacist or doctor if there are hormone-free pills in your pack.

You don’t need to do anything if you miss hormone-free pills, and your risk of getting pregnant won’t go up. 

Here’s what to do if you miss pills with hormones in them.

If you’re late to take a pill or forgot one day’s pill, take it as soon as you can. Then take the rest of your pills like normal. You may end up taking two pills in one day to stay on schedule. You should use another type of birth control for the next 7 days if you missed a pill during the first week of a new pack.

If you missed taking two or more pills in a row, take the pill you most recently missed immediately. You should get rid of the other pills you forgot to take. Then you take the rest of your pills like normal. Again, you might take two pills in one day. You need to use another form of birth control until you’ve taken your pill every day for 7 days.

If you missed pills the week before your period, skip the ones you would take during your period. Instead, each day, you should take one of the remaining hormone pills you would have taken before your period. Then, you start a new pack the day after you finish them. If you can’t start a new pack of pills right away, use a different type of birth control. You should use that backup birth control until you’ve taken your pills every day for the next 7 days.

If your pill pack has only two or fewer placebo pills, or if you still have questions about when to take your pill, ask your doctor.

The most common side effect of missing pills is light bleeding or starting your period, which can bring back menstrual cramps. You might feel nauseated as well. Your ovaries may release an egg if you miss a pill, though they are more likely to release an egg when you forget to take multiple pills, raising your risk of accidentally getting pregnant. 

You could have headaches or migraines caused by lower amounts of estrogen in your body. You are likely to have this happen when you miss pills at the beginning of a new pack or before you start your period. People who take the minipill shouldn’t have this problem.

In short, you should use a backup method of contraception (such as condoms) while you are getting back on track.

Combination pills: When you take your birth control pill every day, a steady supply of hormones or progestin keeps you from getting pregnant. This flow of hormones isn’t disrupted if you forget to take one combination pill and can get back on track within 24 hours, meaning you shouldn’t be at risk of getting pregnant. But you should still use a backup method of contraception, such as condoms, until you’ve taken your combination pill for 7 days in a row.

Minipill (progesterone only): Missing a day does raise your risk of getting pregnant. So again, use another method of contraception.

Your chances of getting pregnant are higher if you forget to take pills during the first week of a new pack or right before your period. And you are always at risk of getting pregnant if you don’t take pills for at least 7 days straight.