Many of my student patients have misconceptions about their birth control pills.
This article aims to correct some of the most common BCP (Birth Control Pill) myths and separate the facts from the fiction.
- True or False? Birth control Pills are one of the most effective contraceptive options.
This was a trick question. Sorry. This is true and false. There is a BIG DIFFERENCE between theoretical (perfect) use and actual (typical) use. Theoretically, BCPs are 99% effective in preventing unwanted pregnancy. Unfortunately, in the college setting I see a lot of imperfect use. The number one obstacle for perfect use in the college student is remembering to take the pill at the same time every day (give or take 2 -3 hours). Check out this article for some of the newest tracking apps.
- True or false? Birth Control Pills provide protection against Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
If you don’t know the answer to this one, you have been living under a rock! False! I give this speech over and over again, but my college patients keep forgetting about the condoms. USE THEM! EVERY TIME! And don’t rely on your partner to have them. Check out this article to see why every sexually active woman should carry her own condoms.
- True or false? If you miss a pill, you should take it as soon as you remember.
True. Let’s say you had an unplanned spend the night with your friends and you left your pills in your apartment or dorm. Go home and take the missed doseASAP. And if it you are more than 3 hours late taking the missed dose, you will need to use backup protection if you are sexually active in the next 5 days. (Of course, we already established that you would be using a condom every time, right?? ☺) You may have a little nausea if you have to “double up” on your pills, but as I often tell my patients, you will be a lot more nauseated if you get pregnant!
**And if you miss a pill, follow these directions
* If you miss one pill, take your missed dose ASAP (the next morning or night) and then take the next dose at the regular time.
* If you miss 2 pills, take the pills twice a day, morning and night, for the next 4 doses then return to your regular schedule.
* And, get an app to remind you to take your pills!
- True or false? You need a PAP test before you start Birth Control Pills.
False. You only need to have a PAP if you are 21 years or older. And if everything is normal, then you repeat the PAP in 3 years. If you are under 21 years of age, all you really need to start BCPs is an office visit with your health care provider. He or she will need to discuss your birth control options, make sure there are no reasons why you can’t take BCPs, talk to you about safe sex, and educate you about the correct way to take your pills.
- True or false? Birth Control Pills can cause you to gain a lot of weight.
False. Many college women like to blame the pill for their freshman 15. However, a causal relationship between BCPs and weight gain has not been established. I have definitely seen the weight gain with the Depo-Provera contraceptive shot, but not with the BCPs. Usually, the untimely weight gain is a result of high carbs, late night eating, drinking alcohol, and lots of sugary beverages!
Final Thoughts- Remember that birth control pills are not the only contraception option. And the pill is only as reliable as the woman taking it! If you are forgetful, if you have contraindications to taking the pill, or if you simply don’t like the idea of a daily medication, consider other options. The most effective methods (i.e., intrauterine device (IUD) and the contraceptive implant) are very good, long-term, reversible contraceptive options that are well tolerated and cost effective. The IUD and implants will also ensure that you stay on track with your long-term goals, which I assume do not include an unintended pregnancy!
Beth Palmer Stewart is a Nurse Practitioner, a mother of 5 (2 out of college, 2 in college, and 1 more still in high school), a college clinic Nurse Practitioner, and founder of The College Student First Aid Kit, LLC. You can learn more about Beth and her product at collegefirstaidkit.com