Combination pills and progestin-only pills, also known as POPs, are the two main types of birth control pills on the market. Combination pills have two types of hormones, estrogen and progestin, while POPs contain only the latter.
The combination pill is the more common prescription of the two because it is slightly more effective: about 99% vs. 94%. But POPs are often prescribed for people with conditions like blood clotting problems or arterial disease. They are also safer for heavier people and anyone else at risk of a dangerous condition called venous thromboembolism.
If you have been diagnosed with a new medical condition or have recently had a baby, you may need to take POPs. Or you may have decided to change your birth control method because you have been struggling with the side effects of combination pills. Whatever your reasons for switching, here are some tips to help ease the transition to POPs.
6 Ways to Ease the Transition to POPs
1. Get a birth control subscription
When you take POPs, missing or delaying even a single dose can dramatically increase your risk of pregnancy. That’s why you’ll want to make sure you always have enough pills ready.
Pharmacies can run out of your brand, which can be a huge headache when you need a refill. Some states also allow pharmacists to deny you your pills for religious reasons, which can mean problematic delays.
Consider having an extra pack in case you lose one or are planning any trips. A birth control subscription is easy to obtain online and can help ensure you never run out of pills. It also allows more privacy than picking up your pills in person because your prescription is discreetly delivered to your door. Some online options allow you to get up to three months worth of pills at one time.
2. Set reminders or alarms on your phone
If you’ve been taking combination pills, you probably already have a reminder on your phone to take them every day. But you might also be used to hitting your phone’s alarm and taking your pills a little later.
With progestin-only pills, it is very important to always take them on time. Some pills have a 12-hour window, but traditional POPs can’t be taken more than three hours late. You may want to set a few alarms in a row in case you forget you ignored the first one.
Another option to consider is a smart case with a Bluetooth connection for your progestin-only pills. The Emme Smart Case connects to your phone and reminds you to take your pills on time. Not only does it know when you have opened the case, but it detects when you take a pill out of the package.
3. Prepare for cycle changes
Taking progestin-only pills can mean big changes to your normal period. Don’t be alarmed, but if you’re used to the regularity of combination pills, get ready for a wild new ride.
Progestin-only pills can lighten your typical menstrual flow and even reduce the frequency of cramps or painful periods. But they can also cause breakthrough bleeding or spotting throughout the month, sometimes for days.
If you prefer not to bleed freely, remember to keep pads or tampons handy, just in case. You can also invest in lined period underwear so you’re always prepared for spotting.
4. Reserve backup methods
POPs have a lower effectiveness rate than combination pills, even when used correctly. And with POPs, your risk of pregnancy increases much faster if you miss a dose. For this reason, you may want to use a backup method or have some emergency options ready.
One possibility is to keep the morning-after pill (or a prescription option like it if you’re over 165 pounds) on hand. You can also keep condoms or other barrier methods on hand to use if you miss a dose.
If you don’t remember having backup birth control, it’s still possible to get last-minute emergency contraception online. And if you think you may have missed a dose at some point, consider using a condom just in case.
5. Consider your other medications
One of the main advantages of the PSP is that they do not have as many side effects and contraindications as the combination pills. But there are some cases where you need to be aware of what else you’re putting into your body.
As with the combined pill, some antibiotics can make POPs less effective, increasing the chances of an unplanned pregnancy. Talk to a healthcare provider or get an online consultation if you’re unsure about a medication.
Some supplements, particularly St. John’s wort, may also increase the risk of unintended pregnancy with POPs. It is best not to take St. John’s Wort at all, but if you must, always use a backup barrier method.
6. Know the risks
Some studies suggest that POPs may carry a higher risk of depression than combination pills. If you have a history of mental health problems, please bring this up in your office before getting a prescription for POPs. Pay close attention to any changes in your mood after you start taking the new pills.
POPs can also put you at a much higher risk of ectopic pregnancy than combination pills. Consider using a backup barrier method to mitigate the risk of an ectopic pregnancy.
If you are having thoughts of suicide or harming yourself, call your local crisis hotline or 988, The Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. If you experience sudden, severe pain in your pelvis, abdomen, or shoulder, call 911 or go directly to the emergency room. These may be signs of a more serious problem.
taking the leap
There are many reasons why you might decide to switch from combination pills to POP. But it’s important to remember that everyone’s body reacts differently to hormones. When you change your prescription, pay close attention to any changes in side effects and get help if something seems wrong. Remember that it can take some trial and error to find the right birth control method for you.