The progestogen-only pill (also known as ‘POP’) is a small round tablet that releases a progestogen hormone. It has to be taken daily. Almost half of all women take oral contraceptive pills as their primary method of contraception. POP is most popular amongst women aged between 16 and 24.
Progestogen makes the mucus around the cervix thicker, which makes it difficult for sperm to get into the womb. It can also make it difficult for an egg which has been fertilised to implant in the womb. In some women, it stops ovulation (the release of an egg).
You will need to take one pill every day. There are 28 pills per pack, and you do not take a break between packs. There are two different types of POP: ‘3-hour’ pills must be taken within the same 3 hour period every day. ’12 hour’ pills must be taken within the same 12 hour period.
Choose a convenient time in the day to take your first pill, and continue to take it close to that time every day.
- It doesn’t interrupt sex
- Periods may be irregular – more or less frequent or stop or become lighter or heavier
- May help with premenstrual symptoms or painful periods
- Suitable for those who can’t take oestrogen or the combined pill
- You can use it whilst be breastfeeding
- You can use it at any age – even if you smoke and are over 35
- When you stop using the pill your fertility will return to normal.
- You may not have regular periods while taking it – your periods may be lighter, more frequent, or may stop altogether, and you may get spotting between periods
- Short term side effects include: Spotty skin, breast tenderness, nausea or vomiting, stomach upset, weight change and headaches, change to sex drive or mood. These should go after a few months.
- It does not protect you against STIs
- You need to remember to take it at or around the same time every day
- Some medications can make it less effective
- Some women may develop small fluid-filled cysts on their ovaries. These are not dangerous and do not usually need to be removed.
How effective is it?
This pill is 99% effective if it is taken properly. This means that 1 in every 100 women who use the progestogen-only pill will get pregnant each year. It is less effective if it is not taken according to the instructions. With typical use, the progestogen-only pill is 91% effective.
What makes it less effective?
- Not taking it properly.
- Taking it more than 3 hours late or more than 12 hours depending on the type of pill.
- Vomiting less than 2 hours after taking it.
- Very severe diarrhoea.
- Some prescription and complementary medicines.
What if I miss a pill?
The chance of getting pregnant depends on: when the pills are missed, how many pills are missed and whether you have had sex without using another form of contraception in the last 7 days.
If you are taking a three-hour progestogen-only pill and are less than three hours late taking it, or if you are taking the 12-hour progestogen-only pill and are less than 12 hours late:
- Take the late pill as soon as you remember, and
- Take the remaining pills as normal, even if that means taking two pills on the same day.
The pill will still work, and you’ll be protected against pregnancy – you do not need to use additional contraception.
- Don’t worry if you have had sex without using another form of contraception. You do not need emergency contraception.
If you are taking a three-hour progestogen-only pill and are more than three hours late taking it, or are taking the 12-hour progestogen-only pill and are more than 12 hours late you will not be protected against pregnancy - and you may need emergency contraception.
- Take the last pill you missed straight away (if you have missed more than one, take only one)
- Take your next pill at the normal time
- Depending on when you remember, it may mean taking two pills on the same day (one at the time of remembering, and one at the regular time), or even at the same time
- If you are taking a three-hour pill (such as Femulen, Micronor, Norgeston or Noriday) you will need to use additional contraception for two days after missing the pill. It takes two days for the pill's contraceptive effect on cervical mucus to be re-established after missing a pill
- If you are taking a 12-hour pill that stops ovulation (a desogestrel pill, such as Cerazette), you will need additional contraception for two days.
For more information visit the FPA website.