The birth control pill is one of many reversible contraceptive methods available on the market. Of all hormonal methods, it’s the most popular, and it’s also been around the longest. But just how effective is the birth control pill at preventing pregnancy? It’s not a simple answer, and it all depends on how you take it… so it’s important to make sure you understand exactly how it works in your body.
The birth control pill is widely used for pregnancy prevention — 25% of contraceptive users in 2014 were taking the pill, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a non-profit research and policy organization that provides statistics and resources on sexual health. And for the most part, the pill is reliable. Planned Parenthood says the pill is 99% effective if used perfectly — but in reality, its effectiveness is slightly lower.
Depending on the type of birth control pill you’re taking, it may need to be taken at the same time every day in order to be maximally effective. Some pills have a window of several hours to take them for maximum efficacy, while others can be taken anytime in a 24-hour window, according to Planned Parenthood. Your doctor can instruct you as to how to take your pill properly. “Most people forget to take them daily ( not ‘perfectly taken’) — so that factor decreases the efficacy,” explains Dr. Kecia Gaither, MD, MPH, FACOG. It’s easy to miss a pill by accident, or to forget and take your pill a few hours behind schedule. When accounting for these little mistakes, the pill is really about 91% effective in most cases, according to Planned Parenthood.
That means that out of every 100 people, nine will get likely pregnant while using the pill. When you’re trying to prevent pregnancy, this isn’t exactly a comforting number. To minimize your risk of getting pregnant on the pill, set an alarm for yourself and make a habit of taking your pill on a strict schedule. “This means taking the pill at the precise same time each day and not missing any days,” Dr. Tristan Emily Bickman, board certified OB-GYN, tells Elite Daily. (As previously mentioned, timing may vary based on your doctor’s instructions.) Of course, you may not be perfect (none of us are), but the more diligent you can be about this, the more effective the pill will be for you.
Another way to decrease your odds of getting pregnant is to use condoms alongside the birth control pill every time you have sex. “If a woman is on the pill and feels it’s not enough, condoms should be used in addition to the oral contraceptives,” Dr. Gaither suggests. “It’s advised that condoms be used anyway to decrease getting an STI.” Condoms, in addition to being 85% effective at preventing pregnancy, are the best way to reduce your risk of contracting an STI — something your birth control pill does not do. By using two methods at once, you’re minimizing your risks of both unwanted pregnancy and STIs.
If you’re in a monogamous relationship and have both been recently tested for STIs, Dr. Bickman says you can also use the pull-out method as an extra source of contraception in addition to the pill. Be wary, though, that about one in five people get pregnant when using the pull-out method on its own, according to Planned Parenthood. It’s not reliable by itself, but it can be paired with a more effective method like the birth control pill to minimize your chances of getting pregnant.
The birth control pill is an effective form of contraception used by millions of people across the world, but that doesn’t make it foolproof. Following your doctor’s specific instructions is key to maximizing the efficacy of the pill — and if you’re still worried, use another form of birth control as an additional layer of protection. You can also choose to switch to an entirely different method of contraception, like an IUD, if you so choose. Talk to your doctor to determine how you can proactively minimize your risk of unexpected pregnancy, using whatever method makes the most sense for your life.