Tips for Using Combination Birth Control Pills

Combination birth control pills are oral contraceptives that combine estrogen and progestin, similar to the natural sex hormones produced in a woman's body. Different brands include Loestrin FE, Seasonique, Yasmin, and Ortho Tri-Cyclen.

When using combination birth control pills, you should make sure that your healthcare provider has fully explained how to start taking the pill and what to do if you accidentally forget to take a pill.

A woman holding birth control pills
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How to Use Combination Birth Control Pills

Here are some general guidelines for using the pill:

  1. You should pick a time of day to take your birth control pill that's easy to remember: Taking the pill at the same time each day makes it more effective. There can be up to a 9% failure rate when taking the pill, most times due to human error.
  2. Take the first active pill in the pack within five days after the start of your period: If you start your pack on the first Sunday after your period begins, this will result in your period almost always beginning on a Tuesday or Wednesday every four weeks. If the pill pack is started during your period, you will be protected against pregnancy immediately and will not need to use a backup method of birth control.
  3. You can decide to take the first active pill in the pack at any time during your cycle: However, if you start the pill pack at any other time of your menstrual cycle (and not during your period), protection will begin after seven days. You should use an additional method of birth control if you're having intercourse during the first week of combination pill use.
  4. Take the pill at the same time every day for the first three weeks of each pill pack: It may be helpful to check the pack of pills each morning to make sure that yesterday's pill was taken. Use helpful reminders such as alarms or reminders on your phone or in apps that help create easy ways to remember.
  5. You can choose whether or not to take the "reminder" pills during week four: The hormones contained in the active pills that you take during weeks one to three prevent pregnancy throughout the month, so even during the fourth week—regardless of whether you're taking reminder pills or no pills at all—you're protected against becoming pregnant.
  6. Continue to take one pill a day until the pack is finished.
  7. If you're using a 28-day pack, you should begin a new pack immediately and not skip any days between packages.
  8. If you're using a 21-day pack, you should stop taking pills for one week and then start your next pack.
  9. Be sure to read and follow the instructions inside the pill package.
  10. If you want to become pregnant or don't want to use the pill anymore, you can just stop taking it: It typically can take anywhere from one to three months for your period to return to the cycle you had before starting the pill. However, you can still become pregnant during this time.
  11. You can also choose to skip your withdrawal bleed (period) by using the pill: This is extremely easy and safe to do. Follow steps one through four above. Instead of taking week four's pills, begin your next pack.
  12. If pills are missed, the best thing to do is to refer to your pill’s package insert: This is because the instructions can be more complicated with the newer, lower dose and extended regimen pills.
  13. You should always keep one copy of your package insert in a place where you can find it easily.

Tips for Taking Combination Birth Control Pills

It is extremely important that you remember to take your combination birth control pill at the same time every day. Luckily, there are some tricks to help do this. For example, make your combination pill a regular part of your evening routine, such as after you finish checking your email for the night or after brushing your teeth. Why? You have a better chance of remembering to take your pill when you pair its use with something you do each day.

There also are birth control apps to help. Try using a birth control app or alarm to remind you to take your pill. Finally, make sure to keep your pill pack in a place where you're guaranteed to see it every day, like next to your toothbrush or cell phone.

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cooper DB, Mahdy H. Oral Contraceptive Pills. In: StatPearls. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2019 Jan-.

  2. Planned Parenthood. How long does it take for the pill to protect against pregnancy?

By Dawn Stacey, PhD, LMHC
Dawn Stacey, PhD, LMHC, is a published author, college professor, and mental health consultant with over 15 years of counseling experience.