Low Dose Birth Control: What You Need to Know

Low-dose birth control pills are a type of oral contraceptive that contains, as the name implies, a lower dose of hormones.

It is believed that a lower number of hormones in birth control pills can be beneficial for some people, because it means fewer side effects. However, low-dose birth control can come with some risks.

This article will review what low-dose birth control options are available, the benefits of these pills, and potential side effects.

Woman taking BC pill


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What Does “Low-Dose” Mean?

Low-dose birth control pills contain lower levels of hormones than other formulations of birth control pills.

Today, the most commonly used combination birth control pills (which deliver both estrogen and progestin) contain between 30 and 35 micrograms of the hormone estrogen. These pills were once considered low dose because original formulations of birth control contained up to 150 micrograms of estrogen.

Modern low-dose and ultra-low-dose formulations of combination birth control pills contain 20 micrograms of estrogen or even less. These pills seem to be as effective as regular birth control pills but have fewer side effects from estrogen, such as bloating, tender breasts, and nausea.

The progestin-only pill (POP), or minipill, is another low-dose pill. It only contains progestin rather than both estrogen and progestin. It may be used to reduce the number of monthly periods. The minipill may be slightly less effective at preventing pregnancy compared with combination pills.

Low-Dose Birth Control Options

There are a number of low-dose birth control pills on the market.

Examples of brand names for low-dose combination pills include:

  • Microgestin
  • Mircette
  • Low-Ogestrel
  • Loestrin 1/20
  • Yasmine
  • Yaz
  • Aviane
  • Apri

Brand names for progestin-only pills (minipills) include:

  • Camilla
  • Heather
  • Errin
  • Jolivette
  • Nor-QD
  • Norethindrone

Benefits of Low-Dose Contraceptives

As well as guarding against pregnancy, low-dose oral contraceptives may provide other benefits.

These include:

  • Fewer side effects than regular-dose oral contraceptives
  • Lighter periods
  • More regular periods
  • Clearer skin
  • Fewer or less-painful cramps or, in some cases, no cramps
  • Lower risk of endometrial cancer
  • Lower risk of ovarian cancer
  • Lower risk of ovarian cysts

Risks of Low-Dose Birth Control Pills

Low-dose birth control pills still carry some risks.

The progestin-only pill may be slightly less effective at preventing pregnancy than the standard combined oral contraceptive pill. This pill is especially time sensitive and must be taken within the same three-hour window each day in order to effectively protect against pregnancy.

If the minipill is taken every day at exactly the same time, roughly one in 100 people will be pregnant in a year of being on the medication.

If the minipill is not taken at the same time every day, seven out of 100 people will be pregnant in a year of being on the minipill.

Neither the minipill nor the low-dose combined oral contraceptive pill protects against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Other methods like condoms should be used as well to protect against STDs.

Symptoms

Generally, women who take low-dose birth control pills can expect fewer side effects than standard birth control pills. However, side effects can still happen.

Possible side effects include:

  • Breakthrough bleeding or spotting
  • Not having periods

Other, less common side effects of low-dose oral contraceptive pills include:

  • Acne
  • Mood Swings
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Bloating
  • Weight gain
  • Headaches
  • Thinning hair

How to Know Which Option Is Right for You

Every person is different and will respond differently to oral contraceptives.

Speaking with your healthcare provider will help you determine what pill is best for you.

Your healthcare provider will ask about what is important to you in a birth control pill. Factors may include:

  • Fewer side effects
  • Less painful periods
  • Less acne

Some people don't respond well to a pill that contains estrogen, and they may benefit from the minipill, which only contains progestin.

Your healthcare provider will be able to help guide you in making the best choice for your body and your lifestyle.

A Word From Verywell

Low-dose oral contraceptive pills work in the same way as standard oral contraceptive pills, but they contain lower doses of hormones. Some people may find these medications beneficial as they provide fewer side effects than standard oral contraceptives and may result in fewer periods or lighter ones. If you are unsure what form of birth control is right for you, you should speak with your healthcare provider.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does it take a low-dose birth control to be effective?

    How quickly low dose birth control will become effective depends on the type of pill and when in your cycle you start taking it. If you start combination oral contraceptive pills within the first five days of your period, you will be protected against pregnancy. If it's started at any other time, you should use a backup method of protection like condoms for seven days to prevent pregnancy.

    If you start taking the minipill, you will be protected against pregnancy after 48 hours.

  • How much time does it take for low-dose birth control to leave your system?

    You can stop taking oral contraceptives at any time. Once you stop taking it, your body will need time to adjust, and you may experience spotting, bleeding, or irregular periods for the first few months.

    Remember, immediately after you stop taking birth control, you are no longer protected against pregnancy.

  • What is considered a low-dose birth control?

    Standard combination birth control pills contain 30–35 micrograms of the hormone estrogen. Low-dose combination birth control pills have a lower level of hormones, often containing just 20 micrograms of estrogen. The minipill doesn't contain estrogen at all. It only contains progestin.

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8 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.
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