The Pros and Cons of the Birth Control Pill

Women have been enjoying the benefits of the birth control pill since the first one was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on May 9, 1960. When used as directed, the pill is 99% effective in preventing pregnancy.

Most women can safely use birth control pills. However, as with all medications, they do have possible side effects and risks.

Here's a rundown of the pros and cons of using oral contraceptives, including common side effects.

Common side effects of the pill

Verywell / Cindy Chung

Pros of the Birth Control Pill

Obviously, the main reasons to take the birth control pill are to prevent pregnancy and regulate the menstrual cycle. Some of the pill's benefits include:

  • It is 99% effective when used as directed.
  • It is a very convenient and safe method of contraception.
  • It allows for sexual spontaneity (so you don't have to plan in advance).
  • It can lead to lighter periods.
  • It can decrease the discomfort of menstrual cramps.
  • Combination pills can be taken to change the timing and frequency of your period or to skip your period altogether.

Other Benefits

Combination birth control pills that include both estrogen and progestin can also provide other health benefits. They may offer some protection against:

Recap

Birth control pills have benefits beyond preventing pregnancy. For example, they can lessen menstrual cramps, reduce acne breakouts, and protect against osteoporosis.

Cancer Protection and the Pill

Research suggests that birth control pills can lower the risk of ovarian cancer by 27% and the risk of endometrial cancer by 50% compared to other types of contraceptives.

Protection against developing these cancers can last up to 30 years after stopping combination birth control pills. Plus, protection increases with each year of use. If you use combination pills for six years, your risk of ovarian or endometrial cancer will be lowered by up to 60%.

Studies also show that women who take the pill are 15% to 20% less likely to get colorectal cancer.

While research has shown that taking birth control pills may reduce the risk of some cancers, it can slightly increase the risk of developing breast cancer.

Cons of the Birth Control Pill

If you use birth control pills, you may experience some side effects. The good news is that most of these side effects will go away by the second or third month of use as your body adjusts to the hormones in the pill.

Birth control pill side effects may include:

  • Headaches
  • Breast tenderness
  • Nausea (sometimes with vomiting)
  • Bleeding between periods

Combination birth control pills may also cause:

Progestin-only birth control pills may lead to irregular spotting and bleeding more frequently than combination pills.

Managing Side Effects

You should read the paper insert that comes inside your pill pack for more detailed information about how to use them and what the side effects are. The insert should also explain when to take your birth control pills and what to do if you miss a pill.

You can take your birth control pill with an evening meal or at bedtime to help decrease nausea and/or vomiting.

Side effects are a common reason why people stop taking birth control pills. Talk to your healthcare provider to see if changing to a different brand of pill may help, especially if the side effects last longer than three months.

Risks and Complications

Serious problems do not occur very often with the pill. In fact, birth control pills are much safer than pregnancy and childbirth.

The most serious potential complication of combination birth control pill is developing a blood clot in your heart, lungs, brain, or legs.

The risk is increased in:

  • Women who smoke
  • Women age 35 or older
  • Women who have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and conditions that increase the risk of blood clotting
  • Women who are confined to bed rest or are wearing a cast

If you have a history of depression, you may not be able to continue to take birth control pills if your depression worsens.

If you are planning to have surgery, you should inform your surgeon that you are using combination birth control pills.

Other things to be aware of if you are considering the pill:

Pill brands like Yaz and Beyaz contain drospirenone. These pills may have an interaction with medications that increase potassium, such as angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and beta blockers. Potassium is a mineral in your blood that helps regulate your heartbeat and blood pressure, among other things.

Summary

Birth control pills have been on the market since 1960 and are considered very effective and safe to use. They are 99% effective in preventing pregnancy when used as directed.

Birth control pills have other health benefits. They can lessen the pain of menstrual cramps, keep acne under control, and protect against certain cancers.

As with all medications, they do have some potential risks and side effects. These include an increased risk of blood clots and a small increase in breast cancer risk.

A Word From Verywell

You and your healthcare provider should discuss the pros and cons of the pill for you specifically. It can take a few months for side effects to go away completely. If you continue to have side effects, your doctor may want you to switch to a different brand. It may take some trial and error with various pill brands until you find the brand that works best with your body.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How well do birth control pills work?

    If taken as directed, birth control pills are 99% effective at preventing pregnancy.

  • Can birth control pills impact weight loss or gain?

    Research shows that birth control pills do not cause weight loss or gain. However, the pill may be less effective in women who are significantly overweight.

  • Are birth control pills safe to take while breastfeeding?

    Yes, but combination birth control pills may decrease your milk supply. Instead, you may want to try a progestin-only pill. They do not decrease milk production in breastfeeding women.

  • How quickly do birth control pills work?

    Birth control pills start preventing pregnancy within seven days of starting them.

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9 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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