The Pros and Cons of the Birth Control Pill

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Women have been enjoying the benefits and advantages of the birth control pill since it was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on May 9, 1960. The pill is actually one of the most researched and studied of all medications. Most women can safely use birth control pills, but pill use may carry some risks and/or side effects.

Here's a quick rundown of the pros and cons of using oral contraceptives, including common side effects. Read beyond the chart for more specific information.

Common side effects of the pill

Verywell / Cindy Chung

Pros of the Birth Control Pill

Benefits of the pill include:

  • The pill is a very convenient method of contraception.
  • The pill may offer some protection against pelvic inflammatory disease (which, if left untreated, can cause infertility).
  • It can lead to lighter periods or help regulate periods.
  • It is a safe birth control method.
  • Birth control pills can decrease menstrual cramps.
  • It allows for sexual spontaneity.
  • The pill can help you time your period—combination pills can be taken to regulate (change the timing and frequency) of your period or be used to skip your period altogether.

Noncontraceptive Benefits

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

Cancer Protection and the Pill

Research suggests that birth control pills lower the risk of ovarian cancer by 27% and the risk of endometrial cancer by 50% compared to those who have never taken oral contraceptives.

Protection against developing these cancers can last up to 30 years after stopping combination birth control pills. Plus, this protection increases with each year of use. So, if you use combination pills for 6 years, your pill use can lower your the risk of ovarian or endometrial cancer by up to 60%.

Research suggests that taking birth control pills may slightly increase the risk of developing breast cancer. Studies show that there is an 15—20% reduction in the risk of developing colorectal cancer among women who use the pill.

Cons of the Birth Control Pill

If you use birth control pills, you may experience some unwelcome 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 progestin and/or estrogen in the pill.

Birth control pill side effects may include:

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

Additionally, combination birth control pills could:

  • Cause depression
  • Change sexual desire

Progestin-only birth control pills may lead to irregular spotting and bleeding (at least, more frequently than with combination pills).

Side Effects

You should read the paper insert that comes inside your specific pill pack for more detailed information about the use and risks of your birth control pills. Additionally, the insert should also explain when to take your birth control pills (and what to do if you miss a pill...or two).

You can take your birth control pill with an evening meal or at bedtime to help decrease nausea and/or vomiting. Try not to stop taking your pill—even if you are feeling really nauseous.

Side effects are a common reason why people stop taking birth control. Talk to your doctor about what you are experiencing and if changing to a different brand of pill may help.

Talk to your doctor if you are still experiencing side effects from your birth control pills after three months—this may mean that your birth control pill brand may need to be changed.

Risks and Complications

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

Women who use combination birth control pills may have a slightly greater chance of certain medical issues than nonusers. The risk increases:

  • With women who smoke
  • Being age 35 or older
  • Having conditions associated with a heart attack (such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and conditions that increase the risk of blood clotting)

The most serious complication of combination birth control pill use has to do with developing a blood clot in your heart, lungs, brain, or legs. Women using combination pills who are confined to bed rest or are wearing a cast seem to have a higher likelihood of developing a blood clot.

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

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

Additional birth control pill cons/risks to be aware of include:

  • There is a link between pill failure and weight. This means that the effectiveness of the pill may be compromised if you are overweight.
  • You must also pay attention to the medications you are taking while using the pill. Certain medications can lower the pill's effectiveness.
  • Drospirenone-containing pill brands like Yaz and Beyaz can suppress the hormones that regulate your body's water and electrolyte-levels, so these pills may have an interaction with medications that increase potassium.
  • When you visit any doctor, it is very important that you include your pill brand under the "list of medications" that you are currently using.

A Word From Verywell

When deciding whether or not to use the pill, you and your doctor should discuss the pros and cons as they relate specifically to you. Be sure you also discuss possible interactions with other medications you might be taking if you both feel that the pros outweigh the cons, and you are a good candidate for the pill.

Most women who stop using the pill do so for reasons that are unrelated to side effects. That being said, keep in mind that 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

  • Can birth control pills impact weight loss or gain?

    Research shows that birth control pills do not cause weight loss or gain.

  • How well do birth control pills work?

    If taken precisely as directed, birth control pills are 99% effective at preventing pregnancy. But remember that birth control pills do not protect against STDs, so another method should be used to prevent disease.

  • Are birth control pills safe to take while breastfeeding?

    It is safe but combination birth control pills may decrease your milk supply. The alternative is a progestin-only pill as those do not decrease milk production in breastfeeding women.

  • How quickly do birth control pills work?

    Birth control pills start preventing pregnancy up to 7 days into your first cycle.

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Article 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. Office on Women's Health. Birth control methods. Updated April 24, 2017.

  2. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. ACOG Practice Bulletin No. 110: noncontraceptive uses of hormonal contraceptives. Obstet Gynecol. 2010;115(1):206-18. doi: 10.1097/AOG.0b013e3181cb50b5

  3. National Cancer Institute. Oral contraceptives and cancer risk. Updated February 22, 2018.

  4. Westhoff CL, Heartwell S, Edwards S, et al. Oral contraceptive discontinuation: do side effects matter?. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2007;196(4):412.e1-6 doi:10.1016/j.ajog.2006.12.015

  5. Committee on Gynecolic Practice. ACOG Committee Opinion Number 540: Risk of venous thromboembolism among users of drospirenone-containing oral contraceptive pills. Obstet Gynecol. 2012;120(5):1239-42. doi:10.1097/aog.0b013e318277c93b

  6. Cherala G, Edelman A. How can we improve oral contraceptive success in obese women?Expert Rev Clin Pharmacol. 2015;8(1):1–3. doi:10.1586/17512433.2015.974558

  7. Lee CR. Drug interactions and hormonal contraceptionTrends in Urology, Gynaecology & Sexual Health. 2009;14(3):23-26. doi:10.1002/tre.107

  8. Planned Parenthood. Does birth control make you gain weight? Updated March 16, 2021.

  9. Cleveland Clinic. Birth control: The pill. Updated July, 21, 2020.

Additional Reading
  • The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Practice bulletin No. 110: Noncontraceptive Uses of Hormonal Contraceptives."Obstetrics & Gynecology. Jan 2010; 115(1):206-218. .

  • Westhoff CL, Heartwell S, Edwards S, Zieman M, Stuart G, Cwiak C, Davis A, Robilotto T, Cushman L, & Kalmuss D. "Oral Contraceptive Discontinuation: Do Side Effects Matter?" American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. April 2007; 196(4):412.e1–412.e7.