Daily Health

The Advantages and Benefits of Birth Control Pills

You can gain many benefits from taking birth control pills, from preventing pregnancy and managing menstrual cycles to reducing your risk of certain cancers.  

 

If you are considering starting birth control pills, patches or rings, considering these benefits and consulting with a healthcare practitioner can help you find the ideal birth control for you and your body.  

 

This article discusses the various advantages and benefits of hormonal birth control, the different types of pills, and potential disadvantages. 

 

Keep reading to learn what you stand to gain from a birth control prescription.  

What are birth control pills? 

Birth control pills are oral contraceptives containing the hormones estrogen and progesterone (or progestin, the synthetic form of progesterone).  

 

Some birth control pills are progestin-only, meaning they do not contain estrogen. 

 

Along with helping to prevent unplanned pregnancies, additional uses for birth control pills include: 

  • Regulating a menstrual cycle 
  • Managing menstrual symptoms 
  • Managing symptoms of certain disorders/diseases, like endometriosis or PCOS 
  • Protecting against certain types of cancers
  • Acne support

How do birth control pills work? 

Birth control pills enable three events to take place in the body: 

  1. Preventing the ovary from releasing an egg (stopping ovulation)
  1. Thickening the cervical mucus makes it harder for sperm to reach an egg 
  1. Thinning the uterus lining makes it more difficult for an egg to be implanted 

 

Some birth control pills can also stop or pause the occurrence of a regular period. 

Types of birth control pills 

There are many different types of birth control pills available in Canada. Most can be sorted into two categories — combination pills or progestin-only pills (also called the mini-pill). 

 

The primary difference between these pills is that combination pills contain estrogen and progesterone, while the mini-pill only contains progestin.  

 

Both hormonal birth control pills have an effectiveness of 91% with typical use and 99.7% with perfect use.  

 

Here is a breakdown of the other differences between these pill types: 

Combination pills 

As mentioned, combination pills include both estrogen and progestin.  

 

These pills can come in 21-pill or 28-pill packs. With the 28-pill pack, there are seven placebo pills present to be taken during the fourth week as a hormone-free break. Comparatively, 21-pill packs do not contain any placebo pills. 

 

Depending on the brand and the advice of your healthcare practitioner, the seven-day hormone-free break can be followed or skipped with both 21-pill and 28-pill packs. If the break is taken, a woman’s regular period can occur.  

 

For women who take the week-long hormone break, the 28-pill pack is often preferred, as it helps them to remember to take a pill every day. Alternatively, a 21-pill pack may be the better option for women who take the pills continuously.

 

In addition to having different pack quantities, combination pills can be further divided into two sub-types:  

  • Monophasic pills: Monophasic pill packs comprise 21 active pills with the same dose of hormones per pill.  
  • Multi-phasic pills: Multi-phasic pill packs are comprised of 21 active pills that have differing amounts of hormones. Typically, this hormone difference is either bi-phasic (with the change in hormone levels happening around halfway through the pack) or tri-phasic (with the change in hormone levels happening every seven pills). 

The mini-pill (progestin-only) 

The mini-pill is a progestin-only type of birth control pill.  

 

Like combination pills, the mini-pill comes in packs of 21 pills. However, there are no 28-day pill packs for the mini-pill, and a seven-day hormone-free break is not generally included with these prescriptions.  

 

The mini-pill works the same as combination pills — a key difference between these pills is the lack of estrogen in the mini-pill. 

 

Estrogen has some risks associated with it, such as the potential to raise a person’s blood pressure. As a result, estrogen-containing birth control is not suitable for all women. 

 

The mini-pill is typically prescribed to women who: 

  • Cannot take estrogen for medical reasons 
  • Have certain risk factors (such as high blood pressure, migraines, history of blood clots or heart problems) 
  • Smoke tobacco/nicotine products daily (occasional use is not generally deemed a risk factor) 

Who should take the pill?  

Any woman who is interested in hormonal contraception can consider birth control pills. 

As we have covered, not everyone is well-suited to take estrogen-containing birth control pills. However, progestin-only birth controls are a safe and viable alternative for women who cannot take estrogen.  

 

Women over the age of 35 are thought to have a higher risk of developing heart-related problems.  

This risk is heightened if one or more additional risk factors are present, such as a smoking habit or migraines with aura.  

 

If you are 35 or older and on birth control pills — or considering starting birth control pills — a healthcare practitioner can help you decide which pill to take to meet your specific health needs and goals. 

Deciding to take the pill: what to consider  

The key is to speak with a healthcare practitioner about your existing health conditions, lifestyle habits, and potential health risk factors you may possess. This includes discussing your family histories of diseases like heart disease and cancer.  

 

Some of the key factors that you should discuss with a healthcare practitioner include the following:  

  • Menstrual cycle regulation and management: Aside from pregnancy prevention, one of the primary uses of birth control pills is to help manage and regulate your period. If you experience painful cramping, moderate to severe PMS, or other period symptoms that disrupt your day-to-day life, birth control pills can help you manage these symptoms better.  
  • Pre-existing health conditions: Women in good health generally do not have to worry about potential risks to their health while taking birth control pills. However, suppose you have or are at risk of developing certain health conditions (high blood pressure, migraines, history of blood clots, certain cancers, etc.). In that case, you should always discuss these with your healthcare practitioner before beginning a birth control pill prescription.  
  • Lifestyle habits: Certain lifestyle habits, like excessive smoking, can put you at greater risk of complications from birth control pills. Having an open and honest conversation with your healthcare practitioner about any risky lifestyle habits you may have is the key to finding the right birth control pill that is best suited for your body.  

Advantages and potential benefits of birth control pills  

Birth control pills have various advantages and benefits, making them a prevalent form of contraception in Canada.  

 

The advantages of taking birth control pills include the following:  

  • Convenience: Birth control pill prescriptions are easy to take and only require one daily dose. The most significant consideration is that these pills must be taken at the same time every day to be at their most effective. Setting a timer or reminder on your phone or computer can be a helpful method for ensuring you maintain a consistent birth control schedule.  
  • Pregnancy control: Having an unplanned pregnancy can be hard on your body and costly if you have not had the proper preparation time. Birth control pills help you maintain greater control over your body and ensure you do not become pregnant until you are ready to do so. Of course, birth control is not 100% effective, so paying attention to the signs and symptoms of pregnancy, even when on birth control pills, is essential.  
  • Menstrual cycle regulation: If you have an irregular period, heavy flow, and/or moderate to severe menstrual symptoms, birth control pills can be an excellent means of helping you manage and regulate your menstrual cycle. Birth control pills can also help to treat the symptoms of more serious menstrual-related conditions, such as endometriosis.  
  • Effectiveness: Though not 100% effective, hormonal birth control pills have high efficacy. With typical use (the standard use seen in the average patient, which includes an occasional missed or late dose), 90 of every 1,000 women may become pregnant while on the pill. With perfect use (aka, perfect administering of the medication at the same time every day with no missed doses), only 3 out of every 1,000 women may become pregnant while on the pill.  

In addition to these advantages, Sex & U (an educational initiative of the Society of Obstetricians and 

 

Gynecologists of Canada) reports that combination birth control pills also provide extra benefits that may include: 

  • Decreased occurrence of acne 
  • Decreased growth of unwanted hair on the body and face 
  • Reduced risk of endometrial, ovarian, and colon cancers 
  • Reduced risk of fibroids and ovarian cysts 
  • Potential reduction or perimenopausal symptoms  

Birth control pills and your menstrual cycle: what to know  

Depending on the type of birth control pills you take and the dosing schedule you follow, birth control pills can affect the occurrence of your regular period

 

This happens with combination pills, which you can take in 3 different ways: 

  • Conventional use: Conventional use of birth control pills means taking active pills for three straight weeks, followed by seven days of no hormones. Some women take placebo pills during the hormone-free week to maintain their daily pill-taking schedule, though the placebo pills are not required.  
  • Continuous use: Continuous use of birth control pills means taking active pills continuously all year. There is no planned hormone-free break with this type of birth control use, and your regular period will typically stop occurring after two to three months of continuous use. 
  • Extended-cycle use: Extended-cycle use refers to taking birth control pills continuously for one or more cycles, followed by a planned hormone-free break. Rather than this break happening once per month — like with conventional use — extended-cycle use will only have a break every three to four months, resulting in fewer overall periods per year.  

Disadvantages and potential risks of birth control pills 

As with any medication, birth control pills have disadvantages and potential risks

 

These may include: 

  • Reduced effectiveness when taken with other medications — consult with your healthcare practitioner about any medications you are currently on before beginning birth control pills 
  • Irregular bleeding or spotting  
  • Breast tenderness, nausea, or headaches (typically, these symptoms occur within the first weeks or months when you start a birth control prescription. If these symptoms do not subside after one to two months, contact your healthcare practitioner) 
  • Increased risk of blood clots and high blood pressure (if taking combination pills — progestin-only pills generally do not pose this type of risk) 
  • Mood swings or other mood issues 
  • Reduced libido

Advantages of birth control FAQs  

If you are curious about the advantages of birth control pills, it is essential to know what types of questions to ask your healthcare practitioner. 

 

Here are some frequently asked questions regarding birth control pills: 

1. How does birth control change your body?  

As covered earlier, the main changes in your body due to birth control pills happen in the ovaries and uterus, making it more difficult for an egg to be fertilized and implanted.  

 

These changes are considered reversible, meaning that your body will return to its original state if or when you stop taking birth control pills. 

2. What are the first side effects of birth control? 

Like any medication, birth control pills can have some starting side effects when beginning the prescription. 

 

The side effects of birth control can include 

  • Breast tenderness 
  • Nausea 
  • Headaches 
  • Irregular bleeding or spotting 
  • Temporary weight gain 

 

If these side effects persist for longer than one to two months, or if they become severe, contact your healthcare practitioner immediately.  

3. What are the long-term side effects of birth control? 

When appropriately taken and if compatible with your body and health, birth control pills should not pose any long-term side effects. 

 

There are a few long-term risks, though the occurrence of these is rare. These risks include: 

  • High blood pressure (hypertension) 
  • Risk of breast, cervical, or liver cancer 
  • Risk of blood clots 

These are important risks to discuss with your healthcare practitioner, as they can help you determine what risk factors you possess and which type of birth control pill will put you at the most minimal risk possible.  

Key Takeaways: Choosing the right birth control pill for you 

Choosing the best birth control pill requires a thorough consultation with a healthcare practitioner. In your consultation, discuss your family history of health conditions, any pre-existing health conditions you know you have, and your lifestyle habits.  

 

Additionally, you should ask your healthcare practitioner about the risk factors of birth control pills and discuss which risk factors you may have.  

 

Get started with Felix today to discuss what birth control options may best suit you.  

 

 

WRITTEN BY
Felix Team
Updated on:
October 31, 2022
Medically reviewed by
Dr. Sheila Wijayasinghe
Family Physician, MD, CCFP
Disclaimer

The views expressed here are those of the author and, as with the rest of the content on Health Guide, are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare practitioner.

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