Why You Should Be Taking All Your Birth Control

A friend and I were discussing our birth control pills yesterday (this is what we talk about when you’re not around, fellas!) and I mentioned that I always throw my pack out when I get to the seven days of “inactive” pills. She looked at me like I had just said I secretly poke holes in condoms just for the thrill of it. “Don’t worry,” I said, “Those last seven pills are just placebo pills anyway.”

Meanwhile, I realized how dumb I sounded approximately two seconds after I said it. After all, we’re so careful with everything else regarding our reproductive health that throwing away one fourth of my prophylactics every month because I was pretty sure that was okay bordered on self-destructive negligence. So I went home and did a little research.

Although it turned out the BC I was on did have seven days of sugar pills, I was still taking a gamble by throwing them out before getting a new pack. The reason birth control comes with a 28 pills to begin with is to keep you in the habit of taking one pill, every day. According to WebMD, remembering to take your birth control is kind of like the most important part, obviously:

It is important to create a system or habit of taking your pills everyday at approximately the same time. Birth control pills work best if taken at about the same time every day in order to keep a steady level of hormones in your system. It may help to associate taking your pill with something else you do at about the same time every day – like going to bed, eating a meal or brushing your teeth. Having a strong habit will help you to insure not missing any pills and hence increasing your risk of birth control pill failure and unwanted pregnancy.

Every time I threw out my pack early, I had to make sure I’d remember to get my next pack exactly one week later. And for every day you don’t take your pill, you’re getting more and more out of the habit of taking it at the same time every day.

But let’s say you were really good about remembering to pick up your prescription: was there any chance that not taking your last week of pills could land you in pregnancy problems? The answer is that it definitely can happen, especially if you switch to a new kind of pill like the “Mini-pill” which contains Progestin rather than Estrogen. According to Wikipedia:

“This pill is taken continuously without any breaks between packets, and traditional progestogen-only pills must be taken to a much stricter time every day.” Meanwhile, birth control pills like Seasonale offer women the chance to go period-free for three months at a time, but they also work on a different placebo cycle, which can lead to problems if you’re used to throwing away portions of unused pills.

Even though the end of the month pills I was trashing did turn out to be placeholders and not active pills, I got a bit freaked out after reading all this. Especially because I realized I didn’t even know the name kind of pill/hormone combo I was on. And even armed with this new information, I’m going to start taking the sugar doses, because birth control is one drug where the habit forming part is a good thing. If nothing else, because I’ve realized that this excuse would sound pretty stupid/ridiculous if I ever had to use it: “I got pregnant because I forgot to take the sugar pills!”

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    • Charlotte Taft

      Dear Drew–GREAT ADVICE! When I was a birth control counselor many year ago I used to explain that an egg is normally release from the fallopian tubes once a month. Taking birth control pills is telling your body not to release that egg. So each time you put a pill in your mouth you are telling your body, “Not the time to get pregnant. Keep that egg where it is.” Every time you forget a pill you are saying, “It’s OK to let that egg go.” Creating this kind of intention keeps you in partnership with your body.

    • lena

      Placebo pills are in actually just plain sugar pills, there is no medical need for them, they were included because women are “more comfortable” having a period once a month. In addition, if you don’t want to take them you can get your next pack early or switch to ones that you take continuously, like seasonique. If you can’t remember to take your pills on time, then you should probably switch to a birth control method that doesn’t involve pills–your placebos are not to remind you to take the other 21 pills nor do they fool your body into not ovulating–it’s the build-up of hormones and cervical mucous that protect you for the seven days of placebos, they’re to give you a withdrawal bleed/period to make you feel “comfortable”

      • Drew Grant

        I don’t think placebo pills exist to trick women into thinking that taking them will make them have their periods. It’s to keep you in the habit of taking a pill every day. Like I said in the article, I’ve been throwing my pills out at the end of every month, but I’m also terrible at remembering when to pick up my new pack.

    • Jenna

      What I learned from this article is that you can safely throw away placebos because they contain nothing relevant. Unless you’re not bright enough to open a new pack of pills. Oh wait, everybody knew that already.

    • Lucy

      Wow, nothing new here. Agree with above posters, it STILL is unnecessary to take the placebo pills and in fact you can, indeed, just begin the next pack in place of placebo week if you want to skip your period. Taking the pills during placebo week didn’t help me at all to remember, which is why I now have an IUD.