How To Prevent Oral Contraceptive Failure

Reasons Why The Pill May Fail

Prevent Oral Contraceptive Failure
Prevent Oral Contraceptive Failure. TEK IMAGE/Getty Images

Oral contraception (also know as the Pill) is a super effective birth control method. But like any other contraceptive, there are things that you can do to make it less effective. Now, there's no need to panic -- just follow some of these tips to prevent oral contraceptive failure. By knowing some of these simple reasons why the pill may fail, you have a much better chance of increasing its reliability.

Tips to Prevent Oral Contraceptive Failure:

  1. Oral contraceptives need to be taken every day at the same time. This is very important if you are using a progestin-only pill. There is some "wiggle-room" if you use a combination oral contraceptive. So, make sure you pay attention to situations that may affect when you take your pill, like traveling between different time zones and Daylight Saving Time.
  2. To help remember to take your pill, it could be helpful to associate your pill use with some other activity that you do every day (like brushing your teeth). This way, taking your oral contraceptive becomes part of a routine. There are also great birth control apps that can help remind you when to take your pill. Having a routine makes a difference. Women who don't have a daily routine are more than 3 times likely to miss 2 or more pills per cycle.
  3. You should remember to bring an extra pack of pills when traveling -- this is helpful incase you will be finishing your pack during your trip, if you miss too many pills, or if you lose your pill pack.
  1. If you are using an oral contraceptive, make sure you understand how to take it the correct way and what to do if you accidentally miss a pill. You can become pregnant if you forget to take just 1 birth control pill. But it is more likely that oral contraceptive failure will happen if you miss 2 or more pills during one cycle.

    Oral Contraceptive Failure Due to Missed Pills:

    Since we're speaking about missing pills, do you know what to do if you miss a pill? Keep the information sheet that comes with your pill pack handy since it will give you directions incase you miss a pill. To prevent oral contraceptive failure, if you miss 2 or more pills during any cycle, make sure you are using a back-up birth control method (like condoms or the sponge) for the rest of your pill/pack cycle.

    Some women believe the myth that the riskiest time to miss a pill is in the middle of your cycle. But when you are using oral contraceptives, you do not have a normal menstrual cycle because you are NOT ovulating. This means that there is not a time of the month when you are more fertile. The truth is that oral contraceptive failure is more likely to occur if your forget a pill(s) at the beginning of your pill pack, at the very end, and/or if you forget to start your next pack on time.

    Other Factors that Can Lead to Oral Contraceptive Failure:

    Besides not taking your pill reliably, at the same time, every day, there are some other things about oral contraceptive use to know about.

    1. There are certain medications that can lead to oral contraceptive failure because they make the hormones in the pill less effective. Whenever you start a medication (or are first prescribed the pill), you should ask your doctor about these possible interactions.

    2. It has been shown that a woman’s weight could contribute to oral contraceptive failure. The exact reason why overweight and/or obese women are at greater risk of oral contraceptive failure is not completely known. Some doctors may put overweight women on a higher estrogen/progestin dose oral contraceptive, or they may suggest a different contraceptive that may be more effective if you are overweight.
    3. Keep in mind that severe diarrhea or vomiting could possibly lead to oral contraceptive failure. If you vomit too quickly after taking the pill, its hormones may not have gotten into your system. Diarrhea and/or vomiting could cause foods and liquids to pass too quickly through your body -- this can also affect whether or not the pill's hormones are absorbed. Changes in eating habits, such going on certain diets, may also affect hormone levels and oral contraceptive effectiveness.
    4. Another time that can lead to the possibility of oral contraceptive failure is when you switch to a new pill or birth control method. This is why it's super important that you read the directions that come with your pill pack (or new contraceptive method) and follow the steps for switching. If you are not sure what to do, it is a good idea to call your doctor or pharmacist just to be sure that you are switching methods correctly.

    So, hopefully by just being aware of some of this information, you will be less likely to experience oral contraceptive failure. Knowing that some of your individual habits and actions, metabolism, weight, diet, and other factors may all play some role in pill failure makes you more savvy when it comes to using oral contraceptives and maximizing their effectiveness in your life.


    Zapata LB, Steenland MW, Brahmi D, Marchbanks PA, Curtis KM. "Effect of missed combined hormonal contraceptives on contraceptive effectiveness: a systematic review." Contraception. 2013 May; 87(5):685-700. Accessed via private subscription.

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