How to Switch to a New Birth Control Pill

When uncertain, use back-up contraception and call your doctor

Young woman holding birth control pills
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Birth control refers to methods used to prevent pregnancy, like a natural method (for example, withdrawal or the rhythm method) or a hormonal method (for example, the "Pill"). Barrier methods like condom use or sterilization like a tubal ligation are also considered types of birth control. 

With the variety of birth control methods comes their unique upsides and downsides, as well as differences in how they work, their side effects, and their level of effectiveness in preventing pregnancy.

Due to the variety of options available and their distinct features, it's reasonable that at some point a woman may change her birth control method—one common shift is not even a change in method, but simply a change in pill brand. This is because different pill brands may contain slightly different doses of the hormones estrogen and progestin.

That being said, before you switch pills, you need to have a discussion with your doctor about which pill you want to change to, as well as your reasons behind this change and your expectations. Reasons for why you may switch pills are varied and can include one or more of the following:

  • You may be looking for a pill with certain non-contraceptive benefits, like reducing acne flares.
  • You may want the convenience of an extended cycle pill.
  • You may want to minimize certain side effects of your pill like nausea or irregular bleeding.
  • You may want to switch from a  combination pill to a progestin-only one – possibly you have a new contraindication to estrogen (for example, migraines with auras). 

    In the end, figuring out what pill you will be switching to is probably the hardest part of this whole process. Once you have made a decision, you can move forward with your new pill prescription in hand.

    Switching From One Combination Pill Brand to Another

    When switching from one pill to another, there are a couple strategies –so be sure to confirm with your doctor which one you should do.

    One strategy is to finish your entire old pill pack (including the week 4 placebo pills). Then, when you come to what would have been week 1, day 1 of your old pill brand, start your new pill pack. If you do this, you should have automatic pregnancy protection and do not need to use a backup birth control method. Just to be sure though, check the package insert (that comes with your new pill prescription) to double-check if you should be using a backup method for the first 7 days.

    Alternatively, you can actually start your new combination pill right away. That being said, if it has been more than 5 days since menstrual bleeding started, you need to abstain from sex or use back-up contraception for the next 7 days (for example, a condom).

    It's important to be aware that your body may need to adjust to the new type, level, and/or dose of hormones in your new pill. With that, be prepared to possibly experience some side effects. Most experts recommend giving your new pill brand at least three months for these side effects to go away before deciding if you want to stop it—in other words, patience is key here until your body adjusts. 

    Switching From Combination Pills to the Mini-Pill (Progestin-Only Pill)

    When switching from a combination pill to a mini pill, you can take your mini-pill immediately.

    That being said, if it has been more than 5 days since your last had menstrual bleeding, you need to either abstain from sex or use back-up contraception for the next 2 days. 

    Switching From the Mini-Pill to the Combination Pill

    If you are switching from a progestin-only pill to a combination pill, you can start the combined hormonal contraceptive right away. You do not need to wait for your next menstrual period. That being said, if more than 5 days have passed since you last had menstrual bleeding, you should use a backup method for the first 7 days of your new pill pack to avoid getting pregnant (or abstain from sexual intercourse).

    A Word From Verywell

    Switching birth control pills is a common process, and reasonable in many instances, as new lifestyle or personal issues arise. While it’s a good idea to be knowledgeable about your birth control options, use your doctor to help you decide what to start using—this is what they are trained to do, and they have experience working with women just like you.

    Once you have the green light and are making the switch, be sure that you have continuous pregnancy protection and be aware if you need to use backup birth control by talking with your doctor first. This will ensure a seamless switch and allow you to move forward without worry of an unintended pregnancy.

    Sources:

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (July 2016). U.S. Selected Practice Recommendations for Contraceptive Use, 2016

    Klein DA, Arnold JJ, Reese ES. Provision of contraception: Key recommendations from the CDC. Am Fam Physician. 2015 May 1;91(9):625-33.

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