When Should I Take the Pill?

Does the Time Really Matter?

When to Take the Pill - Pill Times
When to Take the Pill. Photo © Dawn Stacey

Do you know when to take the Pill? This is a question that I am always being asked. Like many women, you may be wondering if the time you take the pill really matters. And the answer is YES—when using both combination birth control pills or progestin-only pills, it is very important that you take the Pill at the same time each day.

So Why Does Time Matter When Taking the Pill?

To understand when you should take the Pill, it will probably be helpful to quickly review how the Pill works to prevent you from getting pregnant The Pill is a hormonal birth control method.

This means that it contains estrogen and progestin, or only just progestin. Even though there are a few different ways that the Pill works, the most important way (that has to do with when you take the Pill) is that hormones in the Pill stop your body from ovulating each month during your menstrual cycle. So, if your ovary cannot release an egg, then there is nothing there for a sperm to fertilize.

Your body has the ability to break down the hormones in the Pill very quickly. Because of this fast rate of metabolism, you need to add more hormone into your body each and every day to make sure that there is enough hormones circulating in your body to prevent you from ovulating. If you forget to take a pill, the Pill could become less effective because there may not be enough hormones in your system.

The Exception to This Pill Explanation:

There is an exception to when you need to take the Pill!

This takes place during Week 4 or the "placebo week" of your pill pack—the time when your pill pack has either pills that contain no hormones or a small amount of hormones (less than the amount in the rest of the pack). This is also the week that you are most likely to have your withdrawal period. The pill is still working during this week (even though you are not taking any active hormones).

What does this mean to you? During your pill placebo week, if you have sex, you are automatically protected against getting pregnant. It does NOT matter what time you take your placebo pills. In fact, it really doesn't matter if you take them at all. That being said, it is a good idea to take these pills. This keeps your daily routine going—so you are more likely to remember to take your pill at the same time every day.

The Rule of Thumb When it Comes to Taking Your Pill:

Generally speaking, most birth control pills have about a 1- to 2-hour window period where the effectiveness of the Pill is not jeopardized. So, most healthcare professionals explain that being off an hour, in either direction, does not typically make a difference—especially if you take your pill one hour earlier as opposed to one hour later. The Pill is most effective if you take it at the same time each day, but there is no need to stress yourself out if you take your pill a little bit earlier or later than your normal, scheduled time.

When You May Run Into Trouble:

Given that your goal should be to take the Pill at the same time every day, some women get into trouble because they forget to factor pill-taking times during:

  • When Daylight Saving Time begins/ends
  • When going off to or coming home from college (if your university is in a different time zone)
  • When traveling (again, if you are traveling to a different time zone)

Taking the Pill When Traveling:

If you are traveling to a place where the time zone difference is only an hour different, you could probably take your pill at the same time that you normally would (according to the time zone where you live).

But let's consider this question from Alayna:

"I take my LoSeasonique birth control pill at 8:30 am each day. I live in the Eastern time zone, but will soon be vacationing in California (Pacific time zone). Given that the time difference is 3 hours, should I take my pill at 5:30 am PST once I get there or just keep taking it at 8:30 am?"

The answer to this question is YES! In this case, since the time difference is more than 1 hour, it is probably best to continue taking the Pill at what would have been your usual time—in actuality, not according to the clock. So, this means that if you are traveling between time zones with a difference of  2 or more hours, you should adjust the time you take the Pill while you are away. You can do this by figuring out what your pill-taking time corresponds to in the time zone that you are in, and taking your pill at that new, adjusted time while you are traveling.

So, in the question asked above, Alayna should take the Pill at the adjusted time of 5:30 am PST while she is away—because this is the same time as her normal pill-taking time of 8:30 am EST.

Birth control pills need to be taken at the same time every day in order to be most effective. These tips may help you keep up your routine:

  • Choose a time of day that works best with your schedule and stick to it.
  • Consider setting an alarm to keep yourself on track.
  • Take your pill at the same time that you do another activity (like brush your teeth or have your morning coffee).
  • Take advantage of technology—there are some helpful birth control apps and fun text/email reminder services, so you can remember to take your pill every day.

Source:

Bitzer J. "Oral contraceptives in adolescent women." Best Practice & Research Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. 2013;27(1):77–89. doi:10.1016/j.beem.2012.09.005.

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