Changing The Time You Take Birth Control Can Be Tricky: Here's How To Do It Safely

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For many types of birth control, taking each dose with regularity is crucial. But even the most diligent people have to deal with schedule changes or daylight saving time shifts. Learning how to change the time you take your birth control safely is important when making these adjustments.

In general, switching up your birth control time will depend on the type of contraceptive you use. Because the pill is the only method that needs to be worried about daily, it’s the only type of birth control relevant here, as OB-GYN Dr. Rachel Zigler tells Romper via email. In general, there are two types of birth control pills, and those are the combination pills and the progesterone-only pills. Changing the time you take these pills will depend on which type you use.

Most people take the combination pill. “The most commonly used birth control pills contain a combination of estrogen (ethinyl estradiol) plus a progestin. These ‘combined’ pills do not need to be taken at the same time every day,” as Ashley Brant, MD, OB/GYN at Cleveland Clinic, tells Romper via email. They suppress ovulation to work, so they aren’t as time-sensitive as others. “As long as you take the pill daily, your risk of ovulating and getting pregnant is very low,” says Dr. Brant. With this in mind, switching the time you take your combination pill by an hour or so each day is generally fine.

Plus, there are a few tips you can keep in mind if you’re making a major switch to the time you take a combination pill, if you want to move from taking it in the evenings to the mornings, for instance. “First, if you are taking a combined hormonal contraceptive pill, meaning your pill has estrogen and progesterone, you can simply change your schedule with your next pill pack. This means you complete your pill pack, have a period, and on the next pack, change your timing,” says Dr. Zigler. You can start fresh by taking the next pill pack at the new time slot.

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Even though the combination pill can be more forgiving time-wise, many experts recommend sticking to a schedule anyway. “That said, taking the pill at the same time each day probably improves adherence and prevents forgetting the pill,” Dr. Gillian Dean, Senior Director of Medical Services at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, tells Romper via email. “There are phone apps that can help you remember to take the pill. I also recommend linking it to one of your daily behaviors, such as brushing your teeth.” Making the pill a part of your daily routine is generally a wise move.

The progesterone-only pills are much more time sensitive, however. Also known as the mini-pill, the progesterone-only pill typically has fewer side effects, according to Family Doctor. This makes it a good choice for women who dislike the side effects of the combination pill, as well as those who are breastfeeding. However, it must be taken at the same time every day to be most effective. "Progesterone-only pills are most sensitive to time changes as they really need to be taken on time to be effective," says Zigler. "There is a 3-hour window to provide a bit of wiggle room (so, if you take your pill at 8 am every day, you have until about 11 am on the next day to take the next pill) for progesterone-only pills, but obviously, they are quite time sensitive and the closer to on time, the better." Asking your healthcare provider for advice about timing is a smart move for anyone who has questions about this time-sensitive method of birth control. It's smart to have a backup contraception such as condoms on hand at all times when you're on the progesterone-only pills.

Also, remember that you have tons of choices when it comes to birth control. “There are over 100 birth control pills available in the U.S.,” says Dr. Dean. “There are also options that don’t require remembering to take a pill daily: IUDs, the implant, the injection, the patch, and vaginal rings. If you’re unhappy with your current method, see your gynecologist to discuss other methods and your priorities.” Options such as the birth control shot, patch, and implant are as effective (if not more so) than taking the birth control pill, and they don't require any daily routines, as noted by Planned Parenthood. The patch lasts for 3 weeks, the shot lasts for 3 months, and the implant lasts for around 4 years, they explained. These family planning options are a great idea for anyone with an uncertain schedule, or people who simply don't like the hassle of remembering to take a pill every day. Basically, there are a wealth of birth control options available for every lifestyle and routine.

Experts:

Dr. Gillian Dean, Provider at Planned Parenthood NYC, Senior Director of Medical Services at Planned Parenthood Federation of America

Rachel Zigler, MD, FACOG, practicing OB-GYN and former ACOG LARC Fellow

Ashley Brant, MD, OB/GYN at Cleveland Clinic

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