Can You Get Pregnant on the Pill?

Published July 12th, 2022 by Bridget Reed
Fact Checked by
Camille Freking
Medically Reviewed:
Chris Riley

Pregnancy is an exciting and fruitful time – but it might not be for everybody.

That’s why many people choose to use contraceptives, one of which is known as “the pill.”

People with female reproductive organs take the pill to avoid getting pregnant if they are having regular, unprotected sex.

But is it still possible to get pregnant using this effective birth control method? How common is it, and what can you do to lessen the odds even more? Here’s everything you need to know.

What Is the Pill?

Birth control pills are a contraceptive, which means a type of birth control. It is an oral medication that comes in the form of a pill, which is why it is often referred to as “the pill.”

Combination oral contraceptives contain the hormones estrogen and progestin (synthetic progesterone), which are naturally produced by the ovaries. These hormones stop the ovulation process, which is where a sperm reaches and fertilizes an egg.

By increasing hormone levels and halting ovulation, hormonal contraception prevents the egg from being fertilized in the first place, essentially making pregnancy much more difficult.

Additionally, the pill’s hormones thicken the mucus in the cervix. Thicker cervical mucus makes it more difficult for the sperm to physically swim through the fallopian tubes to the egg, which also helps to avoid pregnancy in another way.

Note that there are non-hormonal methods forms of birth control.

These are less common but might be recommended for certain individuals if traditional birth control isn’t right for them.

image of birth control pills

How Should You Take Birth Control Pills?

One of the best ways to make oral contraceptives more reliable is by taking them every day, at the same time each day. Depending on the pack you’re prescribed, this is the recommended dosage:

  • 28-Day Packs: Take one pill every day for 28 days, then start a new pack on day 29. The last few pills on a 28-day pack are called placebos and don’t have hormones in them. You can get your period during this time, but you are still protected from pregnancy. They only help you build the habit of taking pills every day.
  • 21-Day Packs: Take one pill every day for three weeks, then stop taking them for one week. After that week is over, start a new pack. It’s important to set a reminder to start taking the pills.
  • 91-Day Packs: Take 12 weeks of hormone pills in a row, then take your hormone-free reminder pills for up to one week. This method is so you’ll only get your period once every three months.

How Effective Is the Pill?

When the pill is taken as directed, without fail, it has the potential to be 99% effective at preventing pregnancy.

However, perfect use of the pill is challenging, and certain things can enhance your risk of becoming pregnant even if you take birth control pills.

If you want to get as close as possible to 100 percent effectiveness, there are a few tips and tricks you can try to keep everything running smoothly.

How Can You Make the Pill Most Effective?

Forgetting to take your pills, not getting a prescription refill on time, or losing your pack are all common reasons many individuals become pregnant while on the pill. Here are some ways you can reduce your risk.

Remember To Take Them

Remembering to take a pill can be difficult, but there are ways to make it easier. Birth control reminder apps are a great resource; plenty of free options are available to help you stay on track.

However, you can also just set an alarm or reminder in your phone’s calendar to make it easier to remain timely.

You can also keep your pill pack next to something you use every day, like a toothbrush or phone charger, so that you are reminded of it every time you use one of those devices.

You might even want to keep some pills in your backpack or purse, so you always have some with you.

Take the Pill at Consistent Times

Healthcare providers will remind you to take your birth control pill at the same time each day.

And while it doesn’t make the pill any more or less effective depending on the time of day you use it, it does help you remember to take it every day. 

We recommend holding yourself accountable and taking the pill at the same time each day, so you don’t forget.

Continue To Use Other Forms of Birth Control

You can make a birth control pill even more effective by using backup methods, like condoms and other barrier methods during sex.

Condoms are 98 percent effective, so when combined with the 99 percent effectiveness of a birth control pill, your chances of becoming pregnant are much better.

The chances lower even more if you decide to get a form of birth control like an IUD, as these are one of the best methods on the market.

These are over 99 percent effective. These are more effective than birth control pills because there is no chance of making a mistake by forgetting to take your pills – the device is permanently inside your body until removed by a professional.

How Does the Pill Compare to Plan B?

Emergency contraceptives, or Plan B, are a different form of contraception used to prevent pregnancy if taken within three days of having unprotected sex.

Often referred to as the “morning-after pill,” emergency contraception contains levonorgestrel, an ingredient often found in regular birth control pills. 

Typical use indicates taking Plan B within 72 hours of unprotected sex, temporarily stopping the release of an egg from the ovaries. It also prevents fertilization or a fertilized egg from latching onto the uterine lining.

Plan B is not an abortion pill – it will not halt or reverse a pregnancy that has already begun. However, it is a great option to use in addition to birth control after unprotected sex or if barrier methods fail during sex.

Does the Pill Prevent STDs?

Even if you use a birth control pill, you should still consider STD prevention. The pill will not prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Other forms of contraception like patches, vaginal rings, and intrauterine devices (IUDs) will also not prevent STIs.

Condoms prevent STDs and can help make hormonal birth control pills more effective.

However, you can also take steps to avoid STDs by getting vaccinated, speaking with sexual partners ahead of time, and getting tested frequently. Taking charge of your reproductive health is crucial.

What Are Other Benefits of the Pill?

Some people take the pill even if they are not sexually active because it can have plenty of other health benefits outside of preventing pregnancy.

One of the main reasons is that it can lighten and regulate your menstrual cycle.

However, it can also help symptoms of PCOS, or polycystic ovary syndrome, stop unwanted hair growth, support clear skin, and control hot flashes during the transition into menopause.

Does the Pill Have Any Risks?

As with any medication, the pill has several health risks. A small percentage of people who take combination pills might experience side effects such as blood clots, deep vein thrombosis, hypertension, or heart attack. With that said, the pill is safe for most individuals

Additionally, you might notice some side effects of the pill when you first start taking it, such as breast tenderness, headaches, irritability, nausea, or period spotting.

In Conclusion

The pill is a very effective form of contraception that blocks the ovulation process, so pregnancy can’t occur in the first place.

While it is 99% effective when taken perfectly, forgetting to take the pill or losing your pills is a common reason many individuals still get pregnant even when taking birth control.

You can reduce risk by setting reminders and carrying your pill pack with you. Additionally, using other forms of birth control like condoms or IUDs can greatly reduce your risk of getting pregnant while on the pill.

Plan B, or emergency contraception, can be used with birth control to prevent a pregnancy if taken within three days of unprotected sex.

While the pill is effective at preventing pregnancy, it does not prevent STDs. Be sure to continue safe sex practices even while on the pill.

References, Studies and Sources:

Combined pill | NHS

Birth Control Pills | The Pill | Planned Parenthood

What is the Effectiveness of the IUD? | Planned Parenthood

Birth Control Pill: Contraception, The Pill, Effectiveness, Types | Cleveland Clinic

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