How to take the pill

To get started with the combined pill, you can:

To be sure it’s right for you, you’ll be asked:

  • about your medical history

  • about your periods

  • if you smoke

  • about your blood pressure

  • your height and weight

You’ll also be asked about the health of your close relatives, in case there are illnesses that run in your family.

If you’re switching from another method of contraception, you may have to use the pill differently at first. Your doctor or clinician can give you advice to make sure you’re properly protected.

How many pills will you get?

One packet usually contains 21 pills. If this is your first time using the pill, you’ll usually start with 3 months supply. You’ll need to book a follow-up appointment to check your blood pressure and discuss any side effects. After that, you’ll be able to get a 6 or 12 month supply.

Did you know?

Pharmacists are usually able to give you a packet of pills if you run out and don’t have time to get a prescription. Just show them your current packet. They can only do this once. You’ll need a prescription before your next supply.

How to use the combined pill

Take the combined pill at roughly the same time every day.

If you’re late with a pill it’s only a problem, and only counts as a missed pill, if you take it more than 24 hours late. You need to miss 2 pills for the effectiveness of the combined pill to be reduced.

If you have a 7-day break from taking pills at the end of your packet, you’re still covered for contraception as long as you’ve been taking it correctly and you start your next packet at the right time.

3 safe ways to take the combined pill:

To bleed every month

  • take a pill every day for 21 days, until you’ve finished the packet

  • stop for 4 or 7 days. You’ll bleed during the break

  • start the next packet after 4 or 7 days without pills, even if you’re still bleeding

To bleed a few times a year

  • take a pill every day until you’ve finished 3 packets, a total of 9 weeks

  • stop for 4 or 7 days. You’ll bleed during the break  

  • start the next packet after 4 or 7 days, even if you’re still bleeding

To avoid a regular bleed

  • take a pill every day, for at least 21 days and continue to take the pill daily after that. Go straight from one packet to the next without a break

  • it’s not unusual to have a little bit of irregular bleeding but if it goes on for more than 4 days, stop the pill for 4 days

  • continue taking the pill from where you stopped

Have you taken emergency contraception this cycle?

When you can start the pill depends on what type of emergency contraception you’ve taken:

  • if you’ve taken levonorgestrel emergency contraception, you can start the pill straight away 

  • if you've taken ulipristal acetate emergency contraception, wait 5 days until starting the pill. This is because the ingredient ulipristal acetate can interact with the pill and make both medications less effective

Either way, take a pregnancy test 3 weeks after taking the emergency contraception.

The pill and the withdrawal bleed

The bleeding you have when you take a break from the pill is not a period. 

It’s known as a withdrawal bleed because it’s caused by the drop in your hormone levels that comes from not taking a pill for a few days.

Although the pill was originally designed to copy a monthly period with a 7-day break, we now know it’s safe to take it with fewer breaks. This means you can choose to bleed less if you want to.

When you do bleed, it’s likely to be lighter and less painful than your normal period.

Everything you wanted to know about sexual health and wellbeing - your questions answered by our expert team.