When birth control pills first hit the scene, doctors recommended that women delay beginning their use until the start of their next period. However, current practice recommendations from the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that there is no medical reason to wait before commencing oral contraception. Using the so-called quick start method, you can safely and effectively begin birth control anytime during your cycle -- with a few special considerations if you're starting birth control pills mid-cycle.
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How to Start
Regardless of when your last period was or even if you're currently having your period, you can begin taking birth control pills the day you receive them. You'll continue taking the medication as prescribed at the same time each day. Unless you start the pills on the first day of your period, you'll need to use a backup form of birth control -- such as condoms or abstinence -- for 7 days after you start your pill pack to prevent pregnancy. This is because the pills are not entirely effective during the first week of use unless you start taking them on the first day of your period.
If you're starting birth control pills mid-cycle, your doctor may have you take a pregnancy test before starting your medication. Although studies have shown that birth control pills do not harm to a developing embryo, birth control use should be delayed if you may be pregnant. Moreover, if you have had unprotected sex within the past 5 days, you might be pregnant even if your pregnancy test is negative. Therefore, your doctor may recommend you not begin taking birth control pills until there is reasonable certainty that you are not pregnant. Alternatively, your care provider might recommend a repeat pregnancy test 2 to 3 weeks after starting the pills.
If you have questions about when and how to use birth control pills, talk with your healthcare provider.
Reviewed by: Tina M. St. John, M.D.
- American Family Physician: Initiating Hormonal Contraception
- Association of Reproductive Health Professionals: Choosing a Birth Control Method
- Obstetrics and Gynecology: Initiation of Oral Contraceptives Using a Quick Start Compared With a Conventional Start: A Randomized Controlled Trial
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: U.S. Selected Practice Recommendations for Contraceptive Use, 2013: Adapted From the World Health Organization Selected Practice Recommendations for Contraceptive Use, 2nd Edition