Hesperian Health Guides
Most birth control pills contain 2 hormones similar to the hormones that a woman’s body normally makes. These hormones are called estrogen (ethinyl estradiol) and progestin (levonorgestrel or norgestrel). Birth control pills come in different strengths of each hormone and are sold under many different brand names. Some of the brand names are listed below.
Usually, brands that contain a smaller amount of both hormones are the safest and work best for most women. These “low dose” pills are found in Groups 1, 2, and 3.
To assure effectiveness and minimize spotting (small amounts of bleeding at other times than normal monthly bleeding), take birth control pills at the same time each day, especially with pills that have low amounts of hormones. If spotting continues after 3 or 4 months, try one of the brands in Group 3. If there is still spotting after 3 months, consider a different type of hormonal contraception.
As a rule, women who take birth control pills have lighter monthly bleeding. This may be a good thing, especially for women who are anemic. For a woman who has very heavy monthly bleeding or whose breasts become painful before her monthly bleeding begins, a brand low in estrogen but high in progestin may be better. These pills are found in Group 3.
Women who are breastfeeding, or who should not use pills that contain estrogen because of headaches or mild high blood pressure, may want to use a pill with only progestin. These pills in Group 4 are also called “mini-pills.”
Progestin only pills should be taken at the same time every day, even during the monthly bleeding. Menstrual bleeding is often irregular. There is also an increased chance of pregnancy if even a single pill is forgotten.
|group 1 — triphasic pills
|These contain low amounts of both estrogen and progestin in a mix that changes throughout the month. Since the amounts change, it is important to take the pills in order.
|group 2 — low dose pills
|These contain low amounts of estrogen (35 micrograms of the estrogen “ethinyl estradiol” or 50 micrograms of the estrogen “mestranol”) and progestin in a mix that stays the same throughout the month.
|Ortho-Novum 1/35, 1/50
|Norinyl 1 + 35, 1 + 50
|group 3 — low dose pills
|These pills are high in progestin and low in estrogen (30 micrograms of the estrogen “ethinyl estradiol”).
|group 4 — progestin only pills
|These pills, also known as “mini-pills,” contain only progestin.
|These brands can also be used for emergency contraception.