Remembering to take your pill each day can be hard. Here’s what you need to do if you’ve missed one


Firstly, what are contraceptive pills?


Contraceptive pills are small tablets that you take every day (or for 21 days at a time) to stop you from becoming pregnant.


When taken correctly, the contraceptive pill is over 99% effective at preventing pregnancy.


What are the different types of contraceptive pills?


There are two main types of contraceptive pills, the combined pill and the progestogen-only pill. If you’re taking the contraceptive pill and you’re not sure what type it is, check the Patient Information Leaflet in your pack, or ask your pharmacist or GP.


Combined pill


Often just called “the pill”, it contains artificial versions of female hormones oestrogen and progestogen. It stops pregnancy occurring by preventing your body from releasing an egg (ovulating) each month, as well as making it harder for an egg to get fertilised by sperm and attach to the wall of the uterus.


You’ll usually need to take one pill at the same time every day for 21 days, then you take a break for seven days before taking the pill again. There are different types of combined pills, and some can be taken without needing a break. Always make sure you read the instructions that come with your pack.


Progestogen-only pill


Commonly referred to as the “mini pill”, it contains progestogen only. It needs to be taken at the same time every day. Not taking the pill at the right time, missing pills or taking the pill alongside other medicines can reduce its effectiveness. Always follow the instructions that come with your pill packet.


There are two different types of progestogen-only pills, the traditional progestogen-only pill (which must be taken within three hours of the same time each day) and the desogestrel progestogen-only pill (which must be taken within 12 hours of the same time each day).


The traditional progestogen-only pill prevents pregnancy by thickening the mucus in the cervix to stop sperm reaching an egg, while the desogestrel progestogen-only pill can also stop ovulation.


What should I do if I miss a pill?


If you miss a pill and have had unprotected sex, your chance of getting pregnant is increased. What you should do if you miss a pill in this instance depends on the type you’re on.


Combined pill


If you’re on the combined pill, have had unprotected sex and you miss a pill, whether you need emergency contraception depends on:


• How many pills you’ve missed (you’ve missed a pill when it’s more than 24 hours since you should’ve taken it)

• When you missed your pill (where you are in the pack)

• The type of combined pill you’re taking


The advice below for combined contraceptive pills doesn’t apply for Daylette, Eloine, Qlaira and Zoely. If you’re using one of these and you miss a pill, talk to your GP or sexual health clinic, or read the Patient Information Leaflet in your pack to find out what to do. Your pharmacist can supply the morning after pill (emergency hormonal contraception), sometimes free of charge via locally commissioned NHS services.


You can also access the Boots Online Doctor service* for advice and emergency hormonal contraception.


If you’ve missed one combined pill


If you’ve missed one pill anywhere in the pack or started a new pack one day late, you're still protected against pregnancy. 


You should:


• Take the last pill you missed as soon as you can, even if this means taking two pills in one day

• Carry on taking the rest of the pack as normal 

• Take your seven-day pill-free break as normal or if you're on an everyday (ED) pill, continue as normal


You don’t need to use extra contraception.


If you’ve missed two or more combined pills


If you’ve missed two or more pills anywhere in the pack or started a new pack two or more days late (48 hours or more), your protection against pregnancy may be affected.


You should:


• Take the last pill you missed as soon as you can, even if this means taking two pills in one day

• Leave any earlier missed pills

• Carry on taking the rest of the pack as normal

• Use extra contraception (such as condoms) for the next seven days


When you come to the end of your pill pack after missing two or more pills:


• If there are seven or more pills left in the pack after the last missed pill, finish the pack, take your seven-day pill-free break as normal or take your inactive pills before you start your next pack

• If there are less than seven pills left in the pack after the missed pill, finish the pack and start a new pack the next day – this means missing out the pill-free break or not taking your inactive pills


You may also need emergency contraception if you’ve missed two or more pills in the first week of a pack and had unprotected sex in the previous seven days. Access our Boots Online Doctor – The Morning After Pill service* or talk to a doctor, nurse or pharmacist as soon as possible.


Progestogen-only pill


If you forget to take a progestogen-only pill and have had unprotected sex, whether you need emergency contraception depends on:


• The type of progestogen-only pill you're taking

• How long ago you missed the pill

• How many pills you've forgotten to take

• Whether you've had sex without using another type of contraception in the previous seven days


If you're less than three or 12 hours late taking the pill


If you're taking a three-hour progestogen-only pill and are less than three hours late taking it, or if you're taking the 12-hour progestogen-only pill and are less than 12 hours late, you’re still protected against pregnancy. If you’re not sure which type you’re taking, check the Patient Information Leaflet in your pack, or ask your pharmacist or GP.


You should:


• Take the late pill as soon as you remember

• Take the remaining pills as normal, even if that means taking two pills on the same day


The pill will still work and you don’t need to use additional contraception. You also don’t need emergency contraception if you’ve already had sex without using another form of contraception.


If you're more than three or 12 hours late taking the pill


If you're taking a three-hour progestogen-only pill and are more than three hours late taking it, or you're taking the 12-hour progestogen-only pill and are more than 12 hours late, you will not be protected against pregnancy.


You should:


• Take a pill as soon as you remember – only take one, even if you've missed more than one pill

• Take the next pill at the usual time, this may mean taking two pills on the same day (one when you remember and one at the usual time)

• Carry on taking your remaining pills each day at the usual time

• Use extra contraception (such as condoms) for the next two days after you remember to take your missed pill, or don’t have sex

• If you have unprotected sex from the time that you miss your pill until two days after you start taking it reliably again, you may need emergency contraception – get advice from your contraception clinic, pharmacist or GP, or access our Boots Online Doctor – The Morning After Pill service*

• If you need emergency contraception, remember to tell the clinician that you've been taking the progestogen-only pill as this can affect which emergency contraception is best for you to take


It takes two days for the progestogen-only pill to thicken cervical mucus so sperm can’t get through or survive.


The Faculty of Sexual Health and Reproductive Healthcare recommends using extra contraception for two days after you remember to take your pill. The Patient Information Leaflet that comes with your pill might say to use condoms for the next seven days after you remember to take your pill. If this is the case, you should do so.


If you’re unsure whether you’re protected against pregnancy or need further advice about missed contraceptive pills, speak to your pharmacist or GP, or call NHS 111 or the national sexual health helpline free on 0300 123 7123.

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