How the Pill Works

by Charlotte Wood
(last updated March 23, 2009)

Contraception didn't use to be as easy as it is today. There have always been forms of contraception, but they haven't always been easy to access or socially mainstream. The birth control pill was approved by the FDA in 1960 and while many people know what "the pill" is, many people also don't know how it works—they just know what the birth control pill does. If you want to really use contraception methods to your advantage, however, you should really know what the different forms of contraception do. Here is some basic information of how the pill works, and then you'll be able to make a more informed decision about contraception.

The idea behind the pill is that the woman's body is fooled into thinking that it is actually pregnant; therefore, the ovaries don't release eggs. The only time the ovaries ovulate is when the pills are placebos for a week, allowing for menstruation. What fools the uterus into thinking that there is a pregnancy is the estrogen in the pills. When a woman is pregnant, her body contains more estrogen than the body of a non-pregnant woman; when the body has that extra level of estrogen, it thinks it's pregnant when it's not. When a woman is pregnant, she doesn't release eggs like she would normally would, so when a woman is on the pill, she regulates when she ovulates.

You may wonder why typical birth control pill prescriptions allow for menstruation when technically you don't need to have a period. The answer for that is simple: Menstruating, while usually uncomfortable, is healthy and a good sign of healthiness in a woman. You can talk to your doctor about having birth control pills that do eliminate your period, but only do so with serious thought, consideration, and consultation with your doctor.

The pill, in order to be effective, does need to be taken every day, and preferably at the same time every day. The hormones need to be released in your system as regularly as possible, and so be as consistent as possible when you're on the pill. You also should remember that the pill isn't one hundred percent reliable—you can still get pregnant while on the pill, so you should always take other contraceptive measures.

Now that you know a bit more about how the birth control pill works, you can better decide if that's the contraception method you want to use. The more you know, the more control you have over your own body and over what happens in your relationship with your partner.

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