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You’ve probably heard that you should take your birth control pill at the same time every day — and it’s a good habit to get in for a couple of reasons. First, taking your pill at a specific time helps make it as essential to your routine as brushing your teeth, which is important because taking the pill regularly also helps to ensure it does what it’s supposed to do, and that is prevent pregnancy. So, what if the time you started taking the pill just isn’t working for you anymore? Can you move your dose without worrying that your birth control will be less effective?
You’ll be happy to know that the rules about the timing of your birth control may not be as rigid as you think. Nancy Shannon, MD, PhD, chief medical officer at Nurx, explained that there are two types of birth control pills — combination pills, which contain both estrogen and progestin, and progestin-only mini-pills — and the type you take has a lot to do with how strict you need to be. “Progestin-only pills must be taken within the same three-hour period every single day to be effective,” Dr. Shannon told POPSUGAR, noting that combination pills are more forgiving.
The good news is you can change the time you take your pill, even if it’s progestin-only. “If you want to go from taking the mini-pill when you wake up to when you go to bed, for example, the best way to do this is to move it incrementally while staying in that three-hour window,” explained Jennifer Lincoln, MD, an ob-gyn in Portland, OR. “You could move it up by an hour or two each day until you land where you want.” Another option is to simply take the pill when you want — so, in this example, before you go to bed — but Dr. Lincoln stressed that you should use another form of birth control, such as condoms, for 48 hours while your body adjusts.
With the combination pill, it’s much easier to change the time you take it. Basically, just pop one within 24 hours, and you’re covered. “As long as you take your combination pill consistently every day, it doesn’t matter much if you take it in the morning one day and the evening the next,” Dr. Shannon said. However, she cautioned: “Taking your pill on time reduces the risk of breakthrough bleeding and spotting, which is harmless but can be annoying.”
Dr. Lincoln said you can even consider taking an extra dose of your combo pill. “For example, if you want to go from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., you can take a pill at each time in one day, and then moving forward, only at night,” Dr. Lincoln said. “You’ll finish the pack a day early, and that’s OK.”
While she’s grateful that people have gotten the message that consistency is key when it comes to birth control, Dr. Lincoln explained that there’s generally no need to panic about a dose being off by an hour or two. Likewise, changing the time you take your pill isn’t a big deal as long as you follow a few simple guidelines. In the end, if sticking to a set schedule is too anxiety-inducing, you might want to consider an alternative form of birth control that doesn’t require taking a daily pill, such as an IUD, patch, or vaginal ring.