Tidings

Women's Health

What do I do if I miss The Pill?

Mon 24th February, 2020

Reviewed by: Dr. Vamsee Thalluri

It’s 5pm and you’re on your way home, but you can’t help feeling like you’ve forgotten something.

The feeling eventually subsides and you crash out on your bed, just before you see the crumpled blister pack on your bedside table.

You forgot to take The Pill this morning.

It’s a super common mishap, with over 50% of women forgetting to take The Pill once a month or more in a 2012 study from the UK. And what’s worse? Over a quarter of Aussie women on hormonal contraception weren’t told by their GP what to do if they forget it.

Dr Google doesn’t help much either, so we’ve simplified things to help answer all your questions about what to do if you miss The Pill.

I forgot to take my progestin-only pill (minipill)

If you’re taking a progestin-only birth control pill like Microlut or Noriday, it’s especially important to make sure you take it at the same time each day.

If you’re less than three hours late:

  • You’re still protected against pregnancy if you’re less than 3 hours late
  • Take the missed pill as soon as you remember, then take the next pill at the usual time
  • You do not need to use extra or emergency contraception

If you’re more than three hours late:

  • You’re no longer protected from pregnancy if you’re more than 3 hours late taking The Minipill.
  • Take one 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, even if that means taking 2 pills on the same day.
  • Continue taking your remaining pills each day at the usual time
  • For the next 48 hours after taking your missed pill, it’s recommended to use extra contraception such as condoms, or do not have sex to avoid pregnancy.
  • If you’ve had unprotected sex during the two days after missing your pill, you may need emergency contraception. This is available without prescription from the pharmacy.

I forgot to take The Pill (combined pill)

This information is about combined contraceptive pills, except Qlaira and Zoely.

If you’re on one of these Pills, check the info sheet with the package or click the links above to find out what to do.

If you’re less than 24 hours late:

  • You are still protected from pregnancy
  • Take the missed pill as soon as you remember
  • Take the next pill at the usual time, even if this means taking two pills on the same day

If you’re more than 24 hours late:

  • Take the last pill you missed as soon as you remember
  • Take the next pill at the usual time even if this means taking two pills on the same day
  • Throw away any other missed pills, then continue taking The Pill as normal
  • Use extra contraception, like condoms, or don’t have sex for the next seven days
  • You may need to skip your hormone-free period or consider emergency contraception. Read below for more information.
  • Instead, throw away the pack and start a new pack the next day
  • This is completely safe, and will cause you to skip your withdrawal bleed as well as protect you from falling pregnant
  • If you have less than seven hormone pills left in your pack, don’t take the pill-free break or sugar pills.

If you’re more than 24 hours late and have less than seven hormone pills left in your pack:

  • Take the missed pill as soon as you remember, then continue to take the hormone pills at the usual time
  • When you take the last hormone pill, don’t take the pill free break or sugar pills
  • Throw away the pack and start a new pack the next day
  • This is completely safe (link to article), and will cause you to skip your withdrawal bleed as well as protect you from falling pregnant

Do I need to take emergency contraception?

You might need to consider emergency contraception if you had unprotected sex in the last seven days and you either:

  • missed more than one pill; or
  • started a new pack more than 24 hours late.

Two types of emergency contraceptive pill are available from a pharmacist without prescription. Talk with the pharmacist or your GP to discuss which is better for you.

I’m changing to a different version of The Pill

There are over 30 different pills with varying hormone levels on the market, and they can all affect each woman differently. If you’ve decided to switch things up, it’s important to take extra care to make sure you’re protected from pregnancy during the changeover.

When you finish the last active pill in your old pack, skip the sugar pills and go straight on to the new pack. To be safe, it’s best to use additional contraception, like condoms, for the first seven days.

I’m sick and/or threw up after taking The Pill

Sometimes you can be doing everything right, but things just don’t go your way. If you vomit within 3-4 hours, or have severe diarrhoea after taking The Pill, it may not have time to be absorbed properly.

If this happens, it’s not a big deal, but it’s important to take precautions to make sure you’re still protected from pregnancy. Just treat it as if you’ve missed a pill, as we covered above in this article.

I take The Pill continuously, and I’m having breakthrough bleeding

Did you know it’s completely safe to take The Pill continuously? Not only can you skip your periods, it can also help reduce symptoms of PMS and endometriosis. We wrote something about it if you’d like to learn more.

The most common side effect of continuous or extended pill-taking is spotting or breakthrough bleeding. This decreases over time, and most women stop bleeding entirely within one year.

However, if you do experience any serious breakthrough bleeding where pads or tampons are needed for three days or more, you should take a break for 4-7 days before resuming The Pill. You’ll still be protected from falling pregnant, so long as you take The Pill for at least seven days following the break.

I forgot to take a sugar pill

Don’t worry about it! This won’t affect your chance of falling pregnant. However you might want to throw it out anyway to avoid accidentally extending the hormone-free period.

I’m always forgetting to take The Pill

Everyone forgets things from time to time, but remembering to take medication can be harder for some people than others. If you’re finding this is happening too often, here are some strategies to help you remember:

  • Set a reminder on your phone or download an app to track your cycle like Lady Pill Reminder
  • Strategically place your pill pack so you can’t miss it. This could be next to your phone charger, your coffee machine or your toothbrush.
  • Visual reminders, like a bright orange post-it note on your bedroom door, can help jog your memory when you might forget otherwise.

If none of these are working for you, you might want to consider if The Pill is the right option for you. Check out our guide on choosing the right contraception, and talk to a medical professional if you have any questions.

Resources

  1. Molloy, G. Graham, H. McGuinness, H. Adherence to the oral contraceptive pill: a cross-sectional survey of modifiable behavioural determinants. BMC Public Health 12, 838 (2012).
  2. Anderson, F.D. Hait, H. A multicenter, randomized study of an extended cycle oral contraceptive. Contraception, Volume 69, Issue 2, February 2004, Pages 175.
  3. Parsons, A. Characteristics, behaviour, and experiences of Australian contraceptive users: A reproductive health and safer sex perspective. RMIT, 2013.