Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 12/31/2020
Used perfectly, the birth control pill is a highly effective way to protect yourself from becoming pregnant, boasting a 99 percent effectiveness rate.
However, nobody’s perfect. From waking up late and rushing through your morning routine to just being overloaded with things to worry about, there are hundreds of reasons why you may forget to take your birth control pill.
If you miss a birth control pill, it’s important not to worry. You’re not alone. Tens of millions of other women have made the same mistake. And by doing the right thing now, you can lower your risk of becoming pregnant.
Below, we’ve explained what you should do if you’ve missed one, two or three doses of your birth control pill. We’ve included information for the combination pill and the mini-pill, meaning you’re covered no matter which type of birth control pill you take.
Although it’s often referred to as “the pill,” there’s no singular type of birth control pill. Instead, two major types of birth control pill are available today:
The combination birth control pill. This type of pill contains the hormones progestin and ethinyl estradiol. Common brands of combination (or combined) birth control pills include Yaz, Estrostep and Ortho Tri-Cyclen, as well as numerous others.
The progestin-only birth control pill. Often referred to as the “mini-pill,” this type of birth control pill only contains a progestin hormone. The mini-pill is often prescribed to women who experience side effects from the estrogen in the combination pill.
If you’ve missed one or several doses of your pill, it’s important that you’re aware of what type of pill you’re prescribed. This is because the instructions for taking your birth control after a missed dose can differ between combination and progestin-only pills.
If you’re not sure what type of birth control pill you use, you can check the packaging that came with your birth control pill to find it’s formula. If you don’t have the packaging, you can search for the pill’s brand name online and read its active ingredient list.
If you see two hormones listed (for example, “drospirenone/ethinyl estradiol”), it’s a combination birth control pill. If you only see one hormone listed, it’s most likely a progestin-only birth control pill.
If you’re still not sure which type of birth control pill you use, it’s best to contact your healthcare provider. They’ll be able to inform you about the type of medication that you’re prescribed and what you can do after a missed dose.
Below, we’ve explained what you should do if you’re prescribed a combination birth control pill and you’ve missed one or several doses.
Make sure to follow the instructions for the specific amount of doses missed and the amount of time that’s passed since your first missed dose, as the actions you need to take differ based on these factors.
If you forgot to take one combination birth control pill and less than 24 hours have passed, you should do the following:
Take the missed birth control pill as soon as you possibly can.
After taking the missed birth control pill, continue taking the remaining birth control pills as you normally would. You should do this even if it means taking two pills on the same day.
If you follow the instructions above, you will generally not need to use emergency contraception such as the morning-after pill or IUD.
However, if you’ve also missed pills earlier in your cycle or during the last week of your previous cycle, you can consider using a form of emergency contraception for extra safety.
During the next seven days, you can have sex as you normally would, without needing to use a second form of contraception such as condoms. However, it’s totally fine to use condoms or any other secondary method of contraception for extra protection.
Using condoms as well as the birth control pill not only further reduces your risk of pregnancy -- it can also help to protect you from HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
If you forgot to take two combination birth control pills in a row and 24 to 48 hours have passed, you should follow the instructions listed above under the “If You Missed One Pill” heading.
Take the missed pill as soon as possible, then continue taking your birth control pill at the usual time, even if it means taking two pills in the same day. You do not normally need to use an extra form of contraception or an emergency contraceptive.
If you forgot to take two or more combination birth control pills in a row and more than 48 hours have passed, you should do the following:
Take the most recent missed birth control pill as soon as you can. Dispose of any other missed pills. To safely dispose of birth control pills, follow the FDA’s guide for disposing of unused medicines.
After taking the most recent missed birth control pill and disposing of the other missed pills, continue taking the remaining birth control pills as you normally would. To do this, you may need to take two birth control pills on the same day.
If you’ve had unprotected sex at any time in the last five days, consider using a form of emergency contraception, such as the morning-after pill or IUD.
Because of the amount of time that’s passed, you won’t be fully protected against pregnancy by your birth control pill. This means that you’ll need to either:
Avoid having vaginal sex for the next seven days.
Use a secondary form of contraception when you have sex, such as condoms.
If you missed two or more pills during the last week of your hormonal pills, you should finish the hormonal pills in your current pack of birth control pills, then skip the week of hormone-free pills that would normally occur at the end of the pack.
Instead of taking the week of hormone free pills, start taking your next pack of pills the day after you finish your current pack.
If you’re unable to start the next pack of birth control pills immediately, make sure that you use a secondary form of contraception such as condoms for a minimum of seven days after you begin your next pill pack.
If you’re prescribed a progestin-only birth control pill, or mini-pill, you’ll need to be more careful about the time of day that you use your medication.
The progestin-only pill needs to be taken at roughly the same time each day in order to be fully effective. According to the CDC, a progestin-only birth control pill is considered missed if more than three hours have passed since the time you normally take it.
If more than three hours have passed since you missed your progestin-only pill, you should do the following:
Take the missed progestin-only pill as soon as you possibly can, even if it’s a full day or several hours late.
After you take the missed birth control pill, continue taking the rest of your pills as you normally would until you finish the pill pack. You may need to take two pills during the same day after you first realize you missed a pill.
If you’ve had unprotected sex in the last five days, consider using a form of emergency contraception. Note that it may not be safe to use the ulipristal acetate morning-after pill morning-after pill if you use a progestin-only contraceptive.
The progestin-only pill is only effective when it’s taken at approximately the same time each day, without missed doses. Because of this, you’ll need to avoid vaginal sex or use a secondary form of contraception until you’ve taken the pill on time for two or more days in a row.
Many birth control pills come in a pack of 28. Of these, 21 pills are active, meaning they contain one or several hormones to stop you from ovulating. The other seven are inactive pills, meaning they do not contain any hormones.
The inactive pills (also referred to as placebo pills) are designed to be taken after you finish the active pills. These pills don’t have any effect on your fertility -- instead, they’re placeholders that are designed to make it easier to complete each 28-day cycle of your medication.
Some brands of birth control use a 24-day cycle. Birth control pills of this type will typically only have four inactive pills.
Most brands of birth control pill feature color coding to make it easy to differentiate your active pills from your inactive pills. It’s worth memorizing these colors when you first start taking your birth control pill, as this can make it easier to keep track of where you are in your cycle.
If you forget to take an inactive pill, there’s no need to take an extra pill. Instead, dispose of the inactive pill that you missed and continue using your birth control as usual. Since these pills do not contain any hormones, missing one won’t increase your risk of becoming pregnant.
When you first start using hormonal birth control, remembering to take your pill every day isn’t always so easy. If you’re worried about forgetting pills, try the following tips to make sticking to your medication’s schedule easier:
Make a habit of taking your pill at the same time every day. Even if you don’t use the mini-pill, taking your birth control pill at the same time every day helps to make it a habit that you’re less likely to forget about.
You can take the pill at any time of day. However, using it first thing in the morning or just before bedtime may help to make it easier for you to remember.
Keep your pills in an easy-to-access location. Try to keep your birth control pills in a place where you won’t forget them. This could be beside your bed, on the countertop in your bathroom, inside your bag or in any other easy-to-reach place.
Associate taking your pill with a certain task. If you do a certain thing once every day -- for example, brushing your hair in the morning -- try to link it with the act of taking your birth control pill. This way, doing one thing will help you to remember the other.
To make remembering even easier, try keeping your birth control pills next to an item you use every morning or evening. Beside your toothbrush or on your makeup table are both good places, since you’ll normally be nearby at the beginning and end of each day.
Use a pill organizer. If you take several medications and prefer not to deal with multiple sets of packaging, try using a pill organizer to sort your hormonal birth control and other pills into separate, easily identifiable daily compartments.
Use a medication reminder app. Simple, lightweight apps like Medisafe make it easy to set up notifications to remind you about your daily birth control pill. You can also use these apps to track other medications.
Keep a second pack of birth control pills. When it comes to birth control, it’s always best to keep a backup pack around. This way, you’ll be able to keep yourself protected even if you lose a pack or leave your pills at your partner’s place.
Mark it on your calendar. If you’re the old school type, try crossing off each date on a physical calendar after you take your pill. For a more modern option, most smartphone calendar apps allow you to set up daily reminders.
The birth control pill is only effective when it’s used regularly. If you miss pills often or take your progestin-only pill at the wrong time of day, your risk of becoming pregnant when you have sex with your partner can rise significantly.
If you’re prone to forgetting your pill, it may be worth considering an easier-to-use form of birth control. Options like the birth control implant and IUD last for several years at a time, providing long-lasting protection from pregnancy without the need for you to take a pill every day.
We’ve provided more information about these and other forms of birth control in our full guide to your birth control options.