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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.