Sex

    What to Do if You Forget to Take Your Birth Control Pill

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    Kristin Hall, FNP
    Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP Written by Our Editorial Team Last updated 9/14/2020

    Forgot to take your birth control pill? Missing a dose of your birth control pill is a surprisingly common problem that can affect anyone. It happens to all of us. Luckily, it’s usually an easy problem to fix.

    Most of the time, if you’ve only missed one dose of your birth control pill, you’ll be safe if you take it as soon as you remember. However, in some cases, such as if you miss more than a single dose of your pill, you might need to take other steps as well.

    Below, we’ve covered what to do if you forget to take the pill. We’ve also explained what you should do if you miss multiple doses of your birth control pill, or if you accidentally take more than one dose of your pill in the same day.

    If You Use the Combination Birth Control Pill

    If you use a combination birth control pill such as Yaz®, Estrostep® or Ortho Tri-Cyclen®, you can usually miss one dose of your pill without significantly increasing your risk of getting pregnant from unprotected sex. 

    First, check the documentation that came with your birth control pills. Depending on the brand you’re using, your birth control pill packaging may include instructions for what to do if you skip or delay a dose.  

    Next, it’s important to take note of the type of pill you’re currently using. Most combination pills are divided into 21 to 24 active pills (these contain the two hormones that prevent pregnancy), plus about one week’s worth of inactive pills that only contain a placebo.

    If you miss a pill in your first week, take it as soon as you remember to, and take your next pill at the same scheduled time.

    It's generally okay to take two pills in one day in instances like this.

    However, if you miss a pill in your second or third week, the process may be a little more complicated — you may have to take multiple pills for multiple days, and it is strongly recommended that you use backup protection.

    Always check the package insert for your individual birth control, and if you have any further questions, don't hesitate to contact your healthcare provider.

    If You Have Sex After Missing a Combination Pill

    If you had unprotected sex after missing two or more doses of your combination birth control pill, there’s a risk that you could become pregnant. To reduce your risk, you may need to use a form of emergency contraception.

    You may also need to use emergency contraception if you and your partner have unprotected sex within the next seven days. 

    If You Use the Progestin-Only Pill

    Because the progestin-only mini-pill only contains one hormone and uses a lower dose than the combination pill, it’s important for you not just to take it every day, but to take it at approximately the same time every day.

    The information below is accurate for progestin-only pills that don’t contain the active ingredient desogestrel. If your progestin-only pill contains desogestrel (you can find this information on the label), please use the information located further down the page.

    You’ll need to take your progestin-only pill within three hours of the same time every day for it to remain effective. If you forget to take your pill and less than three hours have passed, take it as soon as you remember, then continue using the rest of the pack as normal.

    In this case, you don’t need to use a condom or any other extra contraception to stay protected from becoming pregnant.

    If you forget to take your pill and more than three hours have passed, take one pill as soon as you remember. If it’s already the next day, you can safely take two pills on the same day. Use condoms or another barrier-based form of contraception for the next 48 hours. 

    After you’ve done this, take your next pill at the normal time and continue until you finish the cycle.

    If You Have Sex After Missing a Progestin-Only Pill

    If you had unprotected sex after missing a dose of your progestin-only pill, but eventually took the pill within three hours of the normal time, you’ll still be protected against pregnancy. 

    If you were more than three hours late taking your missed pill, you may need to use a form of emergency contraception if you’ve recently had unprotected sex or have unprotected sex within the next 48 hours.  

    If You Use a Progestin-Only Pill With Desogestrel

    If your progestin-only pill contains the progestin hormone desogestrel, you can take it up to 12 hours late without increasing your risk of becoming pregnant.

    In this case, if you forget to take your pill but remember within 12 hours, take the pill as soon as you remember. The next day, continue taking your birth control pills as normal. You do not need to use any extra form of contraception. 

    If you forget to take your desogestrel pill and more than 12 hours have passed, take the missed pill as soon as you remember. Use condoms or another barrier-based form of contraception for the next 48 hours. 

    If you had unprotected sex after missing a dose of your desogestrel pill, but eventually took the pill within 12 hours of the normal time, you’ll still be protected against pregnancy. 

    If you were more than 12 hours late taking your missed pill, you may need to use a form of emergency contraception if you’ve recently had unprotected sex or have unprotected sex within the next 48 hours. 

    If You’re Concerned About Pregnancy

    If you’re concerned about pregnancy after missing a dose of your birth control pill, or if you miss your period shortly after you forget to take your pill, it’s best to get a pregnancy test. 

    Home tests are available from most drug stores, or you can get a test carried out by your regular healthcare provider. 

    In Conclusion

    For the best results, it’s best to take your birth control pill at approximately the same time every day. To make sure you don’t forget, try setting an alarm on your phone or keeping your pill pack in a visible, easily accessible location that you’re likely to notice every morning. 

    While forgetting to take your birth control every now and then usually isn’t a big deal, you’ll need to take protective measures if you have recently had sex, or if you want to have unprotected sex with your partner in the next few days.

    If you forget to take the combination pill, or if you’re late taking the progestin-only pill, try to take the pill you missed as soon as possible. Depending on how late you take your pill or how many pills you skip, you may need to consider using the morning after pill. 

    This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.