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Progestogen-only Pill (mini pill or POP)

The progestogen-only pill (sometimes called ‘the ‘mini-pill’ or the POP) is a type of female contraception that prevents pregnancy. The main ingredient in it, progestogen, is a hormone similar to that produced in women’s ovaries.

Here are some key facts:

  • It protects against pregnancy but not sexually transmitted infections (STIs). To protect against STIs you will also need to use a barrier method of contraception such as condoms
  • It is over 99% effective if taken correctly
  • There are two different types and many different brands
  • You take the POP pill every day, with no break between packs
  • You need to take the POP pill around the same time every day (some types within three hours of the same time, and others within 12 hours of the same time)
  • When taking the POP pill your periods may become lighter, irregular, or they may stop altogether
  • There are things that can affect how effective it is (such as vomiting, diarrhoea and other medications)
  • It contains a hormone called progestogen which is similar to the hormone progesterone that is naturally produced in women’s ovaries
  • The progestogen-only pill or POP should not be confused with the combined pill (sometimes just called ‘the pill’) which contains both progestogen and oestrogen. Click here if you want more information on the combined pill. 

This page should tell you everything you need to know about the POP pill but if you have more questions, you can get in touch with Ask Brook via webchat or text on 07717 989 023 (standard SMS rates). Contacting Ask Brook is confidential. That means we won’t tell anyone you’ve contacted us unless we think you are in really serious danger. If you have missed a pill or think you may not be protected, click here for more information. 

How does the POP pill work?

Pregnancy happens when sperm reaches an egg and fertilises it. The POP pill works in two ways to interrupt this process:

  • It mainly works by thickening the mucus from your cervix, making it difficult for sperm to move through and reach an egg
  • It sometimes stops your ovaries releasing an egg (ovulation). This is the main action of POPs containing the hormone desogestrel

Although the POP pill protects against pregnancy, it doesn’t protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). To be protected against STIs, barrier methods such as condoms should be used in addition to the POP pill.

If it’s taken correctly, the POP pill is over 99% effective at preventing pregnancy. This means that less than one woman in 100 will get pregnant in a year.

How do I get the POP pill?

The POP pill is available free of charge from:

When you go to get the POP pill, you will be asked a few questions about your medical and family history, to determine which type is most suitable for you, or if another form of contraception would be more suitable. You will also need to let the doctor or nurse know about any other medicines you are taking as this can make the POP pill less effective. The doctor or nurse will take your blood pressure and they may weigh you. You will not be required to have an internal or breast examination for the POP pill.

When you first start the POP pill you will usually be given a three month supply to see how you get on. Follow up appointments and reviews are then usually every 6-12 months providing there are no issues. You can always return to the clinic at any time if you are worried about anything or would like to discuss changing to a different type of POP pill or other form of contraception.

Contraception and sexual health services such as Brook are free and confidential, including for people under the age of 16. Health professionals work to strict guidelines and won’t tell anyone else about your visit unless they believe you're at serious risk of immediate harm. Find out more about Brook’s confidentiality policy here.

Types of POP pill and how you take them

You take one pill every day from your pack. Depending on the type of pill you are taking this will need to be within either three or 12 hours of the same time each day. With the POP pill you don’t have a break between packs (as with some types of the combined pill), and when you have finished the pack, you start taking the next pack the next day.

There are two different types of progestogen-only pill:

The three-hour POP pill containing the progestogen hormone levonorgestrel or norethisterone. These must be taken within three hours of the same time each day. It is this type that is referred to as the ‘mini pill’. Examples are Femulen, Micronor, Norgeston and Noriday.

The 12-hour POP pill which contains desogestrel (such as Cerazette). This must be taken within 12 hours of the same time each day.

Please note, the pills prescribed by Brook or your GP may vary. Whatever type of pill you are taking, follow the instructions that come with the packet, paying careful attention to which medicines and antibiotics might affect it. If you know the brand name of your pill you can check the NHS Choices medicines guide to get details for your pill.You can also ask whoever prescribed it to you for more information. 

Advantages of the POP pill

  • It doesn’t interrupt sex
  • There is no evidence that it causes additional weight gain
  • There are no long term effects to your fertility
  • It can be taken by some women who cannot use the contraception that contains oestrogen, such as the combined pill, contraceptive patch or the vaginal ring
  • It can help with painful periods and premenstrual symptoms.

Disadvantages of the POP pill

Any medication can have some side-effects or disadvantages but for most women the benefits will outweigh the possible risks. Things to watch out for include:

  • Your periods may become irregular. They may happen more often, less often, be lighter or stop altogether. You may also get spotting in between periods. This isn’t harmful and may settle down. If you have concerns seek advice
  • It doesn’t protect against STIs, so you will need to use a barrier method such as condoms
  • You have to take the POP pill around the same time every day (within three hours for some POP pills, and 12 for those containing desogestrel)
  • Some medicines and certain types of antibiotic can make the POP pill less effective
  • You may get some side effects when you first start taking the POP pill, such as spots, headaches, weight change and breast tenderness. These should stop within a few months.

Starting the POP pill and when you are protected from pregnancy

You take one pill every single day with no break. When you first take the pill, choose the time of day that suits you best. Then take it at the same time every day until you finish the packet. You then start the next packet straight away.

If you start taking the POP at the beginning of your period (day one), you will be protected against pregnancy straight away. You can also start the pill up to, and including, the fifth day of your period and you will be protected from pregnancy immediately.

If you have a short menstrual cycle, where your period normally comes every 23 days or less, starting the POP pill as late as the fifth day of your period may mean you are not immediately protected (because you might ovulate early in your menstrual cycle).

If you think this might be the case, speak with a doctor or nurse about whether you need to use additional contraception, such as condoms, for the first two days.

If you start taking the pill at any other time in your menstrual cycle, it will take two days before it starts to work. So you'll need to use condoms for the first two days. 

Missed pill information

If you are more than three hours late (or 12 hours late if you are taking POPs containing the hormone desogestrel):

  • Take a pill as soon as you remember. If you have missed more than one, only take one
  • Take your next pill at the usual time. This may mean taking two pills in one day. This is not harmful
  • You are not protected against pregnancy. Continue to take your pills as usual, but use an additional method of contraception, such as condoms, for the next two days.

If you are less than three hours late (or 12 hours late if you are taking POPs containing the hormone desogestrel):

  • Take a pill as soon as you remember, and take the next one at the usual time, even if this means taking two pills in the same day. You are protected from pregnancy.

Things that interfere with how the POP pill works

  • Taking it more than three hours late (or 12 hours if you're taking a POP pill containing the hormone Desogestrel)
  • Vomiting within two hours of taking it
  • Very severe diarrhoea lasting more than 24 hours
  • Some medicines can reduce the effectiveness of the pill, such as those used to treat epilepsy, HIV and TB and the complementary medicine St John's Wort.
  • Commonly used antibiotics do not reduce the effectiveness of the pill, but it is always best to check with the doctor, nurse or pharmacist first
  • ellaOne (a new type of emergency contraception) can reduce the effectiveness of hormonal contraception.

Speak to your doctor or nurse for further advice if you have been prescribed the antibiotics rifampicin and rifabutin (used to treat illnesses tuberculosis and meningitis) as these can reduce the effectiveness of the POP pill. You may need to use barrier methods of contraception (such as condoms) while taking these antibiotics and also for 28 days afterward.

If you have missed a pill and are worried you may not be protected, click here for more information.

How will it affect my periods?

Your periods may become irregular. They may happen more often, less often, be lighter or stop altogether. You may also get spotting in between periods. This isn’t harmful and may settle down. If you have concerns seek advice.

The POP pill can also help with painful periods and premenstrual symptoms.

Taking the POP pill after having a baby

You can start taking the POP pill any time after the birth. If you start after day 21 you will need to use a barrier method of contraception such as condoms for two days. The POP pill does not affect the way your breastmilk is produced and you can breastfeed whilst taking the POP pill. A very small amount of hormone enters your breast milk, but research has shown this will not harm your baby.

Taking the POP pill after having an abortion or miscarriage

You can start taking the POP immediately after a miscarriage or abortion and you will be protected from pregnancy immediately. If you start the pill more than five days after the miscarriage or abortion, you'll need to a barrier method of contraception, such as condoms until you have taken the POP pill for two days.

Page last reviewed: May 2015
Next review due: May 2016