Healthy lives for young people
Contraception

Progestogen-only pill

The progestogen-only pill, sometimes called ‘the ‘mini-pill’ or the POP prevents pregnancy by using the hormone, progestogen.

Quick guide

How it works

The POP works by preventing the sperm reaching an egg and fertilising it. It interrupts the process in two ways. Read more

Pros & cons

It is over 99% effective if taken correctly
It can be taken by some women who cannot use contraception that contains oestrogen
Your periods may become irregular
It doesn’t protect you against STIs

Read more

Where to get it

The POP pill is available free of charge from a range or services including contraceptive clinics, your GP and Brook. Find your nearest one using our find a service tool. Read more

How the POP works

The POP pill works by preventing the sperm reaching an egg and fertilising it. It interrupts the process in two ways:

  • 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

Pros & cons

Pros

  • It doesn’t interrupt sex
  • It is over 99% effective if taken correctly
  • 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 contraception that contains oestrogen, such as the combined pill, contraceptive patch or the vaginal ring
  • It can help with painful periods and premenstrual symptoms.

Cons

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Vomiting and diarrhoea and can affect how the POP works

How do I get the POP pill?

The POP pill is available free of charge from a range or services including contraceptive clinics, your GP and Brook. Find your nearest one using our find a service tool.

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.

What happens at an appointment?

When you go to get the POP pill, an appointment will typically include:

  • A few questions about your medical and family history, to work out what would suit you best.
  • You’ll discuss other medicines you are taking in case they can make the POP pill less effective.
  • The doctor or nurse will take your blood pressure and weigh you.

When you first start the POP pill you will usually be given a three month supply. Follow up appointments and reviews are then usually every 6-12 months providing there are no issues.

INFORMATION

You will not be required to have an internal or breast examination for the POP pill.

Types of POP pill and how you take them

You take one pill every day from your pack and you don’t have a break between packs.

There are two different types of progestogen-only pill:

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

Starting the POP pill and when you are protected from pregnancy

Starting and taking the POP pill:

  • choose the time of day that suits you best
  • take it at the same time every day until you finish the packet
  • start the next packet straight away.

If you start taking the POP in the first five days of your period, you will be protected against pregnancy straight away.

If you have a short menstrual cycle, where your period is normally 23 days or less, starting on the fifth day of your period may mean you are not immediately protected (because you might ovulate early). You therefore may 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 have missed a pill outside of the 3 or 12 hour window:

  1. Take a pill as soon as you remember. If you have missed more than one, only take one
  2. Take your next pill at the usual time. This may mean taking two pills in one day. This is not harmful
  3. 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 have missed a pill but it’s still inside the 3 or 12 hour window:

  • 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.

What can make the POP pill less effective?

  • Taking it outside of the designated 3 or 12 hour window
  • 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

Coming off the pill

How quickly it leaves your system:
hormones from the pill usually leave your body within a couple of days – no matter how long you have been taking the pill for.
How quickly you can get pregnant:
this will depend on when ovulation starts up again. For some people, it may be days or weeks, for others it may take up to three months. Fertility levels should return quite rapidly, so use condoms or another method if you don’t want to get pregnant.
What happens to your periods:
if you have irregular periods after stopping taking the pill and are worried, or if it’s taking a long time for your periods to start again, you can ask your doctor or nurse for advice.
What physical changes there might be:
everyone reacts slightly differently to coming off the pill. For example, some people are prescribed the pill to control acne, so skin problems may become more severe, although as your hormone levels self-regulate over the course of a few weeks or months, symptoms may subside once again.

If you stop taking the pill but don’t want to become pregnant remember to use another method of contraception. Condoms will also protect against STIs.

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