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Remembering to take your pill

Forgetting to take your pill is a common reason for the pill failing. For the pill to work effectively at preventing unwanted pregnancy, you need to remember to take it as directed.

When experts talk about the effectiveness of contraception, they talk about perfect use and typical use.

Perfect use means you carefully follow the instructions that come with a contraceptive method and use it exactly as you should. By doing this, your chances of getting pregnant are much lower.

Typical use is perhaps a more realistic view of what happens and reflects the fact that we forget stuff and end up not doing things perfectly. But this means that your chances of getting pregnant are much higher. 

For the pill, the percentage of women who get pregnant while using the pill is as follows:

  • With perfect use: 0.3% (so in a group of 1,000 women, only 3 will get pregnant)
  • With typical use: 9% (so in a group of 1,000 women, 90 will get pregnant)

A great way to help you achieve perfect use, is to form a habit to help you remember to take your pill. This page provides some simple techniques that are proven to help you do this.

If you are taking the progestogen-only/POP pill, you will need to take it within a 3 or 12 hour window, depending on which pill you take for it to be effective. If you are taking the combined pill, it doesn’t matter so much but you do need to remember to take it daily. 

Setting reminders

The simplest thing that you can do to help you remember to take your pill is to set a daily reminder on your phone. This could just be an alarm but you can also find special apps that are designed to give you pill reminders.

This is easy to set up, but it does have downsides. For example, you might not be able to take your pill at the time you get the reminder. Also, your phone might run out of battery or you might not have your phone with you. 

Forming habits

People do a lot of things because they’re in the habit of doing them. Habits can be good (eating fruit after dinner) or bad (biting your nails). You can also create habits to help you remember to do things. 
Here’s how to do it with your pill:

  1. Take your pill at the same time every day, when you’re normally in the same place, doing the same thing (like getting into bed, or brushing your teeth)
  2. Keep your pill in the place where you will take it (such as next to your toothbrush, by your bed, next to your phone or glasses)
  3. Make a plan to take your pill at that time, and say to yourself:

 IF I’m brushing my teeth, THEN I will take my pill’    

Now repeat it to yourself. This is a proven way to help you to remember it.

Dealing with a change of routine

Of course you might still forget to take your pill if your routine changes, for example if you’re away from home, staying with a friend or a partner or on holiday.

In these cases, it can be useful to make a plan, for example:

  • I will make sure I put my pill in a place where I will have it with me and I will see it (in my handbag next to my phone ) 
  • When I unpack, I will put the pill where I plan to take it (such as next to my toothbrush)
  • If I do not have my pill with me, then  I will set a reminder to take my pill for when I get home
  • I will try to stick to the same routine of taking my pill (such as when I brush my teeth)

Once you’ve decided what your plan is, write it down and repeat it to yourself a few times. This is a proven way to help you to remember it. Say to yourself:

IF I’m brushing my teeth, THEN I will take my pill’

It can also help to always have a spare pack of pills always with you in your bag. That way, if you’re not at home, you can still take it.

If you’re going on holiday, and you won’t be doing the thing that you normally link to taking your pill, you’ll need to make a back-up plan. For example, if you normally take it when you have breakfast, but you won’t be eating breakfast on holiday. Choose something that you definitely will be doing on holiday (such as brushing your teeth, getting into bed).

Dealing with a time difference

Even when you’re in a different time zone, it’s important to take your pill at the same time of day as you normally would at home. This means that if you take it in the morning when you’re at home, you might have to take it in the evening when you’re away (when it’s morning in the UK). If your holiday destination is only one or two hour’s difference from the UK, you shouldn’t need to worry. However, if you’re travelling long haul, you need to consider when to take your pill. 

Before you go, work out what time it will be when you’re on holiday, when you usually take your pill at home. For example, if you normally take your pill at about 8am in the UK, and you’re going to be in California, you should take your pill at midnight. Obviously this might be quite difficult, but you might want to consider taking your pill just before you go to bed at night. 

If you’re unsure about what to do about a time difference, talk to a doctor or nurse. 

And remember, if you're worried about not being protected, you can always use another method (such as condoms) to make sure that you are protected.

Finally, if you find that remembering to take your pill is just too much hassle, there are a number of methods called long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) that you don't have to think about again for weeks, months or even years. Examples of LARC include: contraceptive injection, contraceptive implant, IUD and IUS.

Page last reviewed: August 2017
Next review due: August 2019