Medically reviewed by Sophia Yen, MD, MPH – Written by Pandia Health Editorial Team. Updated on February 11, 2021
You know that feeling of momentary panic when you realize you forgot to take your birth control pill? It’s like when you lose your wallet, keys, or phone but the consequence is potentially getting pregnant Not fun!
Thankfully, you have some leeway if you happen to miss a regular birth control pill. Read on to learn more about what happens if you miss your pill and the course of action you should take to get back on track.
One of the top reasons why women that women miss their pill is because they ran out! Whether they didn’t get a chance to run to the pharmacy or could not get their prescription renewed, they now have a dilemma. Don’t let this happen to you.
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How many active pills in a row have you taken?
The first thing to consider when you notice that you have missed your pill is how many active pills in a row you have taken prior to the skipped day.
When you use the birth control pill, patch, or ring, your hormone levels remain stable for those three weeks that you are on the active medication. If those levels drop, (a.k.a you take the placebo week pills or miss three or more pills in a row), then you will get a withdrawal bleed, which occurs as a reaction to the drop in hormones. If you go more than seven days without the hormone, then you risk ovulation (an egg popping out of your ovary) and, thus, pregnancy. Additionally, higher Body Mass Index (weight-to-height ratio) could lead to quicker ovulation – women who are overweight may experience ovulation just five days after being off of the pill, patch, or ring.
Previously, birth control pills contained 100 micrograms of hormones whereas today, most pills contain 20-35 micrograms. When the microgram level was higher, the week of placebo pills was deemed necessary because the hormones in the active pills stayed in the body longer. However, now that there are fewer micrograms in the pill, the daily dose is especially important for preventing pregnancy. If you have taken your active pills regularly prior to the placebo week, you should still be protected.
Let’s say you miss five days of your birth control pills in a row – you’ve basically approximated the placebo week; depending on the pack you have, the week with the sugar pills can be anywhere from four to seven days. This is not a problem if you’ve already taken three weeks of active pills IN A ROW because the hormones are still working to prevent pregnancy. BUT if you’re only on the first, second, or third week, and you haven’t taken the pill for three to five days in a row, you may not be protected from pregnancy. Furthermore, if you plan to have heterosexual sex, you should use an external barrier such as condoms. Not only will this provide extra protection, but it will also prevent the spread of STIs between you and your partner.
tl;dr: If you have missed five or more days of birth control and want to have sex, you should use a backup form of contraception. Additionally, if you realize that you skipped your birth control after you had sex, it may be a good idea to use emergency contraception such as Ella or Plan B.
What type of pill are you on?
The effects of skipping your birth control may vary depending on which type you are taking. There is a combination pill (contains both estrogen and progesterone) and a “mini” pill or (contains only progesterone).
If you are using the mini pill and are at least three hours late to take it on a certain day, here’s what you need to do:
- use a backup method if you plan on having sex in the next three days
- use emergency contraception if you had sex in the past three days
Whether you lost a pill or a few, forgot to take it, or simply did not want to take it skipping your birth control happens to the best of us. However, it is important to remember that in order for birth control to be effective at preventing pregnancy, it must be taken as prescribed.
What’s the takeaway?
What happens if you miss a day of birth control?
The first step is to not panic. Missing just one day of birth control is not the end of the world, as you will still be protected from pregnancy if you have been taking it regularly. Take the missed pill as soon as you remember that you forgot it – if that happens to be the next day, take it with your next pill (taking two pills at once is okay!).
What happens if you miss two days of birth control?
If you missed two pills, take both pills as soon as possible. Then, take the next two pills the next day and continue on with your regular one-pill-per-day routine afterwards.
What happens if you miss three days of birth control?
Three missed pills could lead to you getting your period and more importantly, getting pregnant. If you’re sexually active, make sure to use a backup birth control like condoms. If you had penetrative intercourse in the past five days, consider using emergency contraception.
What happens if you miss a week of birth control?
Missing one week of birth control is about the equivalent of taking placebo pills for a week. Furthermore, you will likely get a period. If this happens, it is necessary to use an additional form of contraception in order to prevent pregnancy, as you will no longer be protected by the hormones in your pill. If you purposely skipped your pills because you do not like your current prescription, consult a doctor; they can help you find something that works better for your body and lifestyle.
Can skipping your period prevent pregnancy?
Skipping your period is possible when you take birth control. If you are on the pill, simply skip the last week (a.k.a the placebo week) of pills and start your next pack right away. You can also ask your doctor to prescribe you packs that do not contain placebo pills. If you are always on an active pill, your risk of becoming pregnant will decrease. With that said, it is important to remember that the pill alone will not prevent the spread of STIs.
To learn more about the benefits of skipping your period with birth control, check out our #PeriodsOptional page.
Now you know what happens when you miss a pill and how to make sure that you prevent unplanned pregnancy! Sign up today to get your birth control delivered by Pandia Health, the most trusted provider for birth control delivery and the ONLY doctor-led, women-led, and women-founded.
Frequently Asked Questions
What should I do if I lose a birth control pack?
Can you get pregnant if you miss a pill?
What happens if you take your birth control late?
Combination birth control pills can be off by +/- 5 five hours. However, it is a good idea to get into a routine of taking your pill at the same time every day. Progestin-only pills (minipill), however, should be taken at the same time every day, as being off by three hours can reduce the level of protection.
Disclaimer: The above information is for general informational purposes only and is NOT a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your doctor/primary care provider before starting or changing treatment.