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Home / Contraception / What if I miss a pill?

What if I miss a pill?

Everything on what counts as a missed pill and what to do

You're not alone if you have forgotten to take your oral contraceptive pill. In fact, research shows that as many as one in three women miss at least one pill every month for a variety of reasons.

Contraceptive pills are a safe and effective method of contraception, but it does require you to follow a schedule. If you miss a pill, you're at a risk of becoming pregnant, so it is important to understand what counts as a missed pill, how to avoid missing one and how to take appropriate action.

Combined pill pack with a calendar on top of a material with plaid (tartan) pattern

Depending on the type of pill you're taking and how many you’ve missed, instructions will differ regarding what to do and how to get back on track. Read on to find out what to do if you miss a pill and how to remain protected from pregnancy in the meantime.

What counts as a missed pill?

Taking the pill too late

Any pill that you do not take on your normal schedule can be considered as late. If you’re only late taking it (i.e. you’ve not exceeded the below timeframes), you will remain protected from pregnancy and can get back to your normal schedule. If you do not take the pill within these time frames, you are considered to have missed the pill.

If you’re taking a traditional progestogen-only pill, such as Micronor, Noriday and Norgeston, you will remain protected from pregnancy provided you take the pill no more than 3 hours from your normal schedule.

For desogestrel progestogen-only pills, such as Cerazette Aizea, Cerelle and Feanolla, the pregnancy protection window is extended to 12 hours, and any pill not taken within that timeframe will put you at risk of pregnancy.

For combined contraceptive pills, such as Femoden, Femodette, Logynon, Marvelon, Mercilon, Microgynon, Yasmin, Brevinor, Ovranette, Cilest and Loestrin, the pill should be effective in protecting against as long as you take the pill within 24h of your normal schedule. Some combined pills however, have a 12-hour window. Zoely and Qlaira are examples of this.

You should always refer to the patient information leaflet to find out about timeframes specific to the pill you’re taking.

Vomiting or diarrhoea

If you experience any vomiting within three hours of taking the combined pill, or two for the progestogen-only-pill, this could indicate that the pill has not been absorbed properly, and thus should be treated as a missed pill (if a replacement pill has not been taken within the correct timeframes). Severe diarrhoea over 12-24 hours, or lasting for days, should also be treated as a missed pill.

Taking certain medicines

Certain enzyme-inducing medications may also interfere with the effectiveness of the pill, such as:

  • rifampicin-like antibiotics, including rifampicin and rifabutin
  • certain antifungals such as griseofulvin or ketoconazole
  • herbal remedies like St John’s wort
  • certain antiretroviral medications for HIV
  • some anti-epileptic drugs

What if I miss a combined pill?

If you’ve missed one combined pill (more than 12/24h late), you should:

  1. take the late or missed pill as soon as possible; and
  2. continue taking the pill at the usual time, even if it means taking two pills on the same day or relatively close together
  3. you should skip the break if this happened in the third week of your cycle
  4. use a barrier contraception method if it happened in your cycle’s first week

No backup birth control is needed if you follow the above steps and the pill you missed wasn’t in the first week of your cycle (first seven pills of your pack). If you missed a combined pill in the first week of the cycle and you had unprotected sex you may need emergency contraception or speak to your doctor for advice. If you have unprotected sex and suspect you may be pregnant, you should take a pregnancy test.

What if I missed more than one pill?

In case you’ve missed two (2) or more consecutive combined pills, i.e. more than 48 hours have passed since you took a pill, you should do the following:

  • take the most recent missed pill as soon as possible, discarding any other missed pills;
  • continue taking your pills on schedule, even if it means taking a second pill on the same day or relatively close together; and
  • use back-up contraception method, such as condoms or other barrier protection, or avoid sexual intercourse entirely until you have taken the hormonal pills for 7 consecutive days.

If you’ve had unprotected sex and you’ve missed a pill, consider emergency contraception (EC).

Note: Certain combined pills, such as Logynon, Synphase, Eloine, Qlaira and Zoely have a different set of instructions on how to deal with missed pills due to their unique regiments and differing dosages. Refer to the patient information leaflet for further information on what to do.

What do I do if I’ve missed a pill in the last week of my pill cycle?

If you’ve missed a pill in the last week of your combined pills schedule, for example days 15 - 21 for 28-day pill packs, you should do the following:

  • take the missed pill as soon as possible and finish the active pills (containing hormones) of your current pill pack and start a new pill pack immediately - you should skip the hormone-free interval (pill-free break/inactive pills);
  • if you cannot start a new pack immediately, use back-up contraception or avoid sexual intercourse until you have taken the combined pill from a new pack for 7 consecutive days.

No further action is necessary if the missed pill was a placebo (non-hormonal), and you may start your next pack as normal. If using a combined oral contraceptive pill (COCP) with 28 pills, these should be the last 7 or 4 pills in the pack, depending on your brand.

What do I do if I miss a mini pill (progestogen-only pill)?

If you have missed 1 or more pills by more than 3 hours (for traditional progestogen-only pills) or more than 12 hours (for desogestrel POPs), you should:

  1. take the missed pill as soon as possible
  2. continue taking pills as normal, i.e. 1 per day at the same time
  3. avoid sexual contact for 2 days or use a back-up method, such as barrier contraception; and
  4. if it happened during the 1st week of starting the mini pill, you should contact your doctor and consider emergency contraception if you engaged in unprotected sex the week before

If you’ve missed a traditional mini pill by less than 3h hours or a desogestrel POP by less than 12 hours, take the pill as soon as you remember and continue taking the pill on your normal schedule. No additional contraception is needed if the late pill falls within these timeframes.

What do I do if I know I’m going to miss a contraceptive pill?

If you’ve run out of pills and know you will miss your next dose, you should take the next pill as soon as they’re available to you. Follow the instructions above for the time limits and use extra contraception (such as a condom) or abstain from sex in the meantime (for 7 days for a monophasic COCP and for 2 days for a POP), to minimise the risk of pregnancy.

One hand holding a combined pill tablet strip and the other holding a pen with a marked calendar and a clock in the background

How do I reduce the risk of missing a pill?

Forgetting to take your pill is not uncommon, but it is important making sure you keep on schedule to avoid unplanned pregnancies.

Below are some actions you can take to make sure you don’t forget to take the pill:

  1. Get a contraceptive pill that works for you - Some contraceptive pills give more leeway regarding when they can be taken while still remaining effective, so if you know you might struggle with taking a pill every day on the hour, consider desogestrel progestogen-only pills, as they remain effective for up to 12 hours from your normal schedule.
  2. Set up a reminder on your phone - setting up an alarm or a reminder on your phone is a good way to keep track of when you need to take the pill, especially if you get busy around certain times of the day.
  3. Keep some pills on you - if you know you’re not going to be home to take your pill on schedule, consider keeping some in your bag or a purse and taking them with you, so you can take them on time, even if you’re not at home.
  4. Download a medication tracking app - there are a number of apps available on iPhone and Android to help you keep track of when you need to take your pills. These can be useful for not just reminders, but for tracking your monthly pill schedule as well.
  5. Renew your prescription ahead of running out - For further peace of mind and to make sure you always have the pill available, renew your prescription at least a week in advance. If you need to also book a GP appointment, you should allocate additional time for this and for it to be ready for collection at the pharmacy.

Worried about running out?

Renew prescription here

To avoid running out of your pill, you can renew your prescription here at euroClinix, and you will have it sent directly to your door the next working day. You can get the most popular and most widely used contraceptives at euroClinix, including the pill, the patch, the contraceptive ring, and even emergency contraception.

Simply choose the contraceptive method you’d like to reorder and complete a quick and confidential online consultation with our doctors, to ensure it's still safe for you to use. If approved, your order will be dispatched on the same day, and will arrive to you in discreet packaging via our free next day delivery service.

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