Where and How to Get Birth Control Pills
Birth control pills, also known as oral contraceptives or “the pill,” are a common form of hormonal birth control. Birth control pills have been studied for over 50 years, and were approved by the FDA for contraceptive use in 1960. Since then, the pill has become one of the most convenient, popular, and accessible methods of birth control. With proper and consistent use, they are 91% effective in preventing pregnancy. Learning more about where and how to get birth control pills can help you make the best decision for your body.
How do Birth Control Pills Work?
There are dozens of varieties of birth control pills available with a prescription from a healthcare provider. All birth control pills contain varying levels of hormones, which are released into a woman’s body to prevent pregnancy. The main functions of the hormones in birth control pills are to halt ovulation, which prevents the release of an egg and to thicken the mucus surrounding the cervix, which keeps sperm cells from reaching the eggs. Birth control pills work by minimizing the chances of fertilization, which thus reduce the risk of pregnancy.
No brand of birth control pills protects against sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s), and thus you should use an appropriate barrier form of birth control (such as female or male condoms) to protect yourself against the spread of infections and diseases.
Birth control pills are taken on a daily basis to ensure the consistent release of hormones. Birth control pills are most effective when taken at the same time every day. Missing a day decreases the efficacy of the pill, and thus increases your chances of becoming pregnant. To know which pill is right for you, it is important to understand how the various types of birth control pills are designed to interact with your body.
Types of Birth Control Pills
There are three overarching types of birth control pills:
- Combination pills
- Progestin-only or “minipills”
- Emergency contraception pill
Understanding the characteristics of each will help you decide which type is best for your body and lifestyle.
Combination pills contain both of the hormones progestin and estrogen. This variety of birth control pills is available in 28-day packs, which contain 21 “active” pills and 7 “inactive” or sugar pills, and 21-day packs, which are all “active” pills. In the 28-day packs, 21 of the pills contain hormones, and 7 of the pills do not. The advantage of a 28-day pack is that it will help you remain consistent in taking a pill every day at the same time. With the 21-day pack, you may forget when to begin taking your pills again at the start of the following month.
Combination pills are also available in extended-cycle packs of 84 active and 7 inactive pills. Speaking with your doctor will help you determine which of these variations is right for you.
When using either the 28- or 21-day packs of combination birth control pills, you will still have a monthly menstrual cycle. Different brands of birth control pills offer different quantities of hormones, and can affect the flow, timing, and side effects associated with your monthly period. When using extended-cycle packs, your period will only come four times a year. Other methods will completely eliminate your period, and require taking an active dosage pill every day continuously. Your doctor can help you decide if these options are appropriate for you.
Some of the most common brands of combination birth control pills are:
- Seasonique (Extended-Cycle)
- Lybrel (Extended/Continuous-Cycle)
Progestin-Only or “Minipills”
Progestin-only birth control pills may be more effective for women whose bodies do not react well to estrogen. The only active ingredient in minipills is noroethindrone (a type of the hormone progestin), and works similarly to the combination of hormones in the birth control pills described above. These pills, like their combination counterparts, are designed to thicken the mucus lining of the cervix, thus preventing sperm from fertilizing an egg. However, Progestin-only contraceptive pills are less effective in stopping ovulation, which slightly increases the risk of becoming pregnant. Depending on the type of minipill your doctor prescribes, your period may be longer or shorter than normal, or may stop completely. If you experience a heavy menstrual flow for more than a week, you should contact your healthcare provider immediately.
Like the combination birth control pills, progestin-only pills must be taken at a consistent time each day. Missing a day can greatly increase your chances of becoming pregnant.
The most popular brands of progestin-only birth control pills are:
Both combination and progestin-only birth control pills are reversible, meaning they should not have long-lasting negative effects on fertility, and your chances of conception should return to normal if you decide to stop taking these oral contraceptives.
Emergency Contraceptive Pills
Emergency contraceptive pills, also known as “the morning after” pill, or “Plan B” pill, are taken up to 5 days after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy. The morning after pill should not be used as a consistent, reliable form of birth control because it is not as effective as combination or progestin-only birth control pills. It is best to take an emergency contraceptive pill as soon as possible after unprotected sex, as effectiveness diminishes, especially if you are ovulating.
The morning after pill works like other birth control pills, in that it discourages ovulation and thus prevents the fertilization of an egg.
The most popular brands of emergency contraceptive are:
- Ella (ulipristal acetate) – You must have a prescription to purchase Ella online and have it delivered to your door. Use Ella up to 5 days after unprotected sex. ($50-$60).
- Plan B One Step, MyWay, AfterPill (Levonorgestrel) – You can buy these emergency contraceptives without a prescription at most major drug stores. Use these varieties up to 3 days after unprotected sex. ($25-$50).
If you think any of these oral contraceptives may be right for you, learn how and where to get birth control pills.
How to Get Birth Control Pills
If you are considering taking birth control pills to prevent pregnancy, start by having a conversation with your doctor. Your doctor will be able to guide you through the different varieties, side effects, costs, and accessibility of the various birth control pills available. While oral contraceptives are designed for many different body types, your doctor will help give you the best advice on where to start. It is not uncommon for women to try several brands of birth control pills before they find the best fit. Many doctors recommend allowing at least three months for your body to adapt to a new brand of birth control pills before you change your regimen.
In most places, the pill is easy to access, as long as you have a prescription. The cost of the pill will vary based on your insurance coverage.
A doctor’s visit to discuss birth control is covered under most major insurance plans, especially those purchased under the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare). These visits may also be covered if you are eligible for Medicaid, CHIP, or some other government assistance programs. Otherwise, you may be responsible for a copay, which can range from $30-200 depending on your personal healthcare plan. You can make an appointment to discuss your birth control options at:
- Any public or private health center
- Planned Parenthood facility
- Your family doctor’s office
- PlushCare’s online healthcare platform
A visit to discuss birth control options will be similar to any routine medical exam. Most healthcare providers do not require a pelvic exam to prescribe birth control.
Where to Get Birth Control Pills
One of the most common questions women have about oral contraceptive is Where can I get birth control pills? The good news is that accessibility to birth control pills continues to expand. Now more than ever, women can purchase and refill prescriptions for birth control pills online and in person. Once you and your doctor decide which birth control pill is best for your body and lifestyle, s/he will write you a prescription for a specific brand and dosage of birth control pills. You can fill this prescription at any health center, Planned Parenthood facility, or pharmacy near you.
There are some movements, especially in California, Oregon, and Washington, to make over the counter birth control pills available. This would allow pharmacists to prescribe birth control pills, and women to purchase and refill their birth control at any time, without a prescription. However, these laws have not yet passed, and in all states, you need a prescription to get birth control pills.
The average cost of one pack (one month’s worth) of birth control pills is $0-$50, though many insurance plans will cover the entire cost. In order to avoid missing any days of your birth control regimen, it is important to plan so that you have your next month’s pack ready when you take the final pill of your current pack. Some pharmacies may only be open on weekdays, and have restricted hours, so it is often necessary to plan ahead so that you don’t miss any days (one reason cited by advocates for over the counter birth control pills).
Where Can I Buy Birth Control Pills Online?
If being able to buy birth control pills online appeals to you, search online for a licensed healthcare app. Sites such as PlushCare offer online communication with doctors who can walk you through your birth control options. The doctor will then prescribe you a birth control pill that you can pick up at your convenience at your local healthcare facility or pharmacy. These apps will work with most major healthcare providers and some government assistant programs. It is important to consult with a licensed professional before you change your birth control method or brand.
To ensure the effectiveness of your preferred method and brand of birth control pills, make sure you remain consistent with your regimen and contact your doctor if you feel that a change of birth control would better fit your body or lifestyle.
Read more in our Birth Control series: