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What Makes Birth Control Pills Less Effective?

Surprising Things That Might Make Birth Control Pills Less Effective

When it comes to avoiding an unwanted pregnancy, you need to use protection — because the "pulling out" method is a no-go. Not only does it expose you to potential diseases and STDs, but it also doesn't prevent you from getting pregnant. So nix that option — for good.

Next step? Find a form of contraception. You can always use condoms (and you should, regardless, if you're not in a monogamous and tested relationship, to prevent contracting any STDs), but if you're looking for something reliable (condoms might break) and effective, the birth control pill is a great option.

But that's only if you're following the rules. There are certain things you might be doing that can make your birth control less effective, leaving the door open for Plan B runs or surprise pregnancies. We were able to chat with Dr. Nita Landry, known as "Dr. Nita," an OB/GYN in Los Angeles and cohost on the show The Doctors, to find out exactly what those things are.

Certain Medications

Turns out, other oral medications could be interfering with your oral contraceptive. "Most people think that all antibiotics decrease the effectiveness of birth control pills, but that is a myth," Dr. Nita told POPSUGAR. "Typical antibiotics used for things like urinary tract infections, upper respiratory infections, or acne shouldn't cause an issue with birth control pills."

Yet there are certain medications that can make the pill ineffective. "Some less common types of antibiotics can decrease the effectiveness of birth control pills. For example, Rifampin and Rifabutin (usually used for treatment of tuberculosis)," she explained. Here are a few more worth noting: medications for epilepsy or bipolar disorder (such as Phenytoin, Phenobarbital, Carbamazepine, Topiramate); medications used to treat HIV; Griseofulvin, an antifungal drug; and some herbal supplements, like St. John's Wort, she said.

But, when in doubt, just speak to your doctor or local pharmacist. "They are only a phone call away. Always tell your doctor about your prescription and over-the-counter medications or supplements," she said, and they'll be better able to advise you on what form of contraception or medication to take in order to avoid any interaction.

Not Taking the Pill at the Same Time Every Day

Not taking the pill at the same time every day can definitely increase your risk of pregnancy, Dr. Nita said. "The pill comes in two forms: estrogen and progesterone (combination pills) and progestin-only (minipills). Most women use combination pills." Why does this matter? If you take a progestin-only pill more than three hours past the regular time, you need to use backup contraception (like a condom) when having sex for the next 48 hours, or else that unprotected sex could lead to pregnancy. But if you use a combination pill, you have more wiggle room — very little wiggle room, though, so this shouldn't become a pattern.

Besides, there are benefits to taking the pill at the same time every day, as it'll help to decrease the probability that you will miss a pill, which, of course, can leave you exposed to a potential pregnancy. "If you happen to miss a pill, your doctor can tell you how to proceed to ensure that you have adequate birth control," Dr. Nita said. This might be switching to an IUD or other form that doesn't require a set schedule (if that's a problem for you), or following the steps of Plan B to ensure you're safe.

"As a general rule, to stay on track and to prevent pregnancy, you should make taking the pill a part of your daily routine," she advised. For example, take it every day right after you brush your teeth or every night right after you eat dinner. Setting a birth control alarm on your phone can also be helpful. Pick a time when you are most likely to be awake and you are least likely to be distracted by other things.

Having a Digestive Disorder

If you happen to have an autoimmune or digestive disorder, you might be at risk of making your birth control pill less effective, in which case you might want to consider other nonoral options. "Bowel conditions, like Crohn's disease or inflammatory bowel disease (IBS), can prevent oral medications (including birth control pills) from being absorbed properly," said Dr. Nita.

As it's difficult to guarantee full absorption when you have these conditions, you're putting yourself at risk of decreasing its potency. It's a good idea to share this with your doctor and find an alternative method.

Being Sick or Having Diarrhea

If you get a dose of food poisoning or have too many cocktails on girls' night out, not only is your toilet paying the price, but so is your menstrual cycle. If you had the pill earlier in the day, it might be eliminated. "If your body eliminates the pill before your digestive system has a chance to break it down and absorb it, the pill is not going the work," said Dr. Nita. "To be safe, the pill needs about four to six hours in your system; otherwise, it counts as a 'missed pill,' and you should follow the 'missed pill' instructions provided by your doctor."

Additionally, if you have vomiting or diarrhea for two or more days, let your doctor know, as this can be problematic. When in doubt, always use backup contraception, like a condom.

Not Storing Your Birth Control Properly

Ideally, birth control pills should be stored at room temperature and away from hot, moist environments, according to Dr. Nita. So don't leave it in the bathroom cabinet, as the heat and steam from your shower can make it less effective. You should also think about how to keep your birth control protected when travelling. The same goes for a car glove compartment during the Summer. Instead, keep your birth control in a cool, dark space that's away from sunlight, and hot or damp environments.

Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Diggy Lloyd
Product Credit: Morgan Lane short set
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