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Progestin-Only Pills (POPs)

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Progestin-Only Pills (POPs):
Answers to Your Questions

What are POPs?
Are they effective?
How do they work?
How do I use POPs?
How to begin using POPs
What to do if you miss taking a pill
Changes in menstrual periods and other side effects
Warning signs
What are the advantages and disadvantages of POPs?
Are POPs the right method for me?


The information provided here is meant to give you general information about POPs and does not replace the need to talk to a health care provider if you would like to use POPs as a contraceptive method.

What are POPs?

You take contraceptive pills orally. The pills stop the egg from leaving the ovary every month. You must take one pill every day according to instructions.

Are they effective?

If taken correctly, POPs are very effective.

NOTE: Contraceptive pills do not provide protection against HIV infection and other sexually transmitted infections. Aside from abstinence, latex condoms offer the best protection against these infections.

How do they work?

The hormone progestin in the pills stops the egg from leaving the ovary every month. The hormone also makes it difficult for sperm to enter the womb. It does this by thickening the mucus at the entrance to the womb. Unlike combined oral contraceptive pills (COCs), POPs do not contain the hormone estrogen.

How do I use POPs?

As with any other method, you should talk to your doctor or a family planning counselor at a local clinic or hospital before using POPs as a contraceptive method. The following instructions are provided to help you decide whether POPs may be right for you.

How to begin using POPs:

Some medications interfere with the pill's effectiveness. Check with your health facility if you begin to take rifampin (rifampicin)--an antibiotic used to treat tuberculosis--or any medicine for convulsions or seizures. Bring the pill packets with you when you visit the health facility and tell the doctor or nurse that you are taking progestin-only pills.
  • Always begin with the first pill in the packet.
  • Take the first pill on any of the first seven days of your menstrual period. For many women, it is easiest to remember to take the first pill on the first day.
  • Use another contraceptive method, such as condoms, until you have taken the pills for seven days in a row.
  • Swallow one pill each day at the same time of day, even if you do not have sexual intercourse. This is even more important for women who take POPs than for those who take COCs.
  • If you are more than three hours late taking your pill, use another contraceptive method for two days while you continue to take your pills, or you may get pregnant.
  • Do not skip a single day between packets, even if you are still menstruating. Always start a new packet the day after finishing the last packet.
  • If this is the first time you have taken POPs and you have no problems, return to the health facility when your health care provider suggests for a check-up and to get a new supply of pills. Bring the empty pill packets with you when you return.
  • Talk to a health care provider if:
    • You are not happy with the method
    • You think you are pregnant
    • You want information about or want to start using another family planning method
    • You think there is any chance you may have been exposed to HIV infection or any other sexually transmitted infection
  • If you have just delivered a baby, you may begin taking the POP immediately after delivery, or at any time you and your doctor or health care provider believe you are not pregnant.
  • If you have just had an abortion, you may begin taking the pill on the same day as the abortion or at any time you and your health care provider believe you are not pregnant.
  • If you are ill and have severe vomiting or diarrhea, your pills may not work effectively. Use another contraceptive method or do not have sexual intercourse until you are well and have taken the pills for seven days in a row without severe vomiting or diarrhea.

What to do if you miss taking a pill:

  • If you miss taking a pill on one day, take it as soon as you remember. Take the next pill at the regular time, even if this means you take two pills in one day. Then continue to take one pill per day. Wait to have sexual intercourse, or use another contraceptive method (such as condoms), until you have taken the pill for seven days in a row. This will give the pills time to protect you fully against pregnancy.
  • If you miss taking a pill on two or more days in a row, take two pills as soon as you remember and two pills the next day. Take one pill each subsequent day. Wait to have sexual intercourse, or use another contraceptive method (such as condoms) until you have taken the pill for seven days in a row. This will give the pills time to protect you fully against pregnancy.
  • If you continually forget to take pills or if you interrupt pill-taking often, talk with your health care provider about using another method of family planning.

Changes in menstrual periods and other side effects

If you have any side effects that bother you, talk to your health care provider.
  • Your period will usually come while you are taking the fourth week of pills. If you do not have a period, continue to take your pills, but if you have symptoms of pregnancy, contact the health facility for advice.
  • When you begin to take the pills, you may have some spotting between your menstrual periods. This is not your menstrual period. You should continue taking the pill each day.
  • Your periods may last longer or be heavier than they have been in the past. You may stop having periods, even though you are not pregnant.

Warning signs

Return to your health facility or go to a hospital at once if you have severe pain in your belly. Be sure to tell the health care provider that you are taking POPs.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of POPs?

Advantages:

  • You can discontinue POPs on your own at any time.
  • POPs are not linked to sexual intercourse.
  • You may have less bleeding during your menstrual periods.

Disadvantages:

  • POPs do not provide protection against HIV infection and other sexually transmitted infections.
  • The pills may cause spotting between periods, longer or heavier periods, or no periods at all.
  • You must remember to take a pill every day.

Are POPs the right method for me?

There are a number of factors that you should consider before deciding whether POPs are right for you. These questions can help you determine whether POPs might be an effective contraceptive method for you.


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