What is the progestogen-only pill?
The progestogen-only pill, also known as a POP or the mini pill, is a common form of contraception for women. The progestogen-only pill contains a synthetic version of the hormone progesterone and, unlike many other forms of hormonal contraception, it doesn’t contain any oestrogen.
It works by making it tougher for sperm to enter the womb and fertilise an egg. Some types of progestogen-only pill also prevent ovulation. Those containing desogestrel, such as Cerazette, prevent ovulation in 97% of cases, alongside a thickening of the cervical mucus to prevent pregnancy.
A guide to taking the progestogen-only pill
- Take the mini pill advised by your doctor
- Always keep your pack in a visible and memorable location
- Take it at the same time every day
What are the advantages, disadvantages and possible side effects of the progestogen-only pill?
- 99% effective if taken correctly
- Can be taken by women who have high blood pressure, are overweight, have a history of blood clots, or are over the age of 40
- Safe to take if you are over 35 and smoke
- Safe for most women up to the age of 55
- Can be taken whilst breastfeeding
- Periods may become lighter, or even stop altogether
Doctors recommend waiting for one natural period before trying to get pregnant, although pregnancy before this point is not harmful to the baby. While you wait for a natural period, as advised, another form of contraception, such as condoms, can be used.
- Must be taken the same time every day. Cerazette and the generic form, Cerelle, have a 12-hour window and other pills have a three-hour window.
- Does not protect against STIs
- Your periods may change in a way that does not suit you. They may become irregular, light, more frequent, last longer or stop altogether.
- Possible side effects
- Spotty skin
- Breast tenderness
- Benign ovarian cysts, which do not need treatment but can cause discomfort
What do I do if I don’t take the mini pill on time?
If you forget to take it on time (within three hours for Norgeston and Noriday and 12 hours for Cerazette and Cerelle), you should take the missed pill as soon as you remember and then your next pill at the normal time. You should only take one even if you have missed more than one. You will not be covered for the next two days, so use barrier methods such as condoms, the cap or a diaphragm with spermicide over that time. If you've had unprotected sex within this two-day period, you may need emergency contraception.
Can all women use the progestogen-only pill?
If you're healthy and there are no medical reasons for you not to take the mini pill, you can take it until either menopause or until you're 55 years old.
It’s advised that you don’t take it if:
- There’s a possibility you’re pregnant
- You’re taking a medication that impacts the effectiveness of it (your GP will be able to confirm this)
- You have or have had heart disease or a stroke, liver disease or breast cancer
When can I start taking it?
You can start any time in your menstrual cycle, and if you begin from the first to the fifth day you will be covered immediately.
A doctor’s consultation is always required prior to taking any form of contraceptive pill.
Progestogen-only pill brands
Cerazette – one of the most popular progestogen-only pills. It provides a 12-hour window in which you can take it and still be protected from pregnancy.
Cerelle – a generic version of Cerazette which contains the same ingredients and has a 12-hour window.
Noriday - contains progestogen in the form of norethisterone and must be taken within the same three-hour window each day.
Norgeston - contains progestogen in the form of levonorgestrel and must be taken within the same three-hour window each day. It is one of the cheapest POPs available.
If you’re unsure if this is right for you, discover the other options available in our guide to different forms of contraception, or have a consultation with your GP to discuss what would be best for you and your needs.