About the progestogen-only pill (POP)
The POP contains the hormone progestogen instead of oestrogen (which is found in the combined). Taken correctly, it is more than 99% effective but with typical use effectiveness is 91%.
There are two different types of POP:
- The three-hour progestogen-only pill which must be taken during the same three hours every day, e.g. 7am to 10am
- The 12-hour progestogen-only pill which must be taken during the same 12 hours every day, e.g. 7am to 7pm
You can find more information on the different types of progestogen-only pills by clicking on the useful links at the bottom of this page.
How it works
When you take a POP, the hormone progestogen is absorbed into your bloodstream. This thickens the mucus at the entrance to your womb and makes it harder for sperm to enter and reach an egg. It may also prevent ovulation (the release of an egg).
How to use it
You take one pill every day. You need to take this pill at roughly the same time every day. As soon as you finish one pack, you start the next without a break the following day.
Whether you are protected straight away depends on which day of your monthly cycle you start taking the pills. It is important to follow the instructions that come inside your pill packet. If you start POP after day 5 of your cycle, you will need to use condoms for 48 hours until the pill becomes effective. Missing pills or taking the pill alongside other medicines can reduce the effectiveness.
If you miss a pill, vomit or have diarrhoea, it may not be effective. This means that you should use another form of contraception like condoms while you have the symptoms and for another 48 hours afterwards. If you have had sex without a condom during this time, you should access emergency contraception.
If you forget to take a pill, what you should do depends on:
- The type of pill you’re taking
- How long it’s been since you were meant to take a pill
- Whether you have had unprotected sex during the last seven days
The useful links at the bottom of this page will take you to more information on what to do if you forget to take a pill or are suffering from vomiting or diarrhoea.
Who can use it
Most women can use the POP. You may not be able to use it if you have had:
- Heart or liver disease
- Breast cancer
- Cysts on your ovaries
There are many advantages to using the progestogen-only pill:
- Safe to use when breastfeeding
- Useful for women who cannot take the hormone oestrogen (which is in the combined pill, contraceptive patch and vaginal ring)
- Can use it at any age even if you smoke
- Can reduce mood swings and symptoms that occur before your period
- Can help with painful periods
It’s also worth bearing in mind that the progestogen-only pill:
- Does not protect you against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Consistently using male and female condoms is the best way to protect against STIs
- May make your periods more irregular (lighter, more frequent, stop entirely)
- Must be taken at or around the same time every day
- Some medications can reduce its effectiveness. Make sure you let your doctor or nurse know you’re taking POP whenever you’re getting a new prescription. One herbal remedy that is available in pharmacies, called St John’s Wort, can also stop POP from working and should be avoided
- May have some side effects like acne, breast tenderness/enlargement, changes to your sex drive, mood changes, headaches and migraine, nausea or vomiting, cysts (small fluid-filled sacs) on your ovaries, upset stomach and weight gain. These are most likely to happen when you start taking the POP and normally stop within a few months
Where to get it
Like most types of contraception, POP is free in the UK. It is available to all women and men through the NHS. Places where you can get contraception include:
- Most GP surgeries – talk to your GP or practice nurse
- Sexual health clinics like those run by Virgin Care, which offer both contraceptive and STI services. If you’d like to, you can book an appointment now
- Community contraception clinics
- Some genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics
- Some young people’s services, like those run by Brook
- The Family Planning Association’s has an excellent Guide to the progestogen-only pill including what to do if you forget to take one
- NHS Choices has lots of information about contraception with specific pages on the progestogen-only pill
- Brook has more information and advice on contraception written for people under 25, including the progestogen-only pill