Birth control timing when you don't need birth control
November 16, 2017 5:24 PM   Subscribe

I'm on birth control solely to suppress my periods. I don't and will likely never have the kind of sex that could get me pregnant. Do I still have to take it at exactly the same time every day?

I know you need to take birth control at the same time every day for it to be an effective contraceptive. However, I don't need it to be a contraceptive. The only sex I have had for the past six years, and foresee having for a long way into the future, is with someone who is also female-assigned-at-birth. Barring rape, I don't even have a chance of becoming pregnant.

I take birth control because my periods make my chronic illness ten times worse and I cannot afford to be non-functional for a week every month. I take it continuously and haven't had a period in several years. In that time the only noticeable problem I've had is spotting, but only very rarely. However, because my chronic illness symptoms and the symptoms of a period are so similar, I can't tell if all of the symptoms are being fully suppressed.

I don't take my birth control at the same time; it's pretty much whenever I go to bed which is about a 2-3 hour window. Is the "take it at the same time every night" rule only for it to be an effective contraceptive, or will it also impact how well it suppresses my period as well? Are there any hormonal consequences to not taking it on time either?
posted by brook horse to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Taking it irregularly tends to increase spotting and other side effects (nausea, headaches) and make it likelier you'll forget (with the same result). It's probably best to set an alarm for a time of day when it won't be a problem to take it at the same time, bedtime or otherwise.
posted by asperity at 5:30 PM on November 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

Interesting question. NB: Not a female, not a gynecologist. Doctor, but not your doctor; this is not medical advice.

It appears as if different oral contraceptives have significantly different half-lives. A longer half-life means the drug "degrades" slower in your body, so there's less chance that being off by a few hours will matter.

I don't know how quickly your body responds to a drop in the hormone levels. Does a few hours make a difference? I'd agree with asperity -- probably increases the changes of some of the side effects like spotting, if you're on a short-acting medicine.

This would be a perfect question for the pharmacist that fills your Rx.
posted by gramcracker at 5:41 PM on November 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

IANYD, but when I took it I was pretty bad about taking it at the same time every day. I did take it every single day however. Usually around the same time, not always. I never got pregnant and never had problems with spotting. I do think individual body chemistry has a lot to do with this, though.
posted by Crystal Fox at 5:45 PM on November 16, 2017

Taking it the same time a day is to keep the hormone levels steady. This is for optimal results at pregnancy prevention *and* everything else.

That said, it seems like the rules aren't actually that strict for combination pills, which I am guessing is what you take.
posted by noxperpetua at 5:47 PM on November 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

I was advised by my OBGYN to take my pill at the same time of day, which she clarified as the same 3-hour window.
posted by meemzi at 6:28 PM on November 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

This is how I have always taken my birth control pills, including when I was relying on them to prevent pregnancy.

My doctor recommended that I not use the pill for continuous period prevention indefinitely - I forget why, and it was before I was done having kids so might have been related to that but that might be why you are experiencing occasional spotting. I have three withdrawal periods a year (and they are not any heavier/worse than normal for being less frequent) and no spotting anymore.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 6:46 PM on November 16, 2017

As a single data point: Like you, I have a chronic illness & take birth control to suppress my periods. (Without it, my periods trigger intense fibromyalgia-related pelvic pain.) I can take my pills anytime within a 4-hour window, and I'm fine: no spotting, no pain, no period. If I'm 6+ hours late, I get some cramping/pelvic pain, and if I miss a day, I usually get my period. So—solely from my experience, a limited sample size!—I'd assume the way you're doing it, taking your pills within 2-3 hours, is probably fine.

(Just to be sure, maybe take your pills at exactly the same time every day for a week, record your pain levels, and see if it makes a difference? I know it's hard to judge pain levels, though, so many different factors.)

Like others have said, the timing rules aren't as strict for combination pills (as compared to, say, progestin-only minipills), but it will depend on your body chemistry and the pill itself.
posted by fire, water, earth, air at 6:57 PM on November 16, 2017

I sucked at this, but you do have a window to take it, it doesn't have to be exactly say 7pm but close).

I take bc for endo. I used the nuvaring because it is so much easier at once a month and finally moved to an IUD (merena). I'm going to be on birth control permanently so 5 year birth control make since for me.
posted by AlexiaSky at 8:33 PM on November 16, 2017

I’ve been on BC for 20 years for premature menopause (and am now on Prempro) and in my experience, I was fine as long as I took the pills within a few hours of each other. I take them at night, and even if I accidentally forgot and remembered in the morning (which admittedly I rarely did), it was still fine. If pregnancy isn’t a concern, then there’s no harm in giving it a try and adjusting if you notice a detriment.

I took Ortho Cyclen (monophasic) and Ortho Tri-Cyclen (tri-phasing) pills.
posted by Autumnheart at 9:59 PM on November 16, 2017

Thanks all! Just wanted to make sure I wasn't missing something in the way BC works in relation to periods. Good to know the window is that wide too (and yes, I am on combination pills).
posted by brook horse at 10:02 PM on November 16, 2017

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