Birth control pills absolutely ‘crush it’ when it comes to doing their primary job-preventing a pregnancy. They’ve been working hard since the 60’s and have a 99.7% success rate. How effective is that!
Today, they are clever multi-taskers able to produce some pretty handy non-contraceptive benefits as well. But, they can come with less desirable side effects such as mood swings, tender breasts and weight gain.
This is because different contraceptive pills contain different levels hormones that effect different parts of your body that are different for every woman. It’s important to know the pros and cons of each so you can find the pill that’s right for you.
Although there are 30+ brands available in Australia, they fall into two broad categories;
1. The Mini Pill:
A progesterone only contraceptive that works by thickening the mucous of the cervix creating a barrier to prevent sperm entering the uterus.
2. The Combined Pill:
Oestrogen and progesterone work in combination to not only thicken cervical mucous, but also stop ovulation.
There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to birth control pills as the molecular structure of one synthetic hormone may suit you better than another. So, in consultation with your doctor, there may be a bit of trial and error.
We’ve reviewed 10 of the best contraceptive pill brands on offer: We look at the costs, the pros and the cons.
Cost: 4x28, $13.50
Overview: A progesterone only pill, Microlut does not interfere with ovulation. Each pill contains an even dose of hormones that are to be taken every day–even when you have your period.
Pros: Very safe and has minimal side effects. It has none of the risks, such as deep vein thrombosis, associated with the combined pill. They are terrific for breastfeeding mothers as well as women who, for various health reasons, cannot tolerate oestrogen.
Cons: To work, it must be taken at approximately the same time every day. For that reason, it can be less effective than a combined pill. It can also cause breakthrough or irregular bleeding patterns in some women.
Cost: 4x28, $12.39
Overview: Another Progesterone only pill, Noriday, like Microlut delivers a regular dose of the synthetic hormone levonorgestrel.
Pros: As with other mini pills, there are no known serious health risks. Noriday is marginally cheaper than Microlut and is therefore often a GP’s “go to” choice. It’s also a good option for women with polycystic ovary syndrome.
Cons: It’s crucial to take Noriday within a 3 hour window every day to prevent pregnancy. Noriday wears off after approximately 21 hours, so timing is important
Cost: 3x28, $74.99
Overview: A relatively new comer, Yaz contains drospirenone, which is in fact, a diuretic that behaves as progesterone. Being a diuretic, it can be helpful in preventing PMT symptoms, particularly bloating as it prevents water retention.
Pros: Drospirenone has been associated with reducing hormone related acne andexcessive hair growth in some women. Yaz contains fewer placebos than its closest counterpart Yasmin (see below). This means you will have slightly shorter periods.
Cons: Expensive compared to other combined pills as it is not subsidised by the PBS. Not recommended for women who are heavy users of anti inflammatories (such as ibuprofen, diclofenac, naproxen, celecoxib). There have been legal cases initiated against Bayer, manufacturer of both Yaz and Yasmin around insufficient warnings relating to the potential for blood clotting.
Cost: 3x38, $74.50
Overview: The other big name in contraceptive pills containing drospirenone. Like Yaz, Yasmin helps alleviate PMT symptoms and although not a weight loss pill, avoids the initial weight gain sometimes associated with the pill.
Pros: Known to reduce symptoms of PMT, hormonal acne and unwanted hair growth as well as bloating (ref Yaz).
Cons: Yasmin has 21 hormone pills compared with Yaz’s 24 which means you may get slightly longer periods on Yasmin. As with Yaz, Yasmin is not supported by Medicare which makes it a relatively expensive choice.
Cost: 3x28, $47.39
Overview: A generic version of Yaz and Yasmin.
Pros: Much the same as for Yaz and Yasmin. It is however significantly cheaper.
Cons: As it is the bioequivalent of Yaz and Yasmin, similar health warnings apply.
Cost: 4x28, $22.99
Overview: Microgynon is a part of a group of ‘monophasic’ combined pills, which means they deliver the same dose of hormones (levonorgestrel and etheinylestradiol) with every active pill (21 days). They are often the first port of call for GPs when a woman first goes on the pill.
Pros: Heavily tried and tested and suits a large number of women. It has also been known to alleviate acne.
Cons: Typical PMT symptoms such as mood swings, breast tenderness as well as nausea are known to occur in some women.
Cost: 4x28, $13.50
Overview: Another monophasic pill, Levlen is a proven, well trusted and widely used contraceptive pill. Keeping to one constant dose of oestrogen and progesterone lessens side effects from fluctuating hormones.
Pros: Reported to help regulate and lighten periods as well as reduce period pain. One of the most inexpensive options on the market.
Cons: Although it helps most women, some report nausea, weight change, headaches, and breast tenderness.
Cost: 3x28, $69.99
Overview: Diane 35, (also sold in generic form as Estelle, Brenda, Juliet and Laila), is a version of the pill used to treat severe acne in women with excess levels of androgens (male hormones such as testosterone).
Pros: Works wonders to clear up skin and curb hirsutism, (excess hair growth).
Cons: There has been controversy around an increased incidence of blood clotting in some patients taking Diane 35. In 2018, the TGA conducted a review of its use in Australia and concluded the benefits outweighed the risks. Although still available, it can only be prescribed by specialists such as dermatologists and gynaecologists.
Cost: 4x28, $12.50
Overview: Norimin contains norethisterone, a well-established and acknowledged synthetic progesterone that can help lighten heavy periods as well as control acne.
Pros: Helps regulate any hormonal ups and downs throughout your cycle. A very affordable option.
Cons: Some women do report worsening PMT symptoms, although it does work for the majority.
Cost: 4x28, $24.69
Overview: Popular in the 80’s, triphasic pills such as Triphasil, Trifeme and Triquillar were considered revolutionary as the hormone dosage fluctuated throughout the month to closely imitate a woman’s natural cycle. The preface ‘Tri’ refers to three different doses of hormones delivered as you work your way through the pack.
Pros: A popular and inexpensive option.
Cons: PMT side effects such as headache, sore breasts, nausea, bloating and irritability.
Male contraceptive pill
A male version of the pill is yet to be developed. The idea is to target sperm production with a combination of testosterone and progesterone. Side effects experienced by men led to trials being shut down. Even though there was a reduction in sperm, the knock-on effects of acne, mood disorders and an increased libido were too harsh for the participants.
If you have concerns you may have missed a pill, (or a few), or you may have taken medication that interferes with its effectiveness, the morning after pill, is another medication that can prevent a pregnancy. Best taken 12 hours after unprotected sex, it prevents either the upcoming release of an egg, fertilisation or implantation. It is available via prescription and is effective in around 85% of cases.
You should speak to your doctor or a health care professional when considering birth control pills.