TLDR… what’s the Lowdown?
- You can change the time you take your pill, so long as you adhere to the ‘safe’ windows for the pill type you’re taking (24 hours for combined pill, 12 hours for progestogen-only pills containing desogestrel and 3 hours for all other progestogen-only pills)
- For pill types with longer safe windows (combined and progestogen-only pills containing desogestrel) it can therefore be easier to switch your timing around within a day
- The best way to change progestogen-only pills with 3 hour windows is to gradually adapt to a new time in 2-3 hour blocks
- If you travel to a new timezone, the easiest approach may be to keep your pill taking synced to your home timezone
- If you take your pill outside of the safe window, this is a missed pill and there may be a pregnancy risk
- Confused about changing your pill time? Speak to one of our friendly team of doctors
Maybe you’re jetting off to NYC, or realised that the 2 hour weekly budget meeting ALWAYS devours Monday morning. Whatever the situation, you might find yourself wanting to change the time you take your pill.
To do this, we must start by identifying what type of pill it is you are taking. Advice differs depending on whether you’re taking a combined pill (containing progestogen and oestrogen) or the progestogen-only pill. And then, which type of progestogen-only pill.
Fed up of doing the mental maths? Get the lowdown in our go-to guide to changing your pill taking routine…
Time windows for pills
First a bit of housekeeping. In this blog there’s going to be a lot of talk about ‘safe windows.’ Basically, all pills last for a certain duration, and these timeframes differ depending on which pill type you’re taking.
Everyone is advised to take their pill around about the same time each day. If you deviate from this time (but it’s still within the safe window for that pill type), it is classed as a ‘late pill.’ As long as you then take your pill within the safe window, you’ll still be protected against pregnancy, and this is what allows us to change the timings of your pill.
On the other hand, a ‘missed pill’ is where the timeframe that you haven’t taken your pill exceeds the safe window for that particular pill. This means that you may not be protected against pregnancy.
Firstly, find your brand of pill using our contraceptive pages, which will tell you what type of pill you are on.
I’m on a combined oral contraceptive pill
The combined oral contraceptive pill contains synthetic versions of oestrogen and progestogen. It’s super effective at preventing pregnancy by suppressing ovulation (the release of an egg from the ovaries each month), thickening cervical mucus and thinning the womb which prevents implantation of a fertilised egg. Common combined pills include Microgynon and Rigevidon – you can find loads more (plus reviews of each) here.
How do I change the timings of the combined pill?
The safe window for this type of pill is 24 hours – i.e. you need to take your pill within 24 hours of the time that you should have taken your pill. However, it is important to consider the type of pill that you’re taking, as Daylette, Eloine, Qlaira and Zoely require a different approach.
So, just to visualise…you’ve decided to hit a morning yoga class and therefore you want to switch your pill time from 8am to 7pm. This is comfortably within the 24 hour window that you should be taking your pill (being a 11 hour time difference). All you need to do is take your pill at the new time and continue to do so. No extra contraception required!
Because of the 24 hour window, say if you’re due to take your pill at 9am on a Monday morning, the effectiveness will last all the way until 9am on Tuesday. Within that window changing the time you take your pill is therefore absolutely fine.
And on a related note, don’t worry, even if you exceed the 24 hour window and miss one pill in your pack, or start a pack one day late, you’re still protected against pregnancy. This makes changing timings much easier. There is only a risk of pregnancy once you exceed a window of 48 hours or more, beyond when you should’ve taken your pill.
I’m on a progestogen-only pill (AKA POP or the mini pill)
The POP works by thickening the cervical mucus, as a barrier to prevent the sperm reaching the egg and thinning the lining of the womb, which stops a fertilised egg from implanting. It’s worth noting that desogestrel-containing progestogen-only pills can also stop ovulation, so there are different time frames in which you need to take each pill.
How do I change the timings of a mini pill?
There are two types of progestogen-only pill, the traditional ones (think Micronor or Noriday) and desogestrel pills (such as Cerazette or Cerelle). Traditional POPs have a 3 hour window, versus a 12 hour window for desogestrel pills.
I’m on a traditional mini pill
For effectiveness, you must take the pill within a 3 hour window else it is considered a missed pill (but to be on the safe side, let’s consider 2 hours for this example)…
So, say you normally take the pill at 10am and you decide at the beginning of the week that you want to switch to 6pm instead:
- Monday: take pill at 10am
- Tuesday: take pill at 12pm
- Wednesday: take pill at 2pm
- Thursday: take pill at 4pm
- Friday: and like magic take the pill at your new time of 6pm!
Ok it’s not lightning speed, but this is the best way to maintain consistent contraception. To switch sooner, you can always use condoms as a back-up form of contraception until you have been taking the pill for a full two days at your new time.
I’m on a desogestrel mini pill
As long as you’re not exceeding 12 hours later than your usual pill taking time, you can freely switch the time of day you take your pill. Beyond 12 hours, you could follow a gradual approach, similar to the above but using windows less than 12 hours, or use backup contraception for 48 hours following the change of timing.
So, say you want to switch from 7am to 10pm on a desogestrel-POP. Here’s how your week might look:
- Monday: take pill at 7am
- Tuesday: take pill at 6pm (choosing an 11 hour gap to fit comfortably within the 12 hour safe window)
- Wednesday: take pill at new time of 10pm
Monophasic or multiphasic pills
A really brief moment on monophasic and multiphasic pills. If, when trying to change the time of your pill you end up missing a pill entirely, it’s worth knowing that some pill types administer hormones in different levels throughout your cycle.
Monophasic, which is the most common pill type, maintains a constant level of hormone for 21 days, plus you can then have a 7 day pill free break if you choose. Multiphasic pills (also know as phasic) contain different hormone amounts. This can change the recommended advice around missed pills, and the specific order in which you take your pills is more relevant in multiphasic pill types.
In this case if you miss a pill you should carefully read the patient information leaflet that came with your pill. If you are still unsure, use condoms and speak to your GP. Alternatively, one of our Dr’s can definitely help.
Birth control pills and time zone changes
If you’re lucky enough to be on your travels, the most straightforward advice is to keep a note of your usual time zone and take the pill at that time. So, if you are travelling to San Francisco (where there is an 8 hour time difference from the UK) and you usually take your pill at 4pm at home, take your pill at 8am while Stateside.
If this means you’d have to wake up way too early or late you can always use the advice above to change your pill time to a new one, for while you’re away. If the change is within a safe window as explained above, depending on your pill type, changing the time taken will also be fine.
What about when the clocks go forward?
The same logic applies to when the clocks go forward or back as the seasons change. A one hour difference doesn’t matter, so your pill effectiveness will not be altered. That means you can continue taking your pill at the same time you usually do.
Side effects from changing the time of pill
It’s perfectly safe to change the time of the pill, but you might experience some minor side effects. For many, bleeding patterns won’t change but some people can experience spotting. Of course, pregnancy is a potential side effect if you don’t get the timings right, so for peace of mind you might decide to use condoms whilst you transition timings.
For further advice on this topic, you can book an appointment with one of our friendly doctors.
Emma is a Pharmacology & Physiology graduate with a huge passion for women’s health. Outside of work you’ll find her with a nose in a book, open water swimming or charging around with her standard poodle Zeki!