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The pill

What is the contraceptive pill?

The oral contraceptive (better known as “the pill”) is a small pill that contains hormones. You take it once a day, at the same time everyday, whether or not you have sex. There are two types of pills: 

  1. The combined pill that contains the hormones oestrogen and progestin.
  2. The progestin-only pill that only contains the hormone progestin.

When used correctly, the pill has a high chance of preventing pregnancy. The pill does not prevent STIs and HIV, but also using a male/external or female/internal condom can. 

How does the pill work?

The pill contains hormones that stop ovulation. Ovulation is when the body creates an egg every month. No ovulation means no pregnancy. You can take the pill for as long as you want to prevent pregnancy, as long as you keep going to get your new pills.

Note: If you forget to take your pill, contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible. You can take emergency contraception within 5 days after unprotected sex.

How do you take the pill?

You just swallow the pill like any other tablet. Take one a pill a day at the same time.

There is more detail on how to use the pill in the package insert, it is important to read this. Your healthcare provider will also explain how to use the pill.

Who can use it?

Women can safely take the pill for years as a contraception method to protect themselves against pregnancy.

Who cannot use it?

You should not use the combined pill (oestrogen and progestin) if:

  • You are breastfeeding and your baby is under 6 months old.
  • You have had a blood clot in your legs or lungs, a stroke, or a heart attack.
  • You are over 35 and smoke.
  • You have high blood pressure.
  • You are overweight.

The progestin-only pill has less side-effects than the combined pill as it does not contain oestrogen. As such most women can take it. Discuss any health concerns with your healthcare provider.

Where can you get the pill?

The pill is prescribed by a healthcare provider and can be purchased at a pharmacy. Some pills are free at government health facilities.

How much do the pills cost?

Depending on the brand, from R90.00 to R350.00 per month. Some brands are free at government health facilities.


  • Contraceptive pills protect women against pregnancy on a month to month basis. 
  • They can also help some women with hormone-related acne and make periods more regular and less severe. 
  • If you would like to have children someday, you will still be able to get pregnant right after you stop taking the pill. 
  • If you are breastfeeding and your baby is under 6 months old, you can take the progestogen-only pill to prevent pregnancy.
  • If you are breastfeeding and your baby is older than 6 months, you can use either the combined pill or the progestogen-only pill. 


  • You must take the pill every day — even when you don’t have sex that day.
  • You should not take the combined pill (oestrogen and progestin) if you are breastfeeding and your baby is under 6 months old.
  • Your partner may also be able to see that you take contraception.
  • The pill does not protect against HIV or STIs

Important points to remember when using the pill

  • If you are on any medication, please let your healthcare provider know as the pill may affect your other medication.
  • You might experience irregular bleeding in the first month or two of use — if this occurs, continue taking your pill but speak to your healthcare provider about it.
  • Serious side-effects are rare in healthy women who don’t smoke or have medical conditions. 
  • Some serious side-effects to look out for include pain in the lower leg, chest pain, severe headaches and difficulty breathing. Speak to your healthcare provider about your medical history and your risk for developing serious side-effects.

How do I make the pill work best for me?

Forgetting pills, losing the pack, not getting your new pack of pills on time— these are the main reasons why people might get pregnant when they use the pill. It’s good to plan ahead and think about the best way for you to use the pill correctly. 

Here are some ways to help you remember to take your pills every day:

  • Use a reminder app or set an alarm on your phone.
  • Keep your pill pack next to something you use every day (like your toothbrush or phone charger).
  • Keep your pills in your bag so they’re always with you.
  • Your partner can help remind you.

Is the oral contraceptive / the pill your ideal contraceptive? Take the test! 

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