Like many women, you may be wondering if the time of day when you take the Pill really matters and what the best time of day to take your birth control is. The Pill is a hormonal contraceptive method that contains estrogen and progestin, or only progestin. When using either combination birth control pills or progestin-only pills, you should take the Pill at the same time each day. But you can decide on the time of day you want to take your daily pill—and stick to it.
Why Time Matters
Ovulation is your body’s release of an egg from the ovaries. Oral contraceptive pills interfere with ovulation each month during your menstrual cycle. Progestin-only pills block ovulation, and combination pills suppress ovulation. So, if your ovary doesn’t release an egg, then there is nothing there for a sperm to fertilize, and you can’t get pregnant.
Your body responds to the hormones in the Pill very quickly. Because of this fast rate of metabolism, you need to add more hormones into your body each and every day to make sure that there are enough hormones circulating in your body to prevent you from ovulating.
If you forget to take your pill one day, the Pill could lose its effect because you might not have enough of the hormones in your system to suppress ovulation that month.
There is an exception to when you need to take the Pill. This takes place during Week 4 or the “placebo week” of your pill pack—the time when most pill packs have pills that don’t contain hormones.
This is also the week that you are most likely to have your withdrawal period. The Pill’s effect is still working during this week even though you are not taking any active hormones.
During week 4, it does not matter what time you take your placebo pills or if you take them at all.
That being said, it is a good idea to take these pills and to stick to your usual time. This keeps your daily routine going—so you are more likely to remember to take your pill at the same time every day at the beginning of the next pack.
The Rule of Thumb
Generally speaking, most birth control pills have about a one or two hour window period where the effectiveness of the Pill is not jeopardized. So, most healthcare professionals explain that being off by an hour in either direction does not typically make a difference—especially if you take your pill one hour earlier as opposed to one hour later.
The Pill is most effective if you take it at the same time each day, but it is far better to take your pill a little bit earlier or later than your normal scheduled time than to completely skip it.
When You May Run Into Trouble
Given that your goal should be to take the Pill at the same time every day, some women get into trouble because they forget to factor pill-taking times during:
- When Daylight Saving Time begins/ends
- When going off to or coming home from college (especially if your university is in a different time zone)
- When traveling (if your travel time is prolonged or if you are traveling to a different time zone)
Taking the Pill When Traveling
If you are traveling to a place where the time zone difference is only an hour different, you could take your pill at the same time that you normally would in the time zone where you live or in your new time zone.
But let’s consider this question from Alayna:
“I take my LoSeasonique birth control pill at 8:30 am each day. I live in the Eastern time zone, but will soon be vacationing in California (Pacific time zone). Given that the time difference is 3 hours, should I take my pill at 5:30 am PST once I get there or just keep taking it at 8:30 am?”
In this case, since the time difference is more than 1 hour, it is best to continue taking the Pill at what would have been your usual time—in actuality, not according to the clock.
If you are traveling between time zones with a difference of 2 or more hours, you should adjust the time you take the Pill while you are away.
You can do this by figuring out what your pill-taking time corresponds to in the time zone that you are in, and taking your pill at that new, adjusted time while you are traveling.
So, in the question asked above, Alayna should take the Pill at the adjusted time of 5:30 am PST while she is away—because this is the same time as her normal pill-taking time of 8:30 am EST.
Birth control pills need to be taken at the same time every day in order to be most effective. These tips may help you keep up your routine:
- Choose a time of day that works best with your schedule and stick to it.
- Consider setting an alarm to keep yourself on track.
- Take your pill at the same time that you do another activity (like brush your teeth or have your morning coffee).
- Take advantage of technology—there are some helpful birth control apps and convenient text/email reminder services, so you can remember to take your pill every day.
Read about daylight saving time and your birth control pill.