Missed, forgotten or late pills: A guide on what to do

Medically reviewed by Dr Daniel Atkinson
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last reviewed 03/09/2021
2 minute read
Medically reviewed by Mr Craig Marsh
Written by Jackson
Last reviewed 03/09/2021
5 minute read

First, don’t worry. It happens to everyone, and it’s simple to get back on track. The rules on what to do if you’ve missed a pill (or taken it late) depend on which type of birth control you’re taking. Most specifically, they depend on whether you’re using combined pills or a progestogen-only mini  pill — but some individual brands have their own rules as well. Below, we’ll go over some basic guidelines for what to do if you’ve missed a pill and address the rules for some of the biggest BC brands. 

Missing one or two pills every now and then is no big deal, but if you find yourself missing pills regularly, a daily birth control pill might just not be your thing. That’s ok too. If you’ve tried all the tips like setting an alarm on your phone (we’ve got a tip list further down the page), consider switching to a less high-maintenance contraceptive like the weekly patch, monthly ring or even a long-acting reversible contraceptive (LARC) like the injection or IUD. 

What’s the difference between a “late” and “missed” pill?

A mini pill is a birth control pill that only contains the hormone progesterone. Despite the name, it’s not actually any smaller than a combined birth control pill. Many women prefer mini pills because they get side effects when they take estrogen; for some women, like those over 35, progesterone-only contraception is usually recommended. 

Because mini pills only have one hormone and often contain lower doses compared to combined pills, your window for taking the pill is smaller — usually only 3 hours. 

The rules for late or missed mini pills depend on the type of progesterone that’s in the medication. If you look at your pack, it’ll list one main ingredient. That’s the progesterone. If you’re taking a mini pill that uses desogestrel as its active ingredient, you’ve got 12 hours before your pill is considered missed, as opposed to 3. 

Here’s what you should do if your pill is late but not yet missed:

  • Take your late pill as soon as you remember
  • Take your next pill at your normal time

While your pill is late, you’re still protected from pregnancy. That means you don’t need to use a back-up birth control like a condom, and you don’t need emergency contraception if you’ve had sex. 

If you’ve missed your mini pill, you’re not protected against pregnancy. Here’s what you should do:

  • Take your missed pill as soon as you remember
  • Take your next pill at your normal time (even if that means taking two in one day)
  • Use back-up contraception like condoms for 48 hours
  • Talk to your doctor about emergency contraception if you have unprotected sex in the 48 hours after your missed pill

What to do about forgotten or missed mini pills

There are many reasons why erectile dysfunction can happen. The most common causes of psychological ED are things that affect your mood and emotions, like life stress, performance anxiety or issues in your relationship. An erection is both a physical and mental response — while your body supplies blood to your penis, your mind is in charge of arousal. Negative thoughts, fears and worries can all interfere with the brain signals that trigger an erectile response. 

Psychological ED (also called psychogenic ED) is when a mental block causes erectile dysfunction. Unlike physical ED, where you might need medication like Viagra to get an erection, psychological ED is treated by addressing the underlying emotional issues. Psychological and physical ED can also happen in tandem, so you should always talk to your doctor first to rule out physical causes.

Psychologically induced ED is common and has many treatment options. You’re not alone, and help is available.

Missed pills on Cerazette and Cerelle

Cerazette and Cerelle are both desogestrel mini pills, which means you’ve got 12 hours before your late pill is missed (compared to the 3 hours on other mini pills). So if you’ve missed a Cerazette pill or missed a Cerelle pill and fewer than 12 hours have passed, you’re still protected against pregnancy and don’t need to worry — just take your birth control as soon as you remember. 

Missed pills on Noriday and Norgeston

Because combined pills work a little differently, they have their own rules for what you should do when you miss a pill. Here are some general missed pill guidelines for your combined oral contraceptive pill (COCP). 

If you’ve missed one pill (anywhere in your pack) or started your pack one day late, you’re still protected and don’t need to worry. Here’s what you should do:

  • Take your missed pill as soon as you remember
  • Take your next pill at your normal time

If you’ve missed two or more pills or started your pack 48 hours late (or more), you might not be fully protected against pregnancy. Here’s what you should do:

  • Take your missed pill as soon as you remember
  • Take your next pill at your normal time
  • Use back-up contraception like condoms for 7 days 
  • Talk to your doctor about emergency contraception if your missed pills were from the first week of your pack, or if you have unprotected sex
  • If there are fewer than seven pills left in your pack, skip the inactive pills and start your next pack immediately

What to do about forgotten or missed combined pills

Most combined birth control pills have the same rules about what you should do with missed pills, so you can follow them no matter what brand you are taking. What happens if you miss a Rigevidon pill is the same as what happens if you miss a different combined pill. 

If you’re taking Microgynon 30 or the generic Rigevidon and you missed a day, just follow the instructions in our “what to do about forgotten or missed combined pills” section. Or even better, take a look through the patient info that comes with your pill pack. Same goes for when you’ve missed 2 Rigevidon pills. A missed Microgynon or Rigevidon pill isn’t the end of the world, as long as you get back on track quickly and use back-up contraception like condoms if needed. 

Missed pills on Yasmin

Yasmin is another common type of combined birth control but has slightly different rules for what you should do when you miss a pill.[3] That’s why it’s important to check the patient info that comes with your pill pack, so you know you’re following the correct instructions. 

What to do with a missed Yasmin pill depends on where you are in your cycle and how many pills you’ve missed. It’s important to know that if you’re less than twelve hours late taking a tablet, your contraceptive protection is not reduced. If it’s been more than 12 hours, protection may become reduced – this is what is defined as a ‘missed pill.’ 

With this in mind, if you missed a pill on day 1 to 7 of your strip: 

  • Take the forgotten tablet, even if it means taking two in one day 
  • Use additional contraception for seven days 
  • Finish your strip 
  • If you had sex the week before you forgot to take your pill, there’s a small chance you could be pregnant. 

If you miss a pill on day 8 to 14 of your strip: 

  • Take the forgotten tablet, eve if it means taking two in one day 
  • Finish your strip 

If you miss a pill on day 15 to 21 of your strip: 

  • Take the forgotten tablet, eve if it means taking two in one day 
  • Finish your strip 
  • Do not take seven tablet-free days
  • Start new strip immediately 

Or:

  • Stop the strip immediately 
  • Begin your tablet-free week 
  • Then start next strip on the eighth day 

If you forget to take more than one pill in one strip, arrange to see your doctor for more advice. 

 

If you’ve missed one pill and it’s been more than 12 hours, and the pill you forgot to take was 1-7 of your strip, Take the forgotten pill, even if that means taking two in a day, use additional contraception for seven days following the missed pill and finish the strip. If you had sex the week before you forgot to take your pill, there is a small risk of pregnancy. 

If you’ve missed one pill and it’s been more than 12 hours

What to do about missing more than one pill

Whether you’ve skipped a day of birth control, missed 4 pills of birth control or missed an entire month of birth control, the most important thing is to get back on track and use condoms whenever you have sex. The specific instructions for what to do if you miss a birth control pill depend on the type of pill (combined or mini pill) and sometimes on the brand as well. We’ve covered a few scenarios above, but it’s best to take a look at the patient info that comes with your birth control.

Does when you miss a pill make a difference?

For some types of birth control, when you miss a pill is as important as how many you’ve missed. This can be because your body is doing different things throughout your cycle, which changes how likely you are to get pregnant, or because the pill you’re taking has different levels of hormones throughout the month. If you’ve missed a pill in week 1, for example, you might need to do something different than if you’d missed a pill in week 2. The best thing to do when you miss a pill is to check the patient info that came with it, or to look up instructions for that specific pill.

So are you protected the first week of birth control? Maybe. If you start your birth control on the first day of your period, you’re protected right away. This is called being a Day 1 Starter or a First Day Starter, and you’ll see that term in the instructions for what to do when you miss a pill. If you start the pill at a different time, you should wait 7 days before having unprotected sex. 

Will taking my birth control pill with food help?

The best way to never miss a pill is to find a time that works for you every day of the week. Here are a few tips.

  • Pick a time that works for every day of the week, not just workdays.
  • Set an alarm on your phone, or download a birth control reminder app.
  • Store your pills in the same place, like your purse, so they’re always on hand.
  • Take the pill with other daily medication, like vitamins or prescriptions. 

Can I change my pill time or take my birth control pill early?

Have a meeting happening right when you normally take the pill? Or, are you traveling to a different time zone and not wanting to get up at 3am to take your medication? If you’re wondering “Can I change the time of my birth control pill,” the answer is thankfully yes. But there might be a few caveats. 

You can usually take birth control an hour early without any problem. Some pills have a three-hour window during which you need to take them, but many are even more flexible. You should check the specific information provided with your pill to find out what the rules are. 

If your pill has a three-hour window but you’re traveling to a different time zone, you can adjust the time day by day — for example, take your pill two hours after you normally do until it matches up with the time where you are. Using a back-up birth control like a condom can help you stay extra-protected while you do this. 

Will taking my birth control pill with food help?

Can you take birth control pills with food? Yes. Do you need to? Nope. 

It’s uncommon to have stomach upset from taking your pill, but a small snack can help if you do experience this. There’s no other benefit to taking your pill with food, unless having your medication with a meal can help you get into the routine of taking it daily.

If you eat at regular times throughout the week (including working days, weekends, etc), you’re a good candidate for taking your pill with food. But if your meal-times depend on when you get up, when you’re hungry or when you have a break, you might end up taking your birth control inconsistently.

Are the birth control patch and ring easier to remember?

The birth control patch or vaginal ring might be better suited for your lifestyle, but they’re not necessarily easier to remember. The ring keeps you protected for a month and the patch for a week so they’re more low-key than your typical everyday contraceptive. If you’re good at sticking to routines like a weekly face peel or monthly brow appointment, a more long-term birth control will likely work for you. Just don’t let out-of-sight become out-of-mind. Some people find that a birth control that’s used less frequently can be easier to forget.

Additionally, the patch and ring aren’t suitable for everyone. There are so many different types of pill available that almost all women can find one that works for them — and is safe to take. But the patch and pill are both “combined” forms of birth control, meaning they contain both estrogen and progesterone. If you need a progesterone-only birth control (for example, if you’re over 35 and smoke), the patch and ring aren’t a good choice. 

Choosing the best birth control for your life

Ultimately, you’re going to want a birth control that keeps you safe, fits easily into your life and has few if any side effects. But that pill can be hard to find. Talk to an expert and get tailored recommendations on the birth control pill that works best with your unique medical history, lifestyle and what you’re looking for in a pill. And be sure to let us know if you have concerns about specific side effects or want a multi-tasking pill that can help with things like acne or your period. 

References

[1] nhs.uk. (2017). What should I do if I miss a pill (combined pill)? [online] Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/contraception/miss-combined-pill/.

[2] nhs.uk. (2018). What should I do if I miss a pill (progestogen-only pill)? [online] Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/contraception/miss-progestogen-only-pill/.

[3] HIGHLIGHTS OF PRESCRIBING INFORMATION. (n.d.). [online] . Available at: https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2012/021098s019lbl.pdf.

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