What's The Difference Between The Progestin-Only And A Combination Birth Control?

When it comes to birth control, you have lots of options. But did you know there are also options when it comes to types of contraceptive pills? While there are lots of brands and dosages to choose from, there are also two different types: progestin-only and a combination pill. So how do you know which one is right for you?

A combination pill is the traditional pill you're probably familiar with, according to Self. It contains both estrogen and progestin, which is a synthetic form of the hormone progesterone. It mainly prevents pregnancy by suppressing ovulation. It also thickens the cervical mucus, which makes it difficult for sperm to enter the uterus, and thins the uterine lining, making it hard for an embryo to implant. Side effects can include tender breasts, headaches, high blood pressure, nausea, bloating, and breakthrough bleeding (via Mayo Clinic). Combination pills can also increase your risk for blood clots, heart attack, stroke, gallbladder disease, and liver conditions.

While combination pills are a common choice, they might not be a good choice for everyone, according to Mayo Clinic. You shouldn't take them if you smoke and are over the age of 35, are in the first month of breastfeeding, have migraines with aura, have high blood pressure that's not controlled well, a history of heart disease, breast cancer, deep vein thrombosis, or pulmonary embolism.

Is the progestin-only pill right for you?

There's another option available, which is a progestin-only pill (via American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists). This pill works similarly to the combination pill by thickening the cervical mucus and thinning the uterine lining, but doesn't always prevent ovulation. Roughly 4 in 10 women will continue to ovulate while on the progestin-only pill.

This pill, sometimes called the mini pill, doesn't contain any estrogen and has a pretty low dose of progestin (via Self). Because of the low dose, sometimes your regular hormonal cycle can "break through" and cause bleeding in between periods and irregular cycles. It's also very time-sensitive, since the dose of progestin only lasts about 20 hours. This means that it's even more crucial to take the pill at the exact same time each day. The progestin-only pill's user failure rate is over 9%, while the combination pill's is only about 2% to 3%.

However, the mini pill generally has fewer side effects than the combination pill, since it contains a lower dose. While it works differently for everyone, you're less likely to get headaches, weight gain, and nausea — which can be common when taking the combination pill.

If you want to take an oral contraceptive pill, don't forget that you have choices. Ask your doctor which one might be right for you, based on your needs.