What to do if you forget to take the pill
If you forget to take the pill there is a chance you could get pregnant, especially if you’ve had unprotected sex around the same time. What you need to do will depend on whether you take a mini pill or a combined pill. You might just need to take your pill as soon as possible or you may need to get the morning after pill. This guide walks through all the options so you know exactly what to do if you forget to take the pill.
Which type of pill are you taking?
What to do when you forget to take your contraceptive pill depends on which type of pill you are taking. This could be either the combined pill or the mini pill. You’ll also have to factor in how many pills you’ve missed. This is because the more pills you miss, the more likely you are to get pregnant if you’re having unprotected sex.
If you’re on the combined pill, try to think about:
- what time you normally take your pill
- how long it has been since you missed your pill
- how many pills you’ve missed
Also think about where you are in your menstrual cycle. This is because your chances of getting pregnant are higher if you miss a pill during the beginning or end of your strip of 21 pills.
If you’re less than 24 hours late taking the combined pill
If you’re less than 24 hours late taking the combined pill, you should take the pill you missed as soon as you realise. Do this even if it means taking 2 pills on the same day. You can then carry on taking the rest of the pills in the strip as usual. You will then continue to be protected from getting pregnant. You do not need to use any other form of contraception.
If you took your last combined pill more than 48 hours ago
If it has been more than 48 hours since you last took your pill, you are not protected from getting pregnant. Carry on taking your pill as normal and see a doctor for advice, as you may need emergency contraception. You need to use condoms for the next 7 days.
If you have less than 7 pills left in your strip, you should finish it. Then start a new strip straight away. You should not take any placebo pills or have a 7 day pill-free break. If you’ve had unprotected sex during the past 7 days, you may need the morning after pill.
Progestogen-only pill (mini pill)
There are 2 types of progestogen only pills, also known as mini pills. The difference between the 2 types of mini pills is the window of time you have to take them each day. This is either within a 12 hour window or a 3 hour window.
If you miss one or more mini pills in a row, you may need to take emergency contraception if you’ve had sex. Speak to a doctor for advice on what to do next and you may need to take a pregnancy test.
Noriday and Norgeston are mini pills that you have to take within the same 3 hour window each day. If you are less than 3 hours late to take your mini pill, you should take the pill you missed straight away. Continue taking the rest of your pills as normal. You will still be protected against getting pregnant.
But, if you are more than 3 hours late to take your mini pill, you are not protected against pregnancy and need to use condoms for the next 2 days. You should take your next pill as soon as you remember, even if it means taking 2 pills, and continue taking your pills as normal. If you have had unprotected sex during this time you may need the morning after pill.
Cerelle and Cerazette are types of mini pills that you need to take at the same time each day within a 12 hour window. If you are less than 12 hours late to take your pill, take it straight away and you will still be protected against pregnancy. Keep taking the rest of your pills as usual.
If you are more than 12 hours late to take your pill, you are not protected against pregnancy. You should use extra protection for 2 days, such as condoms. You should take the last pill you missed along with the pill for that day. You should continue taking the rest of your pills as normal.
If you’ve had unprotected sex during the past few days, speak to a doctor about emergency contraception.
What happens if you miss a pill?
If you miss a pill and do not remember to take it, you may need to take the morning after pill. You might also need to use a pregnancy test to check that you are not pregnant.
If you’ve missed a combined pill and find anything unusual about your withdrawal bleed, it might be a sign that you are pregnant. After missing a mini pill, you might have vaginal bleeding for a few days.
Try not to miss any more pills to reduce your chances of getting pregnant. It is unlikely that you will have any side effects if you only miss one pill. But the more pills you miss, the more likely it is that you’ll develop side effects.
Missing more than one pill of either a combined pill or a mini pill may make you feel like you’re about to have a period. You might get a headache, pain or cramps in your tummy area and start to have vaginal bleeding.
You should check the patient information leaflet that comes with your pack of pills for what to expect.
Can I get pregnant if I miss one pill?
If you are taking the combined pill, there is a very low chance that you will get pregnant if you miss 1 pill. You are more likely to get pregnant if you miss a combined pill during the first 7 days or last 7 days of your strip of pills. You should take the pill you missed as soon as you remember, even if you take 2 at the same time. If you’ve had sex during your pill-free break and forgot to start your new strip on time, you might be pregnant. You will need to take a pregnancy test or you might need to use the morning after pill.
If you take the mini pill you can get pregnant if you miss 1 pill. You should take the pill you missed straight away and use extra protection for the next 2 days. Continue taking your pills as usual. If you’ve had unprotected sex during this time you may need emergency contraception and should speak with your doctor.
What if I miss a pill and have unprotected sex?
If you miss a pill and have unprotected sex, you may need the morning after pill depending on whether you’re on a combined pill or a mini pill.
If you’ve missed one combined pill, you’re unlikely to get pregnant. You should take the pill that you forgot as soon as you remember and continue taking your pills as usual.
If you’ve missed one mini pill, you are at risk of getting pregnant if you have unprotected sex. You should take the missed pill straight away, plus the pill for that day. You should continue taking the rest of your pills as normal. If you’ve had unprotected sex you should speak with your doctor as you may need the morning after pill. You may also need to use a pregnancy test.
Tips for remembering how to take your pill
Some tips to help you remember to take your pill include:
- leaving your strip of pills somewhere that you will see every day, for example next to your toothbrush or by your bed
- set a reminder alarm on your phone for the same time every day, and label it with a phrase like ‘time to take your pill’
- write a note to yourself on your calendar to take your pill, and tick it off after you take it
- combine taking your pill with another daily activity, such as having a meal or brushing your hair
Remember, for the contraception pill to be as effective as possible, you should take it around the same time every day.
If you are having trouble remembering to take your contraceptive pill, there are alternative birth control methods. You may want to consider using a patch or inserting an intrauterine device (IUD). Speak to a doctor if you would like to try a different type of birth control.
NHS What should I do if I miss a pill (combined pill) [February 2019] [Accessed November 2021]
NHS What should I do if I miss a pill (progestogen-only pill) [August 2019] [Accessed November 2021]
Contraceptive pills are a reliable way of reducing your risk of getting pregnant from sex. ZAVA offers most common brands of pill, so you can order your preferred brand by visiting our contraceptive pill service page.
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