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How Fast Does Birth Control Start Working?

LGBTQ+ care specialist
Medically reviewed by Justin L.
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 09/06/2023

With an array of modern birth control options available today, you might wonder, “How fast does birth control start working?” Is there a difference between types of pills? What should you know?

In most cases, birth control works anywhere from immediately to within seven days. However, how quickly it works depends on various factors, so let’s take a closer look!

How Long Does It Take for Birth Control to Work?

This all comes down to the type of birth control you’re using. For IUDs, the answer is relatively straightforward. The copper IUD actually works right away, and can even be used as emergency contraception if it is inserted within five days of unprotected sex. Meanwhile, hormonal IUDs take seven days to work unless insertion is performed during your period.

Generally, the birth control pill works after seven days of use. It does this by preventing ovulation (aka an egg being released by the ovaries), thinning the uterus lining, and/or thickening the mucus near the opening of the cervix. However, to stay on the safe side, most doctors recommend waiting at least one month before solely relying on the birth control pill. In the meantime, it’s usually recommended that you use another form of birth control, such as a condom.

At the same time, this advice may vary depending on the type of pill you’re taking. All in all, birth control pills can effectively prevent pregnancy immediately or can take up to seven days to do so, depending on the type of pill. So, let’s take a closer look at the different types of birth control pills to give you a better idea of what to expect.

How Long Does it Take for Combination Pills to Work?

Combination Oral Contraceptives (COCs) are the most commonly used birth control pills. As per their name, they contain a combination of two hormones, estrogen, and progestin. This pill works by stopping ovulation, as well as changing the cervical mucus, and thinning the lining of the uterus.

Your doctor might instruct you to take the combination pill on the first day of your menstrual cycle, which means you would become immediately protected. More recently, many doctors have begun recommending the quick start method, and encourage you to start taking the pill immediately, once you’ve made sure you are not pregnant. If you do start taking the combination pill outside of your period, it typically takes seven days to be effective. This means that you will need to use an alternative form of birth control in the meantime, such as condoms.

How Long Does it Take a Progestin-Only Pill to Work?

Progestin-only pills (POPs), as you might imagine, contain only progestin. Similar to combination pills, progestin-only pills prevent pregnancy by stopping ovulation, thinning the uterine lining, and thickening the cervical mucus. They typically come in packages of 28 pills. These types of pills are just as effective as combination pills when taken at the same time each day. If you take this pill outside of your usual three-hour window, it’s recommended that you use backup methods, such as condoms, in the meantime.

When you begin to take this type of pill, your doctor will instruct you to begin your pill package within the first five days of your cycle. This means that the pill is usually effective immediately—unless you have a cycle shorter than 23 days. For women with shorter cycles, it can take two days for the pill to become effective.

What About Other Forms of Birth Control?

The pill and IUD aren’t the only options for birth control. Contraceptive rings and patches also offer a viable option for many women. The contraceptive ring is inserted into the vagina for three weeks, then removed during the week of your period. When inserted, it releases hormones into your vaginal lining, which helps stop ovulation from occurring.

Patches, on the other hand, must be replaced weekly for three weeks, with, again, one week off. These patches release hormones into your bloodstream and work to prevent pregnancy, similar to most birth control pills.

For both of these options, it’s best to use a backup birth control method, such as condoms, for the initial seven days of use.

Meanwhile, barrier forms of birth control, such as the male and female condom, work right away. The cervical cap can also be kept in place for up to six hours, with no need to remove it if you choose to have sex multiple times in this timeframe.

At the end of the day, selecting your method of birth control comes down to what works for you, your body, and your lifestyle, with minimal side effects. If you’re confused about which option is right for you, discuss it with your doctor. They know you and your health situation best and can help you make the appropriate choice.