If you’ve used birth control pills for any length of time, you may have been told to take it at the exact same time every day to ensure effectiveness. Maintaining a consistent pill schedule at home is as easy as setting an alarm on your phone — but what happens when you travel across several time zones?
The good news is that if you take a combination pill — one containing both a progestin and an oestrogen, usually ethinylestradiol — you’re protected from pregnancy as long as you take a pill at some point every day.
Taking two pills in one day is fine if you need to make up for a missed dose; it’s only when you go more than 48 hours without a single dose that you put yourself at risk of pregnancy.
This means that most travel schedules won’t interfere with the efficacy of a combination pill, so take yours once a day and you’ll be fine.
Anyone who takes progestin-only “minipills”, however, needs to be much more careful, because missing a minipill by more than three hours seriously ups your pregnancy risk.
Unlike oestrogen-containing combination pills, minipills don’t prevent ovulation — they work by thickening cervical mucus and thinning the lining of the uterus to prevent the sperm from reaching the egg.
In other words, minipills depend on your body’s natural oestrogen fluctuations to do their job — which is why it’s so important to take them on time.
No matter what pill you take, your phone is the best schedule management tool you have, especially if a travel day lasts longer than 24 hours, or if you regularly travel across several time zones.
Android users can download the free World Clock app by timeanddate.com, which has a “City Alarm” feature that lets you set alarms in specific time zones.
This feature doesn’t exist on the iOS app, but iPhone users can use its time zone conversion tool to set alarms at the right time — or download a world clock widget so their home time zone is always visible.
Getting the time zone maths right is extra-important if you take a minipill, so before a big trip, sit down and plan out your pill schedule for each phase of the journey, including any time spent on aeroplanes.
Alarms only go so far: Nearly everyone who takes birth control pills will occasionally miss a day or two, and knowing what to do when you miss a pill is just as important as not missing them in the first place. Before travelling, bookmark this Planned Parenthood missed pill quiz on your phone’s browser, and always pack your backup method of choice — just in case.