When we’re at home, we’ve got our contraception drill down. We know where we keep it, when to take and where to go if we run out.
But heading off on holiday can throw things completely out of whack.
From what time you should take your pill if you’re heading to a different time zone, to what happens if you forget to bring it altogether, managing your contraception on holiday can present some confusing conundrums.
So before you jet off to sunnier climes we’ve asked the contraception experts how to stay pill and period-savvy when you’re on your hols.
I'm going long haul, how do I know what time to take my pill? And what happens if I take it at the wrong time?
Standard birth control protocol requires you to take one pill every day, at the same exact time, without fail. But what happens if you’re going somewhere with a time-difference?
Will you have to set an alarm to wake up at 3am to pop your pill?
According to Dr Kathryn Basford from online doctor Zava UK, the type of pill you take will determine the impact of taking your pill at a different time.
“For example, if you're on the progesterone-only pill, it's really important to take this at the same time every day, and if you take the pill more than three hours late it might not be effective at preventing pregnancy,” she explains.
If you're on the combined pill you have a little more leeway, with a window of around 12 hours before you risk losing its effectiveness.
“If you're worried, it's a good idea to take a back-up method of contraception such as condoms to use in addition to your pill while you're away,” Dr Basford advises.
“You could also keep either your phone or watch on UK time while you're in a different time zone, to help you keep track of your timings.
“There are also apps available that can remind you when to take your pill,” she adds.
And remember, if you're heading to somewhere exotic and you suffer from vomiting or diarrhoea while you're away, this can make your contraceptive less effective too.
I've forgotten to bring my pill altogether - what will happen? Will I bleed the whole time I'm away?
First up, you’re not alone, according to research by Zava more than one in four women who take the pill have forgotten take it on holiday with them.
And almost one in three (31%) have been 'caught short' or not managed to renew their pill prescription before it ran out.
So what do you do?
According to Dr Basford if you're on the combined pill and you miss two or more in a row, your protection against pregnancy may be affected.
“Depending where you are in the pack, you may have spotting or bleeding similar to your normal monthly bleed,” she advises.
You may notice some side effects of coming off the pill, such as mood swings or changes to your skin or weight, but this is dependent on how long you are away.
“Things should all go back to normal once you're back home and start back up with your pill again,” Dr Basford advises.
Can I use my pill to prevent my period coming on holiday?
“If you take the combined pill it's possible to delay your period by taking the pill 'back to back' - in other words, skipping the break when you finish a pack and moving straight on to the next one,” explains Dr Basford.
In fact, the most recent guidance from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists suggests that for most people, the monthly break isn't always necessary.
“There may be a couple of side effects from this such as nausea, diarrhoea or some spotting, but apart from that in most cases it's perfectly healthy,” Dr Basford continues.
However, if you're on the progesterone-only pill it's not possible to take it back to back to delay your period.
If you’re not taking any hormonal contraception or you’re on the progesterone-only pill, there is another method to help delay your period, a hormone tablet called norethisterone.
Available from your GP, it is usually prescribed as three tablets per day, with the course starting three days before your period, and continuing for up to 10 days.
Though keep in mind that norethisterone comes with its potential side effects (bloating, headaches etc) and an increased risk of blood clots.
I've just realised I'm going to run out of my contraceptive pill while I'm on holiday - should I ration it, or try to borrow more off a friend?
Er nope, it is really not a good idea to share contraceptive pills, but that hasn’t stopped one in 10 (8%) doing it.
“You should only take medication that is prescribed specifically for you, and depending what pill your friend is on, it may not be suitable for you, or may cause side effects,” Dr Basford warns.
Plus, you'll be leaving your friend without enough pills to get to the end of her cycle, potentially leaving her at risk of pregnancy, too.
“Rationing the pill is also not a good idea, and could leave you at risk of unwanted pregnancy.
“My advice would be to continue to take your pill as normal until you run out, after which you may have a breakthrough bleed.”
Dr Basford says that after you run out of the pill you should remember to use condoms to protect you from pregnancy.
If I forget my pill on holiday, can I get it abroad and is it safe to do that?
Technically getting pill prescriptions abroad, though tricky, is not necessarily impossible.
“While the UK is still in the EU, a prescription dispensed by your doctor is valid in all EU countries,” Dr Basford explains.
“But it's worth remembering that the medication might not be available or might have a different name.”
Different countries have different rules and regulations when it comes to medicines.
“In some countries it may be possible to visit a local doctor or pharmacist for contraceptive services, but it won't always be possible to access the exact medication you take,” she continues.
You may be able to find out more information about the services available from local information offices, holiday reps, online or at the UK embassy, depending on where you are.
If I forget my pill on a one-week (or two week) holiday, how long should I wait before taking my pill again when I get home? And how long before I'm safe to have sex without a condom again afterwards?
For people on the combined pill, if you have missed two or more pills in a row then your protection against pregnancy could be affected.
“You should use condoms as protection throughout the time you're off the pill, and for 7 days once you start taking it again,” Dr Basford says.
“When you get home, take the last pill you missed as well as your pill for that day, leave any other missed pills and carry on with the rest of the pack as normal.
“If there are more than 7 pills left before the end of the pack, continue to take them and then take your break as normal.
“If there are less than 7 pills left in the pack, finish the pack and then start a new pack straight away, without taking a break.”
But if you're in any doubt about what to do, seek advice from your GP.
Will there be any side effects of not taking my pill for one week/two weeks, and then starting it up again?
Depending where you are in the pack when you have a break, Dr Basford says you may have spotting or bleeding similar to your normal monthly bleed.
“You may notice some side effects of coming off the pill, such as mood swings or changes to your skin or weight. But this should all go back to normal once you're back home and start back up with your pill again,” she adds.