Nausea and Birth Control Pills: Why It Happens and How to Prevent It
Since the introduction of the first birth control pill in 1960, women have come to rely on the pill as an effective way to prevent pregnancy. More than 25 percent of women who use birth control today are on the pill.
The birth control pill is more than 99 percent effective at preventing pregnancy when it’s taken correctly. Like any drug, it can cause side effects. Nausea is one of the most commonly reported side effects of birth control pills.
Why does the pill cause nausea?
The queasiness is the result of estrogen, which can irritate the stomach. Pills that contain a high dose of estrogen, especially emergency contraceptive pills, are more likely to cause stomach upset than pills that have a lower dose of this hormone. Nausea is more common when you first start taking the pill.
How to treat nausea when you’re on the pill
There is no specific treatment for nausea caused by the pill. However, you may find relief from mild bouts of nausea with these home remedies:
- Consume only light, plain foods, such as bread and crackers.
- Avoid any foods that have strong flavors, are very sweet, or are greasy or fried.
- Drink cold liquids.
- Avoid any activity after eating.
- Drink a cup of ginger tea.
- Eat smaller, more frequent meals.
- Take a series of deep, controlled breaths.
Applying pressure to certain points on the wrist has also been found to relieve mild nausea. This traditional Chinese remedy is called acupressure.
Nausea caused by the pill should resolve within a few days. If the nausea persists, make an appointment to see your doctor. Nausea that doesn’t let up can have an effect on your appetite and weight. You may need to switch to another type of pill or a different form of birth control.
How to prevent nausea when you’re on the pill
To prevent nausea, don’t take your birth control pill on an empty stomach. Instead, take it after dinner or with a snack before bed. You can also take an antacid medicine about 30 minutes before taking the pill. This may help keep your stomach calm.
Before using the emergency birth control pill, speak with your doctor to see if an anti-nausea medication can also be used. They may give you a prescription for an anti-nausea medicine, especially if this pill has made you feel sick in the past. Progestin-only emergency pills are less likely to cause nausea and vomiting than pills containing both estrogen and progestin.
How do birth control pills work?
Birth control pills contain man-made forms of the female hormones estrogen and progestin or progestin only. These hormones prevent pregnancy by stopping the release of a mature egg from a woman’s ovaries (ovulation).
Birth control pills also thicken mucus around the cervix. This makes it harder for the sperm to swim to the egg and fertilize it. The pill also changes the lining of the uterus. If an egg is fertilized, the altered uterine lining will make it more difficult for the egg to implant and grow.
Emergency contraceptive pills such as Levonelle and ellaOne contain a higher dose of the hormones found in the regular pill. This high dose of hormones can be hard on your body. Therefore, you should only take emergency contraceptives if you didn’t use contraception during sex or you experienced birth control failure.
Examples of birth control failure are a condom that broke or an intrauterine device (IUD) that fell out during sex. Emergency contraceptives can stop ovulation and prevent an egg from leaving the ovary. These pills can also prevent sperm from fertilizing the egg.
Other side effects of the birth control pill
In addition to nausea, the most common side effects caused by the pill include:
- breast soreness, tenderness, or enlargement
- reduced sex drive
- spotting in between periods, or irregular periods
- weight gain or loss
Most of these side effects are mild. They usually go away within a few months after you start taking the pill. One rare but serious side effect of birth control use is a blood clot in the leg (deep vein thrombosis), which if untreated can lead to a blood clot in your lungs (pulmonary embolism) and possibly death.
This risk is rare. However, your risk is increased if you have used the pill for a long time, you smoke, or you are older 35 years.
Choosing a birth control pill that’s right for you
When choosing a birth control pill, you need to strike a balance. You want enough estrogen to prevent pregnancy but not so much that it makes you sick to your stomach. Your doctor can help you find a birth control pill that suits your needs.
While you’re taking the pill, follow the directions carefully. Take your pill every day. If you skip a dose, you’ll need to take the missed dose as soon as possible. This means you may have to take two pills on the same day to make up for the missed dose. Taking two pills at once is more likely to cause nausea.
Article by Stephanie Watson
Medically reviewed by Debra Rose Wilson, PhD, MSN, RN, IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT from Healthline.