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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Combined oral contraceptives

Ārai hapū ā-waha kua whakakotahi

The pillThe oral contraceptive pill, often called the Pill, is a reliable and convenient form of contraception for many women.

The combined oral contraceptive pill (COC) contains two hormones, estrogen and progestogen. They stop your ovaries making eggs.

The COC takes over your monthly cycle so can be useful for period problems as well as contraception.

Each pack usually contains 21 days (3 weeks) of active pills and 7 days (1 week) of non-active sugar pills. During the non-active sugar pill week, you will bleed much the same as if you were having a period. But it will usually be lighter than your normal period.

You can safely skip taking the non-active pills and start the next pack of active pills straight away to avoid having bleeding.

The COC is very good at stopping pregnancy (at least 92% effective and up to 99% effective if taken correctly).

Most women can use the COC. But it may not be suitable if you have some medical conditions such as DVT (blood clots) or migraines. It may also not be suitable if you smoke and are over 35 years old or if you are overweight.

Side effects

The COC is very safe but can cause minor problems such as nausea, breast tenderness and headaches.

The COC slightly increases your risk of DVT (blood clots), which can be serious.


Seek medical help if you get swelling, pain or a change of skin colour in your leg or become short of breath.

Getting the COC

See your general practice, Sexual Wellbeing Aotearoa Clinic, school clinic or Te Tahi Youth to find out if the COC is right for you.

Sexual health visits with your general practice team may be free. Ask your general practice team if you are eligible.

Appointments at Sexual Wellbeing Aotearoa Clinics are free for New Zealand residents if you are under 22.

Te Tahi Youth offers free medical care and counselling for those aged 10 to 24.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed July 2022.


See also:

Progesterone-only pill (POP)

Page reference: 54615

Review key: HICAS-53138