Taking Birth Control Pill Too Early: What To Do?

In our latest question and answer, the pharmacist discusses what to do if you accidentally take your birth control pill too early.

Question

I have been on birth control pills for a few years. I take it around the same time each day as instructed. However, yesterday I spaced and took the last active pill of the pack about 8 hours earlier than I usually do. I have had recent sex without using a condom, but it was before the pill mishap. Would this be a reason to obtain Plan B? Or would I need to use backup for the first seven days of my next pack?

Asked by Eliz90 On Sep 26, 2022

Answered by
Medical Content Reviewed By HelloPharmacist Staff

Published Sep 26, 2022
Last updated Apr 15, 2024

Key points

  • Taking an extra dose of birth control pills, or taking it too early before your scheduled dose, does not increase your risk of pregnancy, although you may experience some mild side effects such as nausea, spotting, bloating, and breast tenderness.
  • It is important to continue taking your birth control pills on your usual schedule. Do not skip or delay taking your next dose at your usual time (unless you took your early dose very close to your usual time).
  • You may end your birth control pill pack one day early if you accidentally take two doses in one day. If this occurs, you can simply start your next pack one day early, take a pill from a spare pack to make up for the extra dose taken, or start at your usual start day (but this method requires you to use backup protection if sexually active).

Thanks for reaching out to us! While most birth control pill products provide guidance when doses are missed, there is little available in regard to what to do when accidentally taking a pill early. This can include taking another pill a few hours earlier than usual or simply taking two pills at once.

I'm sure you've heard that for optimal effectiveness and pregnancy prevention, each dose of a birth control pill should be taken on a consistent basis, every 24 hours. Missed doses can cause side effects such as spotting, and breakthrough bleeding and increases the risk of pregnancy.

On the other hand, taking an extra dose of a birth control pill, or taking it too early, can potentially cause nausea, dizziness, and spotting due to the extra hormones you are taking.

However, overall, there is no increased risk of pregnancy because you took a pill too early, so that's the good news here. Although I describe what to do if this happens in the sections below, the most important takeaway here is that you continue to take your pills as normally scheduled. Do not miss or skip your next dose. 

Taking Birth Control Pill Too Early: What To Do?

Taking an extra birth control pill or taking it too early has fewer consequences than missed doses. You are not at an increased risk of pregnancy, however, you may feel symptoms of nausea, but it should pass within a day or two. You may also experience the following symptoms, which result from excess hormone ingestion:

  • Headache
  • Spotting
  • Dizziness
  • Bloating
  • Breast tenderness

Like nausea, if any of the above symptoms occur as a result of taking an extra birth control pill, they should pass fairly quickly, within a few days.

When you take an extra birth control pill, it is important to continue taking the rest of your packet as normal at the same time every day. Do not change the time you normally take your pills.

For example:

  • You usually take your birth control pill at 9 AM every day.
  • On Wednesday, you take your pill as usual at 9 AM, but accidentally take an extra pill at 9 PM by mistake.
  • You should continue to take your birth control pill at 9 AM on Thursday.
  • Note that this will result in your finishing your birth control pack one day early. We discuss what to do about this in the next section.

Taking A Birth Control Pill Too Early (Within 3 Hours Of Your Usual Dose)

If you take your birth control pill just a few hours (less than 3) before your usual dose, you should be fine in most cases to just consider it your daily dose. There is no need to dose again within 3 hours.

Taking A Birth Control Pill Too Early (More Than 3 Hours Before Your Usual Dose)

If you take your birth control pill more than 3 hours early, you either need to:

  • Take a pill again at the usually scheduled time. This will result in your taking 2 pills within a short amount of time.
  • Change your usual time of administration to the time you took your pill early, and stick with it every day. This will ensure no more than 24 hours elapse between doses.

This is a general recommendation for most oral birth control pill products and is in place to make sure too much time doesn't pass in between doses.

For example, too much time could pass in a scenario where you took your birth control more than 3 hours before the regular time, skipped the regular dose, and continued at your usual time the next day. This results in too much time between doses, which can reduce contraceptive efficacy.

How To Correct Having One Less Birth Control Pill

When you take an extra birth control pill, you are going to be one day ahead of when you normally run out of pills, which brings up the question of how to correct your days. There are a few options:

Method One: End One Day Early

Simply continue taking your birth control pills as you regularly would after your extra (early) dose, which will result in you ending your birth control pack one day earlier than usual (due to the extra dose you took).

It is important to note that with this method, you would be starting your next pack one day earlier than usual as well as you still would need to start the new pack in the recommended time frame, usually after the 7 placebo pills for most birth control products.

If you end one day early and start your next pack in the recommended time frame (one day early due to the extra dose you took), you do not need to use backup birth control.

For example:

  • You usually end your birth control pill pack on Sunday.
  • You usually start your next birth control pill pack the next Sunday.
  • However, you took one extra dose and therefore end your birth control pill pack on Saturday.
  • You will now begin taking your next birth control pill pack starting the next Saturday.
  • There is no need to use backup birth control with this method.

Method Two: Take A Spare Pill

Take an active pill from a spare/extra pack of pills to replace the missing one.

Continue to take your birth control pills as normal on the correct days and simply keep the spare birth control pill pack in case you miss a pill or take an extra in the future.  This will allow you to continue on your same schedule and not end a day early.

Method Three: End One Day Early But Keep Your Original Schedule

With this method, you would not take an extra pill and would end your pack one day early, just like with method one.

However, unlike method one where you start your next birth control pack one day early, you can start your birth control pack on your previously scheduled date. However, depending on your birth control product, you may need to use backup birth control for 7 days.

If you are taking a "mini-pill" (i.e. progestin-only pill), you will need to use backup birth control for 7 consecutive days of active birth control pills.

In addition, if you wait an extra day as outlined above, you may experience spotting throughout your next cycle but it should normalize by your next cycle.

For example:

  • You normally start your birth control pack on Sunday.
  • However, you accidentally took an extra pill during your pack and are now one day ahead of schedule and, based on taking one pill daily, you would be starting your next pack of pills on Saturday.
  • Instead of starting your next pack of pills early (i.e. on Saturday), take nothing on Saturday and start your new pack on Sunday, as per your previous schedule.
  • With this method, you may experience spotting during your next cycle.
  • In addition, depending on your specific birth control product, you may need to use backup birth control until you have taken 7 active pills in a row.

It is important to look at the 'Patient Information" for your particular birth control product in regard to whether or not backup birth control is needed when missing one pill in the first week. Most birth control products state that you do not need to use backup birth control. Others, such as progestin-only birth control pills, will state that you do.

Additional Information

In the situation you described in your question, taking one extra pill 8 hours early at the end of a pack, you have a few options:

  • Take a pill from a spare pack at the normally scheduled time.
  • If you do not take an extra pill, you will be on track to start your next pack one day early.
  • You can simply start your next pack one day early, with no need to use backup birth control.
  • If you want to start your next pack on your usual start day, you may need to use backup birth control until you have taken 7 days of active pills in a row, depending on your birth control product.

As mentioned above, simply taking an extra birth control pill doesn't necessitate the need for backup or emergency contraception, such as Plan B. Considerations for backup birth control come in when you want to start your next pack.

References

  • Patient understanding of oral contraceptive pill instructions related to missed pills: a systematic review, PubMed
  • Missed hormonal contraceptives: new recommendations, PubMed
  • Effect of missed combined hormonal contraceptives on contraceptive effectiveness: a systematic review, PubMed
  • Oral Contraceptive Pills, StatPearls

About the Pharmacist

Dr. Brian Staiger, PharmD

Dr. Brian has been practicing pharmacy for over 13 years and has wide-ranging experiences in many different areas of the profession. From retail, clinical, program development, and administrative responsibilities, he's your knowledgeable and go-to source for all your pharmacy and medication-related questions! Dr. Brian Staiger also has herbalist training and educational certificates in the field of medical ethnobotany. Feel free to send him an email at [email protected]! You can also connect with Dr. Brian Staiger on LinkedIn. The list of questions & answers below are authored by Dr. Brian Staiger PharmD.

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