The pill is a tricky business at the best of times, but it’s especially hard to know what to do on holiday. Should you take it on a South African time zone? What should you do if you forget it? And can you get more pills from a pharmacy in Paris?! Nightmare. So we asked Dr Kathryn Basford from UK-based online doctor Zava UK to answer all these questions and more. You’re welcome!
Should I take my contraceptive pill at a different time on a long-haul holiday?
The answer depends on the type of pill you take. ‘If you’re on the progesterone-only pill, it’s important to take it at the same time every day,’ Basford advises – and that’s regardless of the altered time zone. ‘If you take it more than three hours late, it might not be effective at preventing pregnancy. But if you’re on the combined pill, you can take it up to 12 hours after you’d normally take it before you risk it losing its effectiveness.”
Basford advises packing a back-up method – such as condoms – in your suitcase to use in addition to your pill, but if you’re set on sticking to your pill, she suggests set an alarm on your phone for the correct South African time. ‘You could also keep either your phone or watch on SA time while you’re in a different time zone, to help you keep track of your timings. If this time falls when you’re asleep, shift your timings slightly, but always stay within that three-hour or 12-hour window.’
I’ve forgotten to bring my pill on holiday altogether – what should I do?
If you’re on the combined pill and you miss two or more in a row, your protection against pregnancy may be affected. And depending on where you are in the pack, you may have spotting or bleeding similar to your normal monthly bleed.
‘Depending on how long you’re away, you may notice some side effects of coming off the pill, such as mood swings or changes to your skin or weight,’ says Basford. ‘But this should all go back to normal once you’re back home and start back up with your pill again.’
If I forget my pill on holiday, can I get it abroad?
It’s worth remembering that the medication might not be available or might have a different name in another country. Basford’s top tip? ‘Learn the names of the components of your pill – these shouldn’t change much from country to country, and a medical professional should recognise them.’
Different countries have different rules and regulations when it comes to medicines, too. ‘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.’
I’m going to run out of my contraceptive pill while I’m on holiday – should I borrow more from a friend?
You won’t be surprised to hear that doctors don’t advise sharing contraceptive pills with your BFF. ‘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. 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,’ advises Basford.
Rationing the pill (AKA taking one every other day) is also not a good idea if you want to avoid getting pregnant. ‘My advice would be to continue to take your pill as normal until you run out, after which you may have a breakthrough bleed. After you run out of the pill, use condoms to protect you from pregnancy.’