Everything You Need to Know About Birth Control and Travel

Whether it's for the holidays or your honeymoon, don't let an unreliable schedule be cause for a scare

Updated 11/22/17

Elizabeth Cooney

Your new passport picture is on point and your newlywed luggage tags are filled out, but there might be one more thing to think about before jetting off to another time zone for your honeymoon or your hometown for the holidays: your birth control.

“As a general rule, the birth control pill works best when it is taken at the same time, consistently, every day,” says Anne Dixon, M.D., an obstetrician-gynecologist in Wellesley, MA. “Failures [like] pregnancy and unscheduled bleeding are most often caused by a missed pill.”

Here’s exactly what you need to know about keeping your birth control on track while traveling.

Long-term Contraception

If you are using long-acting reversible contraception, like IUDs and contraceptive implants, then there’s pretty much no need to stress, as different time zones will have no impact on their efficacy, says James L. Whiteside, M.D., M.A., M.H.A., associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. With that off your plate, now you can get back to packing all your most Instagram-worthy outfits!

Oral Contraception

When it comes to oral contraception, Whiteside recommends packing the pills in your carry on to decrease the risk of losing them if your luggage goes MIA. You can also purchase emergency contraception and bring it along with you on your trip, just in case, he says.

If you’re going to be traveling to another time zone, and the time you typically take your pill is in the middle of the night or an inconvenient time for vacation, it’s fine to tweak your birth control schedule slightly for convenience by taking your pill a few hours earlier, according to Elizabeth Roth, M.D., F.A.C.P., a doctor in the Women’s Health Associates group at Massachusetts General Hospital and assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “Overall the most important thing is to take it, so if this helps not miss pills while traveling—[for example], if the pill would be due in the middle of the day and thus forgotten—then that is important,” she says.

If you’re going to a place with a significant time difference (like 12 hours) and you’re on a very low estrogen pill, Roth says you might want to make this change gradually over a few days prior to leaving to decrease the risk of spotting.

Dixon says if you’re going to change the time you take your pill, it’s best to take two pills closer together rather than farther apart. “I wouldn’t recommend planning to get up in the middle of the night (or when you are asleep) as it’s much more likely you will miss a pill,” she says. “If it’s a short trip, which hopefully your honeymoon is not, it may be fine to do but if it’s going to be more than one day I would say adjust the time you take the pill,” she says, adding that you should avoid taking pills further apart than 24 hours.

Birth Control Mishaps

No matter how much you plan, there may be some snafus when it comes to taking your birth control on the road. “If you forget a pill, take it as soon as you remember,” says Dixon. “Then take your next pill at the scheduled time, even if it’s the same day. If you miss more than one pill you should use backup contraception such as condoms as you may not be protected against pregnancy. Don’t take that risk.”

If you lose your pack or forget to bring it with you, call your healthcare provider and try to get them to call in a prescription to a local pharmacy. “If you are out of the country, this may be more difficult, but you may be able to get them at a local pharmacy as pills are over the counter in many other countries,” Dixon says. “If you call your healthcare provider, they can help you with the exact name (and hormone doses) in your pill to get the best possible substitution.”

Don’t forget to consider your birth control schedule if you get sick while you’re away, says Edward Marut, M.D., of Fertility Centers of Illinois. “If a woman develops nausea and vomiting from bad food and water (or too much partying) and a pill was taken in the last hour or two before, take another pill!” Marut says if there is any question about your schedule while traveling, “taking an extra pill to establish a new schedule would not be harmful.”

Skipping Your Period

Though some newlyweds are not averse to period sex, many brides want to adjust their cycle prior to the big day to avoid getting their period on their wedding day or during their honeymoon, Dixon says. “If you are on birth control pills this is usually pretty easy to do [by skipping the placebos],” she says. “The key though is not trying to adjust things right before your wedding and honeymoon. It’s best to try making any adjustments a bit in advance so as not to end up with any unexpected bleeding when you least want it!”

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