When we're traveling, we may worry about sunburns or lost luggage, but an unplanned pregnancy isn't always at the forefront of our concerns. But with changing time zones and our sleep schedule flipped upside down, a lot of other parts of our lives we do not consider sometimes gets thrown off balance. Here's how to stay on top of your oral birth control schedule while traveling.
1. Stay on Track
The safest way to take your birth control while traveling and to stay on track in your cycle is to keep taking it at the same time according to your home time zone. "This means you need to figure out what time it is in your home time zone and take it then, which can be annoying, but by taking your birth control at the same time, then your cycle will not change at all. It is important that the same amount of hours is in between each pill that way your body stays on track," says Dr. David Greuner of NYC Surgical Associates.
There are many apps to figure this out and remind you to take the pill at this new time, or you can just figure out the time yourself and set alarms on your phone. Some apps to help keep track include Clue, Glow, and Period Tracker.
Even though this is the most effective way, sometimes you may be traveling to somewhere where your normal time would be the middle of the night or you will be there for a while and don't want to have to take your pill at, let's say, 1 a.m. instead of 6 p.m. "Well, then you can change your schedule. Just realize that you may want to then use another form of protection since there is always a chance with changing your schedule that you are at a greater risk of pregnancy," says Dr. Greuner.
2. Changing Your Schedule
As for changing your schedule, the safest way is to do so in increments. "The best thing women can do is to try to take their oral birth control at the same time each day so if there is a significant time change, try to stay on your home schedule when taking it if possible," says Dr. Saketh R. Guntupalli, a Denver-based gynecologic oncologist who recently published a book on sexual dysfunction called Sex and Cancer. If the trip is extended, slowly (six-hour increments) try to get onto a more appropriate time for your new time zone." If you travel a lot, the best form of birth control is long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) such as an intrauterine device (IUD) or depot injectable methods," says Dr. Guntupalli.
Sleep schedules can affect oral birth control, mainly as women may forget to taken them due to jet lag and the rigors of travel. That is why staying on your home schedule can be important. "Even missing one dose can reduce the overall effect of the medication and lead to unexpected pregnancy. That's why we try to encourage women to try LARCs (long-acting reversible contraception) as the preferred method of birth control as this takes these issues out of the equation," says Dr. Guntupalli.
3. Lost or Stolen: Can It Be replaced?
Of course, there are other issues to worry about when traveling, such as what happens if your birth control is in your luggage and it's lost or stolen? This is a tough question since laws seem to be different all over the world, and it really depends on where you happen to find yourself. Getting oral contraceptives (the pill) without a prescription is an option in many countries where population control is a paramount (India, China, etc.), but each country has its own laws. "Surprisingly, many Western European countries require a prescription for contraceptive therapy, so it would require a trip to a clinic. If your pills are lost or stolen, it would be best to consult a local physician who should be able to replace them. Keep in mind that while abroad, countries might use different formulations which may cause unexpected side effects," says Dr. Guntupalli.
The most important thing to remember is to try to keep your medications safe and to remember to take them. "While abroad many people are enjoying new sights and sounds, this can place birth control on the back burner and can lead to unintended pregnancies when women return home. Try to stay on schedule and remember to take pills each day. Use of IUDs, implantable devices, and estrogen rings can help women with these issues," says Dr. Guntupalli.
If you have a cycle that is very strict and highly determined by your pill, make sure to talk to your doctor before you leave. "They can help you create a plan for when you are traveling in order to keep your schedule/cycle the same," says Dr. Greuner.