With the holidays around the corner, traveling to visit family or jetting off to a dreamy vacation is on the agenda for many folks. Despite our best efforts to pack all our essentials, the reality is that sometimes we forget things. While leaving your toothbrush or favorite sweater at home is, at the end of the day, not a big deal. If you happen to forget your birth control on vacation, however, that is another situation entirely—especially given the world we live in today.
Backing up for a sec, here’s a quick refresher on how birth control pills operate: “It’s important to understand that our modern birth control pills work by providing a regular and daily dose of hormones that suppress our natural hormone fluctuations in order to prevent ovulation,” explains OB/GYN Charis Chambers, MD. “Our most common pills combine estrogen and progestin with five to seven days of placebo pills to allow for a ‘period-like’ bleed.”
With this in mind, Dr. Chambers says skipping the placebo pills is inconsequential. So, if you are on vacation during placebo week (aka period week), don’t sweat it. However, skipping active pills (the ones that do contain hormones) does come with consequences, including an increased risk of unplanned pregnancy. To best protect yourself, below, Dr. Chambers explains step by step what to do if you forgot your birth control at home while on vacation.
What to do if you forget your birth control during vacation
The first course of action: Give your doctor a call. Dr. Chambers says you can request a prescription from them to be sent to a pharmacy near where you’re vacationing. Once you pick up your birth control pills, she advises taking your late pill as soon as possible if it’s been less than 24 hours. If it’s been more than a day and you’ve missed two doses, take two pills at the same time.
If you skipped more than two birth control pills, Dr. Chambers says it’s essential to use a backup form of contraception (like condoms) if you plan to have sex during your trip. Or, if needed, use emergency contraception if you engaged in unprotected sex during that time.
That said, if you’re traveling internationally, it’s a whole different situation. “It’s nearly impossible to get a prescription for your pills without seeing a doctor licensed to practice in that country,” Dr. Chambers says. “Even then, pills may differ overseas, and there may be difficulty getting your same pills prescribed.” So you may or may not be able to get a replacement prescription on international trips. In this case, be sure to use another form of contraception during sex to be safe.
Besides the lapse in pregnancy prevention, Dr. Chambers says skipping active birth control pills altogether while on vacation can disrupt your cycle and lead to irregular bleeding, breakthrough bleeding (aka unscheduled bleeding or spotting in between periods), or mood changes as hormones fluctuate. So look out for any cycle changes.
What to do once you get back home
If you were able to get your hands on a new prescription during your trip, you can continue taking your pills as usual once you arrive home. However, if you couldn’t get any and skipped a few days while traveling, Dr. Chambers recommends discussing with your doctor, who can advise on how to best restart them.
Regardless of when you restart the birth control pills, though, Dr. Chambers says using a backup form of contraception such as condoms during sex is recommended for the first 10–14 days of restarting the pills as cycle irregularities are likely to occur.
If you forget other forms of birth control
Not on the pill? Maybe you forgot to pack your patches, vaginal rings, diaphragms, or female condoms. Or, you left for your destination without getting a birth control injection. Whatever form of birth control you use (besides the long-acting types like IUDs), Dr. Chambers says the same rules apply if you forget them at home while traveling: Give your doctor a call when you arrive at your destination and see if you can get a prescription sent to a nearby pharmacy. Use backup or emergency contraception if needed, and resume your prescribed birth control method with the guidance of your doctor or qualified healthcare provider once you return from your trip.
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