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Worried parents often call Poison Control about small children who swallowed birth control pills. Some of these parents panic – especially if the toddler is a little boy. Usually, they are surprised to learn that swallowing birth control pills is NOT dangerous for children. There are no long-term effects and few, if any, short-term effects.
Many women take birth control pills, also called oral contraceptives. They are prescribed for several reasons besides preventing pregnancy: very heavy menstrual periods, severe menstrual cramps, polycystic ovary syndrome, endometriosis, some hormonal imbalances, and acne.
Because birth control pills are widely prescribed, they are widely available – and that means toddlers can find them in bathrooms, bedrooms, kitchens, purses, and backpacks. Children learn by imitating adults; children who watch mom taking pills want to take those pills, too.
Birth control pills are available as brand-name drugs and generic drugs. They contain the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. The exact type of hormone and the amount vary from brand to brand.
Most types of birth control pills come in packages of twenty-eight pills.
- Twenty-one pills contain hormones, the active ingredients.
- Seven pills are placebo, or "dummy" pills. These do NOT contain hormones. In some cases, they contain iron; iron can be a problem for children who swallow too much.
Children who swallow hormone pills are not in danger. The medicine is absorbed quickly and is quickly eliminated from the body. There are no long term effects in girls OR boys.
There could be some minor short-term effects. Some children have a bit of stomach upset. A few children have some diarrhea or irritability. These symptoms go away without treatment. At one time, it was thought that little girls might have slight vaginal bleeding a few days after swallowing birth control hormones. This is unlikely because today's birth control pills contain such low doses of hormones. In any case, this would be a slight, one-time event.
Sometimes children swallow the iron pills in birth control packages. Poison Control will calculate the total amount of iron the child swallowed and compare it to the child's body weight. If any treatment is needed, Poison Control will recommend it. There is no danger in swallowing placebo pills that do not contain iron.
If a child swallows birth control pills, use the webPOISONCONTROL® online tool for guidance or call Poison Control right away at 1-800-222-1222. Take the package to the computer or phone. You will be asked for the exact brand name of the medicine and how many pills are missing. If iron is involved, you will be asked for your child's weight. It's unlikely that treatment will be needed, but Poison Control will tell you if there's anything at all you need to do.
Rose Ann Gould Soloway, RN, BSN, MSEd, DABAT emerita
For More Information
Iron poisoning from birth control pills rarely if ever happens. Iron is very poisonous to children in high doses, though. If you suspect that a child has swallowed iron pills or vitamins with iron, call Poison Control right away at 1-800-222-1222.
Lynch AM, McKay B, Murray L. Assessment of short-term outcomes following unintentional ingestions of "oral contraceptive pills" by toddlers. Clin Tox. 2009;47:174-177.