Accidentally Took Placebo Birth Control Pill Instead Of Active

In our latest question and answer, the pharmacist discusses what to do if you accidentally take an inactive birth control pill instead of an active one.


Is it bad to take two birth control pills in one day (one active and one inactive)? I took my first inactive one Saturday instead of Sunday. When I realized my last active one was still there, my mom said I should take it and still take the inactive one. I'm now a pill short. I'm not sure how this will affect anything with my period. Because I took and inactive pill and then the next day took an active and inactive pill.

Asked by Allie On Jul 24, 2018

Answered by
Medical Content Reviewed By PharmacistAnswers Staff

On Jul 24, 2018

Birth Control Pills PackIf you accidentally took an inactive pill, also known as a "placebo pill", instead of your active pill, you should simply take the active pill as soon as you remember. This can mean that sometimes you will be taking two active pills in one day (depending on how long until you realize the mistake).

In your situation, as it was your last active pill for that cycle, you should just take that last dose when you remember, which you did, so you did the correct thing.

For the vast majority of birth control pill products, you do not need to use back-up contraception after one missed dose if you are sexually active. However, as there are many different birth control pills on the market, be sure to reference the package insert for your particular product for recommendations after missed doses.

For all combined hormone birth control pills (ones that contain both an estrogen and a progestin), the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) recommends that if you only miss one dose (which can happen if accidentally took an inactive pill instead of an active one), you simply take the missed (or late) dose as soon as your remember.

Getting Back On Track

For most women, it is important to start your birth control pills on the same day of the week, and end on the same day of the week. So staying on your schedule is generally the goal when a dosing error happens.

Fortunately, it's easy to get back on track since you are only one inactive pill short.  You just don't have to take an inactive pill on the day it is missing for. There is no medical reason that you need to take inactive pills, they contain no hormones and are simply "filler" ingredients. They are included in birth control packs as placeholders, to help individuals stay on a consistent schedule of taking one tablet by mouth daily.

In your situation, below is an example of how you can stay on track:

  • Saturday - You accidentally took the Sunday (inactive) pill instead of your last active pill. You realized your error and took the last active pill the same day. This is safe.
  • Sunday: Continue to take your inactive pills once daily, even though you are now one short.
  • Monday: Take one inactive pill (3rd of the pack).
  • Tuesday: Take one inactive pill (4th of the pack).
  • Wednesday: Take one inactive pill (5th of the pack).
  • Thursday: Take one inactive pill (6th of the pack).
  • Friday: Take one inactive pill (7th of the pack).
  • Saturday: Skip the inactive pill dose today since you do not have one from taking it earlier in the week. As discussed above, this will have no effect on how your other birth control pills work.
  • Sunday: Start your new birth control pill pack, as you normally would.

Additional Information

It is important to remember there are several different types of birth control pills available. When the answering this question, the assumption is being made that you are on a birth control pill that contains 21 active pills and 7 inactive pills. There are other types of oral contraceptives available including multi-phasic, extended cycle and continuous cycle pills that contain a different number of inactive pills.

The course of action for missing tablets with any birth control pill is to look at the package insert for your product, check with your local pharmacist or other health care provider for specific directions.

How a patient handles missed tablets depends upon the type of birth control that is being taken, number of pills missed and which week the tablet was missed in. As a reminder, for birth control to be the most effective, it should be taken at exactly the same time each day.

When tablets are missed, it is best to take that missed tablet within 24 hours of the regularly scheduled time. If there are any questions about whether or not back up birth control is needed, check the patient drug information pamphlet, contact your local pharmacist or health care provider or use back up protection to be safe.  

About the Pharmacist

Ms. Jennifer Hauder RPh

Jennifer Hauder is a registered pharmacist in the state of Illinois. She has over 10 years experience as a pharmacist in the retail and pharmacy benefit managers (PBM) settings. She became a pharmacist due to her interest in healthcare and the opportunity to help others with their healthcare needs. When not working, she enjoys spending time with her husband, three children and two black labs Lucky and Charms.

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