Women requesting combined hormonal contraception can now be given more information about its effectiveness with a new leaflet issued by the Family Planning Association.
Prescriptions for a full year of the birth control will also be more widely available if the guidelines are followed.
Dr Diana Mansour, Vice President for Clinical Quality of the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare, said: “The guideline suggests that by taking fewer hormone-free intervals – or shortening them to four days – it is possible that women could reduce the risk of getting pregnant on combined hormonal contraception.”
The new NICE-accredited clinical guidelines bring contraceptives up to date with the work of researchers and some doctors who already been advising patients against taking a break between packets of pills, which are usually issued in rows of 21 with labels for the days of the week.
Professor Anne MacGregor said: “If a woman is late restarting her pill pack, she risks pregnancy.
“It also benefits other symptoms, for example women don’t need to get the headaches that result from the drop in hormones.”
Although there is shift within the medical profession, the researchers admit there is still confusion to be had because the combined pill is largely still packaged in rows of 21 or contain a number of placebos, meaning there are not enough pills in a pack for everyday in a month.
Combination pill packets often still remind women to have a break after each pack.
Professor MacGregor said: “The difficulty is that pills are mostly marketed as a 21 days on, seven days off regimen so it is then very difficult for everybody to say there is no benefit to having a break when actually what women get prescribed is saying 21/7.
Professor Guillebaud added: “How could it be that for 60 years, we have been taking the pill in a sub-optimal way because of this desire to please the Pope?”