With hundreds of different brands, kinds, and formulations…
Many women don’t know where to start when it comes to picking the best birth control.
Many women ask their friends or loved ones about which form of birth control they use and believe it might be a good fit for them. So instead of guessing or relying on someone else’s feedback, we’ve put together the ultimate birth control guide to help you get all the information you need to make the best decision for your body.
Let’s Start At The Beginning; What Is Birth Control?
Birth control is how you prevent pregnancy. It comes in many different shapes, sizes, uses and is not a one-size-fits-all. Before we get too far down the rabbit hole, just because birth control is in use doesn’t mean you won’t get pregnant. Additionally, if you forget to use birth control or if your method fails, emergency contraception can be used up to 5 days after sex to reduce your risk of pregnancy.
While some birth control methods keep you safe from STIs, not all methods do so. Some people feel most comfortable combining two birth control methods, including one barrier method like condoms for protection from STIs.
Big Questions To Ask Yourself When Deciding Which Birth Control
No method of birth control is 100% perfect. Take into consideration both the advantages and setbacks of each method.
While you do some discovery, here are some great questions to ask yourself:
- How effective is the method?
- Will this method work for my partner and I?
- Will this method cause bothersome side effects for me or my partner?
- Is it convenient? Do I have to remember to use it? If so, will I remember to use it?
- Do I have to use/take it every day?
- Is this method reversible? Can I get pregnant immediately after stopping it?
- Will this method cause me to bleed more or less? Will the bleeding I have while using the method be predictable or not predictable?
- Are there potential complications?
- Is this method affordable?
- Does this method protect against STIs?
- Will it be challenging to discontinue this method?
- How easy is this method to obtain?
Now that we’ve asked all the big questions let’s get into some birth control methods.
IUD AKA intrauterine device:
An IUD is a Y-shaped device that is placed into the uterus by a healthcare provider. Currently, there are two types of IUDs to choose from, copper-containing or levonorgestrel-releasing. Both are safe and are 98% effective in preventing pregnancy. The copper IUD contains no hormones, and the other steadily releases levonorgestrel, a hormone, to prevent pregnancy. This method requires an appointment with an OBGYN for insertion but is suitable for up to 10 years before needing a new IUD. This method does not protect against STIs. You can choose to get your IUD removed at any time by scheduling an appointment, and you’re able to get pregnant as soon as three days after removal.
Birth Control Implant:
The birth control implant is a small rod-like progestin implant that gets inserted into your inner arm by a doctor. This method prevents pregnancy for at least three years as the hormone is slowly absorbed into the body, and it can be removed at any time. This birth control is effective within 24 hours of insertion, and fertility returns typically within 24 hours once the rod is removed. You need to schedule an appointment to get the implant inserted and removed.
Birth Control Injection:
Depot medroxyprogesterone acetate (DMPA, also known as Depo-Provera) is the only injectable birth control on the market. The injection is a progestin hormone that you must get once every three months to avoid pregnancy. The injection can be administered into the upper arm or glutes. This form of birth control does require relatively frequent visits to the doctor’s office but is 99% effective in preventing pregnancy. Upon stopping, ovulation and menstrual periods generally return within six months of the last injection; however, it can take up to a year and a half. For this reason, injectable birth control should be used only by people who do not wish to become pregnant in the next year or longer.
Birth Control Patches:
Birth control patches are like tiny band-aids that are worn on your skin and contain estrogen and progestin to prevent pregnancy. You wear the patch for one week on the upper arm, shoulder, upper back, or hip. After one week, you remove the old patch and apply a new patch; you repeat this for three weeks. During the fourth week, you do not wear a patch and your menstrual period occurs during this week. Each new patch should be started on the same day of the week. This method is 90% effective when used correctly. Those who are overweight or obese based on their body mass index (BMI) should not use birth control patches as they are less effective for women in those categories.
Vaginal rings are flexible plastic rings that contain estrogen and progestin. The ring is placed into the vagina, typically by the user, where hormones are slowly absorbed into the body. You wear the ring inside the vagina for three weeks and remove it for one week for your period. The ring is not noticeable, and it is easy for most people to insert and remove. You may take the ring out of the vagina for up to two hours if desired, such as during sex, and it will still be effective in preventing pregnancy. A completely new ring will be needed every 3-5 weeks.
Birth Control Pills aka The Pill:
Birth control pills are tiny pills that come in a one-month supply that contain estrogen and progestin or just progestin. When taken correctly, birth control pills are 91% effective. You must remember to take your pill daily to avoid pregnancy. If more than two pills are missed, we recommend using a backup method of birth control. Some birth control pills can help with acne, heavy bleeding, and painful cramps.
The external condom is a thin, flexible sheath placed over the penis to prevent semen from entering the partner’s body. To be effective, it is essential to carefully follow instructions when using condoms and use them every time you have sex. Many couples who choose another method of birth control also use condoms to decrease their risk of getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI). External condoms can be found easily and must be used before sex. Some people are allergic to latex, so check for latex-free condoms if you or your partner have a latex allergy.
The internal condom is worn inside the vagina to prevent semen from entering. It is a thin sheath made of polyurethane, and it’s typically prelubricated. This method is similar to the method above, but the ring part remains inside the vagina.
Diaphragm and cervical cap:
The diaphragm and cervical cap fit right over the cervix, preventing sperm from entering the uterus. These devices are available in latex or silicone in multiple sizes; however, they require a clinician’s fitting. These devices must be used with a spermicide and left in place for eight hours after sex. The diaphragm must be removed after the eight-hour window, and the cervical cap must remain in place for 24 hours. You will need to insert and remove these pieces before and after sex.
Spermicides are chemical substances that destroy sperm. Spermicide is available in most pharmacies without a prescription and can come in various forms, including gel, foam, cream, and more. Spermicide should be used right before sex and can cause irritation to your partner, so be sure to patch test before use.
How Do I Make A Choice Without Getting Too Stressed Out?
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the options, but choosing a birth control method doesn’t have to be stressful. First, consider all the information above and reach out to your healthcare professional. They will be a great resource to give you more information, address any concerns, and guide you to which method would work best given your medical history and lifestyle. Consulting with a trained medical professional is essential for your safety, and if your method of choice requires a prescription, they’ll be able to write it for you.
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