With so much talk about birth control in the news right now and the prices of many forms increasing, many women are looking at all their options. Birth control comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes and it’s up a woman what she wants to use.
There are some forms that will react on a hormonal level, while others offer barrier protection. Depending on your health and medical needs, you may be more suited to one type more than another. Your doctor will be able to help talk you through your exact options depending on your medical health to make sure you support your illness or condition.
Birth control does more than just prevent pregnancy. It can help to control periods, ease pains and even give you more control over your life. Here’s a look at the ultimate guide to birth control methods to help you make a more informed choice when it comes to your pregnancy protection.
Barrier Protection Methods
One of the most common and popular options is the barrier protection method. This means that either you or the male can use a form of protection that prevents the sperm from going into the cervix and implanting into an egg. This form of protection will help to prevent pregnancy and also helps to prevent the spread of STDs.
Even if you have a hormonal form of contraception health professional’s advice that you use a barrier protection when in a new relationship. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
Condoms are the most popular form of protection, but did you know that you can get both a male and female condom? The male condom is the most commonly purchased birth control in a store because it’s the easiest to use. While it’s a male form of birth control, it’s worth a female having some condoms in her drawer at home for those nights that end up unplanned.
Male condoms are small pouches of latex, although there are other materials for those who are allergic to latex, which cover the penis and collect the semen. However, lambskin condoms won’t offer protection against STDs. You can (and should) use condoms for both oral and penetrative sex. They offer an 85% effective chance of protecting against pregnancy.
While this can seem low, the female condom is lower at just 79%. This is a slightly larger condom that is placed within the vagina to help collect the sperm. Women tend to choose the diaphragm instead for their barrier protection, which is also placed inside the vagina. This has an 88% effectiveness and is reusable.
It is possible to use both the male condom and the diaphragm at the same time. You can also use the male condom with other types of birth control. By using two, you increase the chances of preventing pregnancy.
The downside of the diaphragm is that it doesn’t protect against STDs, so you should use it with a condom.
Finally, a contraceptive sponge is something that you can use as a barrier. It covers the cervix and is covered with a spermicide to prevent the sperm from reaching the egg. There’s a fabric loop on the sponge, so you can easily grab and pull it out when you’re finished. The sponge has a 76-88% efficiency rate. You’ll want to double up with a condom to help increase the protection.
Hormonal Protection for Daily Use
There are various types of hormonal birth control methods. Some of those you will need to take daily or at least regularly. When you take the hormonal options, they will help to release hormones into the body that prevents your ovaries releasing an egg. While they do nothing to prevent the sperm reaching the cervix, they help to prevent implantation, as there’s no egg!
The birth control pill is one of the most common types of hormonal protection used throughout the Western world. A woman has more control but does need to remember to take the pill on a daily basis.
There are different types of pills available, offering different types of hormones and different levels. Your doctor will want to assess your blood pressure, weight and health to determine the best one for you. You can get a mixture of estrogen and progesterone (combination pills) or progesterone-only pills.
As well as preventing pregnancy, the pill can help to manage a number of other menstrual issues. They help to reduce the blood flow and you can even control how often you have a withdrawal bleed—while it looks like a period, it’s not a full one as there’s no egg that failed to implant. The pill also helps to reduce the amount of pain you can suffer during your menstrual cycle. However, the pill won’t protect against STDs.
If you forget to take your pill, you will see the hormones in your body change. This can make the pill ineffective and accidental pregnancies can happen. It’s important to set up a system to help you remember, choosing either the morning or night to take your pill every 24 hours.
The way the pill is set up, you have 21 days of taking the hormones and then 7 days where the hormones are reduced slightly to allow you to have a withdrawal bleed. You are still protected from pregnancy during these 7 days. Not taking the pill for 7 days led to some women forgetting to start their next pack once up, so now many will have 7 days of dummy pills that are placebos just to help you remember to take the pill daily. You can skip the dummy pills and run packs back to back if you’d like, but it’s worth giving your body a break now and then.
When you take the pill every day, you have a 99% effectiveness. However, due to missed pills, the official protection against pregnancy is 91%. It is one of the most effective forms of contraception that you have full control over.
Not everyone will find the pill suitable, due to the hormones. There are increased risks of blood clots, breast cancer, and some other illnesses. Your doctor will want to monitor your health on a regular basis—usually every 3-6 months—to make sure you’re still in full health.
It takes time to get the protection. Combination pills will take 0-7 days to gain protection. If you start your pill cycle within 5 days of your usual period starting, you will be protected from pregnancy right away. Those who start later than that or mid-cycle will need to wait 7 days for full protection.
The progesterone-only pill offers full protection within 48 hours of starting a cycle and it doesn’t matter when you start.
If you take antibiotics, the effectiveness of the pill decreases. Your doctor will advise you to take other precautions if you are going to have sex while on antibiotics.
The NuvaRing is a contraceptive ring that is hormonal base and needs removing and inserting once a month. It uses hormones to thicken the mucus within the cervix to slow down the sperm and make it harder to reach the egg. You place the ring inside your vagina, where it stays for the month. You will need to set up a schedule to remove the ring and replace it.
Unused rings can be stored at room temperature for up to 16 weeks. If you are storing for longer, you’ll need to place them in the fridge. Always keep them out of direct sunlight. If you don’t change them when marked on your calendar, you won’t have the same protection and you may accidentally end up pregnant.
While the ring is good for protecting against pregnancy, it doesn’t prevent the spread of STDs.
Like with the pill, when you use the ring perfectly, you will have 99% effectiveness against pregnancy. If you don’t switch the rings at the right time, that protection effectiveness drops to 91%. You will see a drop in effectiveness if you take some antibiotics and medication, which is something your doctor will discuss with you.
The majority of people have no problems with the ring. However, due to the addition of estrogen in the body, the ring can cause some similar health problems to the combination pill. Those with high blood pressure or with a family history of blood clots, cancer, and heart problems may be encouraged to try non-hormonal or other forms of contraception.
This form of birth control can also lead to an increase in migraines. Some women note seeing flashing lights and zigzag lines because of the contraception.
You can use the ring during breastfeeding, although doctors will recommend waiting for your six-week check. Using during the first six weeks can lead to a reduction in your milk supply.
The birth control shot is a third option, which you will need to go to your doctor’s office to get regularly. It’s also called the Depo-Provera or the depo shot and will last for three months until you need another injection.
This method is progesterone only, stopping ovulation so you can’t get pregnant. This can also help to stop your periods or at least minimizing them so you can manage the blood flow and side effects better. While it protects against pregnancy, it doesn’t offer any protection against STDs.
You can start the contraception whenever you want, but it will take 7 days to become effective if you start in the middle of your cycle. If you get the first shot within the first 7 days of your period, you will be protected from the start. Because of the need to visit the doctor, you will need to set reminders on your calendar to make sure you remain protected. Your doctor will want you to take a pregnancy test if you’re 2+ weeks late getting the next shot.
When the shot is used perfectly, you have a 99% effectiveness rate. However, many women do forget and because of that, the official protection sits at 94%.
Because it’s progesterone only, most of the downsides of other hormonal contraception are minimized. However, there is a risk of increased migraines and some mental health problems. Your doctor will want to check you every three months to ensure your health is still protected.
A final regularly-monitored form of hormonal contraception is the birth control patch. This is literally a patch that is placed on your back, arm, belly or your butt. It needs to be changed every three weeks and will release hormones to prevent pregnancy throughout the three weeks. It stops your periods, like other forms of protection and also thickens the mucus in the cervix to make it harder for the sperm to travel through.
Like other hormonal methods, this doesn’t protect against STDs. You’ll also need to set up a reminder to keep the effectiveness as perfect as possible. The good news is you can store the extra patches at home, so you change them in private. You’ll need to sore your patches at room temperature, away from direct sunlight. There’s no need at all to put them in the fridge or freezer, unlike the ring.
When used perfectly, the patch offers 99% effectiveness. However, because it’s one of the easiest to forget about, the official effectiveness sits at 91%. It can also be affected by antibiotics and some other medications.
Long-Term Hormonal Birth Control Methods
jFinally, you can opt for the long-term methods instead. These are those that you get implanted and you can leave for 3+ years. It’s possible to stop periods completely during that time, but it will depend on the exact type that you get. Some of these methods will release estrogen, while others are progesterone-only. Your doctor will discuss the best for your health needs.
The long-term options are becoming far more popular. While they cost extra upfront, they minimize the cost in the long-term. They are also highly effective since you get to set and forget!
The IUD or coil is the first option that people are turning to. This is an intrauterine device, so it’s put in your uterus. The device is T-shaped and small, so you shouldn’t feel it at all. There are different types of IUDs: Mirena, Liletta, Kyleena, Skyla, and ParaGard. The latter is a copper IUD, which is non-hormonal and we’ll go into that next. The other four are hormonal IUDs, which we’ll focus on right now.
The hormonal IUDs last for between 3 and 6 years, depending on the type that you get. Your doctor may want to check on you yearly just to make sure that it’s still fitted properly and your health looks good, but you shouldn’t need to worry for the whole lifespan unless you feel pain or discomfort.
Your ovulation cycle isn’t stopped fully, but you may find that your periods get lighter. Some women find that they have no periods at all for the whole time, as the eggs are prevented from leaving the ovaries. Instead of changing your cycles, the IUD stops the sperm cells moving through your uterus properly, making it harder to reach an egg to implant it. The hormones also help to thicken the cervix mucus, so the sperm struggles to get to your eggs.
While a more long-term solution, you can easily have your IUD removed. The hormones wear off almost instantly, helping you get pregnant as soon as you want.
Because you get to set and forget, the IUD is 99% effective. This applies to all types of IUDs, including the copper coil. The downside is you’re not protected against STDs, so you’ll still need to use condoms for that protection.
Depending on the type of coil, these can be expensive upfront. Your doctor will discuss your options to find the best one for your financial bracket. You will need to visit your doctor to have the coil inserted and removed. It can be uncomfortable getting it, but that discomfort disappears as soon as the implantation and removal are complete.
Some women experience cramping afterward and there may be a little bleeding. This is just from the fitting and shouldn’t last for too long.
One of the downsides of the hormonal coils is the increased risk of ovary cysts. Your doctor will want to keep an eye on you if you experience a lot of intense pain and regular occurring cysts. There is also an increased risk of large cysts bursting. Your doctor will also want to look at your medical history to make sure you can get the coil. Those with untreated cancer and some other medical conditions are advised not to get it.
The birth control implant is another option that you can set and forget. It is placed in your arm and leaves a tiny scar. You won’t notice it, as the implant is placed in the underarm. However, you can feel the implant after it’s been placed by running your hand over the area.
Your implant is just a small rod that releases hormones around your body to prevent pregnancy. It lasts for up to four years, although some women will choose to get it changed every three years to ensure effectiveness. You can immediately have another implant placed in afterward or you can choose another form of contraception. Your cycle will return to normal straight afterward if you want to try to conceive.
The implant is progesterone-only, which helps to limit the issues by taking estrogen forms of contraception. The progesterone will help to thicken your cervix’s mucus and can help to stop ovulation.
You will need to get the implant placed by a doctor. It is 99% effective, especially since you don’t have to remember to take it. However, the cost can be prohibited, depending on the exact brand you get. It’s worth saving up for, as it is a long-term option that offers plenty of protection. It takes five days for protection to occur after implantation.
The great news is that there are very minimal side effects or health concerns. In rare cases, your skin and eyes may turn yellow (jaundice) and you should seek medical attention immediately if this is the case.
This is an option for new moms. It doesn’t affect the breast milk supply, meaning you can get it inserted right away.
Non-Hormonal Long-Term Contraception
When you want something that isn’t hormonal, you want to turn to the ParaGard IUD. This is very similar to the hormonal IUD, but it’s a copper coil. The copper prevents pregnancy, as it stops the sperm (sperm doesn’t like copper) making it impossible for the sperm to reach the egg. It has a 99.9% effectiveness rating, which is the most compared to any other contraceptive method.
The IUD also lasts for 12 years! You can set and forget for more than a decade, making it a popular choice for women who have decided to no longer have children and wait for menopause.
This is also the only long-term option that is excellent for emergency contraception. It will offer the 99.9% effectiveness 5 days after your unprotected sex.
Since there are no hormones, this is a popular option for those with medical issues.
There are also permanent options if you would like to discuss them with your doctor. Your male partner can have a vasectomy or you can get a tubal ligation. Both of these require surgery and will have the normal surgical risks. There are also very rare risks and complications involved with them. Despite being permanent, they don’t offer 100% effectiveness. The only way to get that is to have your ovaries and uterus removed, which only happens in extreme circumstances.
Decide on your birth control method and discuss your options with your partner. There are many to choose from, whether you want complete control over your cycle or you want to set and forget. If you do have problems remembering to take the pill or getting your patch changed, a more long-term solution may be best for you.