Finding the right type of birth control can be pretty confusing and overwhelming, no matter how old you are or what types of contraception you’re familiar with. Birth control comes in many forms and has many different uses and benefits beyond simply preventing pregnancy.
With so many options available, it can take a little time to figure out what would work best for your body, needs and lifestyle. Whether your doctor has suggested you look into birth control for medical reasons or you’re just curious to learn more, we’re here to help you understand your options and make the best choice for you.
What are the different types of birth control?
“Birth control” refers to any drug, medical device, practice or procedure that can be used to prevent pregnancy. Some of these options are long-term, while others are used only when needed. The most common types of birth control are outlined below.:
Birth control pills
These pills (also referred to as “oral contraceptives”) contain a small amount of estrogen and progestin hormones that work together to inhibit the body’s natural hormones. There are many types of birth control pills, including mini pills, extended cycle pills, and 21- or 28-day pill packs. You need to take your pill every day at the same time in order for it to be effective in preventing pregnancy. Your doctor will help you figure out what type of pill will work best for you and help you understand how it works and what to expect.
Birth control pills can also be prescribed to help regulate your period and relieve symptoms and pain for those who experience painful, heavy periods. The pills are also a common treatment for acne.
Many people worry that birth control pills will cause them to gain an excessive amount of weight. Doctors say that while this may occur, the pill won’t cause you to gain any more than 5 pounds over the span of one year.
Once you decide you want to stop taking the pill (perhaps because you’re trying to get pregnant), you can expect your natural fertility to return to normal within 3 to 6 months.
Birth control patch
This method of birth control is a small, square patch that looks like a bandage and only needs to be replaced once a week. You can stick it on any area of clean, dry skin, such as your arm, stomach, shoulder or back. The patch works by gradually releasing hormones into your system through your skin, and is a highly effective method of birth control when used correctly. Experts recommend changing your patch at the same day and time every week.
The patch may also help shorten your periods or minimize cramping and discomfort.
The vaginal ring is a small, round, flexible contraceptive that you can put in your vagina yourself. There are two ways to use a vaginal ring:
- Cyclic: Leave the ring in for three weeks, and then remove it for one week. You’ll have your period on the week you remove it.
- Continuous: Leave the ring in for 4 weeks straight before replacing it with a new one.
IUD (intrauterine device)
The IUD is a common and highly effective method of birth control for those who don’t want to worry about taking a pill every day or remembering to replace their patch or ring. Depending on what brand of IUD you choose, you can count on it lasting 3, 5 or even 10 years.
There are five types of IUDs currently available in the United States, four of which release hormones. The fifth type, Paragard, is hormone-free.
Your doctor will have to insert the IUD into your uterus for you. Many people are hesitant to use an IUD because they’re afraid the insertion process will be painful. While cramping may occur, many women say the process is easier than they thought it would be.. Your doctor will be with you the whole time and will help you manage any pain or lightheadedness you may experience.
Birth control implant
The implant is another effective option for those looking for a more convenient type of contraception. Also known by its brand name, Nexaplanon, the implant is a small plastic rod (about the size of a matchstick) that is inserted into the upper arm and can effectively prevent pregnancy for three years. After that, you’ll need to have it replaced.
If you get the implant placed within the first five days of your period, it will be immediately effective in preventing pregnancy. However, if it’s inserted within any other point in your menstrual cycle, you’ll need to use another form of birth control for 7 days.
Condoms are often the most affordable, most accessible type of birth control. While female and male condoms are now available, male condoms remain the most common and most effective. Condoms are 98% effective when used correctly – however, when used incorrectly, 18 out of every 100 women will get pregnant.
There are many types of male condoms you may choose to try, including latex, lambskin, plastic, lubricated, textured or spermicide condoms.
Condoms can also significantly lower the risk of spreading sexually-transmitted diseases. The exact risk depends on what type of disease is being considered.
Tubal ligation (getting your “tubes tied”)
Those who are absolutely certain they do not want to have any more children (or any children at all) may choose to undergo tubal ligation. This is a nearly-irreversible form of birth control that consists of a surgery that cuts, ties or seals the fallopian tubes and blocks the path between the ovaries and the uterus. While this procedure can sometimes be reversed, doing so is a major surgery that does not always work.
If you’re currently pregnant or are certain you don’t want to have any more kids after your next baby, and if you give birth via a c-section, you can opt to have your tubes tied during the c-section depending on your doctor’s recommendations.
If you’ve had unprotected sex and are worried you might be pregnant, you may still be able to prevent pregnancy. Emergency contraceptive pills are a stronger formulation of the standard birth control pill that can be purchased from your pharmacy without a prescription. You need to take these within 3 days of having unprotected sex in order to ensure results.
If you’ve missed the three-day mark and still need emergency contraception, call your doctor. You may have the option to have a copper IUD placed in order to prevent pregnancy. However, you can only do this up to five days after unprotected sex.
How do I know what type of contraception is right for me?
With so many different types of birth control available today, it can be difficult to know which type will work best for you. Rest assured that your doctor is always available to answer any questions you may have, and they’re here to help take the stress and uncertainty out of the process of finding the right type of contraception.
Before you make an appointment to visit with your doctor or gynecologist about birth control, take some time to think of any questions or concerns you may have. Here are some examples of questions you want to be prepared to answer to help your doctor find the right fit for you:
- Do you have any preexisting conditions or concerns about your menstrual cycle or reproductive health that birth control might help? (e.g. painful periods, ovarian cysts, irregular periods)
- Are you interested in using birth control solely for pregnancy prevention, or do you want to explore your options for treating other issues (e.g. acne, excessive cramping, heavy periods, etc.)?
- Have you already been pregnant, or would you like to have a baby in the future?
- What questions or concerns do you have about the way birth control will impact your body?
Girls can technically begin taking birth control as soon as they get their first period. If you’re under 18 and are nervous about talking with your doctor about birth control, remember that your doctor’s top priority is taking care of you and making sure you have all the help and resources you need to stay safe and healthy, regardless of whether or not you’re sexually active.
If you’re anxious about talking to your parents or guardians about birth control, or want to learn more about safe sex from a medical professional, your doctor will take steps to make sure you have everything you need and will help you feel comfortable, no matter what.
No matter how old you are or what your reasons are for seeking birth control, our team of caring doctors here at Valleywise Health is here to help you make the safest, healthiest decision possible. Call 1 (833) VLLYWSE
or visit our OB/GYN service page to learn more about our services and book a telehealth or in-person visit.