Birth control, or contraception, refers to any method or device used to prevent pregnancy. If you’re sexually active, and not wanting to have a baby, it’s important that you discuss birth control with your healthcare provider. This is a really important aspect of healthcare and you need to ensure you’re empowered to make the best possible decisions.
There are a lot of different choices when it comes to birth control, each with pros and cons, so it’s important to educate yourself about each one so you can decide what’s right for you.
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What is the best method of birth control?
The most important thing to know is that there’s no “best” method of birth control. According to the Office on Women’s Health (OWH), the option that’s right for you depends on a range of different things and it can change over time. Your healthcare provider will be able to help. They will ask you a range of questions about your general health and lifestyle to assess your options, including:
- Whether you want to get pregnant at some point down the track
- How often you have sex and the number of partners you have
- Your medical history and the state of your overall health
- The benefits and side effects of each method
- Your comfort level with each method
Analysis from the National Center for Health Statistics, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2017, shows that 65% of the 72.2 million women aged 15-49 in the United States use contraception. Nearly all American women use contraception at some point in their lifetime.
However, a 2017 National Survey of Family Growth found that preferred methods varied widely. About 13% were using a pill, 10% were using an intrauterine device or implant, 19% were using female sterilization (tubal ligation), and 6% were using male sterilization (vasectomy). Meanwhile, a Nation Health Statistics Report found that 24% of women and 33% of men rely on a condom.
What birth control methods should I consider?
Every birth control method comes with pros and cons. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a helpful Birth Control Chart that covers approved birth control devices in detail, including the number of expected pregnancies, recommended use, risks, and potential side effects.
Here’s a quick guide to the most popular options for you to consider.
Oral contraceptive pills
There are several different types of oral contraceptive pills, and you may have to try a few before you find the one that’s right for you. If used correctly, they’re about 99% effective, but if you allow for mistakes, the FDA says they’re about 91% effective. Different pills work in different ways, but the goal is to stop ovulation and thicken the mucus around the cervix. This means there is no egg for sperm to fertilize, and makes it much harder for sperm to get through.
Common side effects may include spotting or bleeding between periods, nausea, breast tenderness, and headaches. You’ll need to take the pill every day to avoid pregnancy.
Long-active reversible contraception
Long-active reversible contraception generally refers to intrauterine devices (IUDs – these can be made with either copper or progestin) or implantable rods (such as Implanon or Nexplanon). Both have a 99% success rate, and they remove a lot of the stress associated with birth control.
IUDs are small devices inserted directly into the uterus. Copper IUDs can last up to 10 years, but they can cause side effects such as cramps, missed periods, bleeding between periods, and in some cases, pelvic inflammation. Hormonal IUDs, meanwhile, generally last 3-5 years, depending on the brand. They can also cause irregular periods, as well as ovarian cysts, and pelvic inflammation.
Implantable rods are soft pieces of plastic that are inserted under the skin in the upper arm. They release a hormone called progestin, which stops the ovaries from releasing eggs, and generally last for about three years. They can cause headaches, irregular periods, weight gain, and sore breasts.
Hormonal birth control
There are also a number of other solutions available for hormonal birth control:
- You can have a shot every three months, which the FDA reports is 94% effective in preventing pregnancies, which can cause bleeding between periods, weight gain, changes in mood, sore breasts, headaches, and bone loss with long-term use.
- You can use a skin patch, which is replaced every 28 days. It is 91% effective, but side effects can include skin irritation, stomach upset, changes to your menstrual cycle, mood swings, sore breasts, headaches, weight gain, high blood pressure, and in some cases, serious risk like blood clots. It’s works best in women weighing less than 198 pounds.
- Vaginal rings (such as the NuvaRing), are soft rings that are inserted into the vagina. They contain estrogen and progestin, which stop ovulation and thicken the fluid around the cervix. You keep it in for three weeks, take it out, and insert a new one a week later.
Women and men can both use contraceptive barriers. For women, the best options are diaphragms (88% effective), cervical caps (78% effective), contraceptive sponges (88% effective in women who have never given birth and 76% effective in women who have given birth before), and female condoms (79% effective). These are inserted into the vagina with spermicide before you have sex. Side effects can include irritation, allergic reactions, urinary tract infections, and toxic shock.
For men, the best option is a male condom. These are best used with a water-based lubricant and have the added bonus of preventing many sexually-transmitted diseases. These can cause irritation, and there is a risk the condom may tear or break, but they generally have the fewest side effects.
It’s important to weigh up your options and seek professional advice about which birth control method is right for you. Do you want an expert opinion? Schedule an appointment today.