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Birth Control: The Basics

  • All
  • Overview
  • Hormonal Methods
  • LARCs & Other Types
  • Side Effects

What is birth control?

Birth control is a broad term that encompasses all methods of contraception that help prevent pregnancy. Some of these methods are also used to help with menstrual regulation, such as difficult, painful, or irregular periods. There are various types of birth control, including IUDs, condoms, the pill, the cervical cup, the diaphragm, the sponge, the patch, the ring, and implants, among others.

How effective is birth control?

The effectiveness of birth control depends on the type you’re using and how carefully you follow the instructions. No birth control is 100% effective. Women may still become pregnant when using methods like the pill, the patch, the ring, or any other type of birth control because they do not take them as consistently as they should or do not follow the instructions carefully.

What types of birth control are there?

There are various types of birth control including barrier methods, hormonal components, and Long Acting Reversible Contraceptives (LARCs). Barrier methods block the sperm from entering the uterus and include condoms, the cervical cup, the sponge, and the diaphragm. Hormonal birth control must be prescribed by your doctor and includes the pill, the patch, the ring, and the shot. LARCs include implants like the ring (Nexplanon) and intrauterine devices (IUDs).

What type of birth control should I use?

You should consult with a healthcare provider about what birth control to use but certain methods are better suited for certain types of people. It’s important that the birth control that you use fits into your lifestyle. For example, if you can remember to take it every day, the pill might be right for you. On the other hand, if you tend to forget things, you might find LARCs to be better suited for your needs. Cost, convenience, and potential side effects should also be considered when choosing a birth control method.

What is hormonal birth control?

Hormonal birth control contains estrogen and/or progestin and prevents eggs from being released out of the ovaries. These methods include the pill, the patch, the ring, and the shot.

What is the pill?

The pill is a hormonal method of birth control that you take orally every day.  It stops ovulation, preventing the sperm from fertilizing the egg because no egg is there to be fertilized. To be effective, the pill must be taken around the same time every day without missing any days. There are various types of the pill including progesterone-only pills for women who are breastfeeding and the most common type, which include estrogen and progesterone. Besides preventing pregnancy, the pill has also been shown to provide health benefits such as preventing acne, cysts, PMS, and difficult periods.

What is the patch?

The patch is a form of birth control that is placed on the arm for a week at a time. It prevents pregnancy by releasing hormones that prevent an egg from being released from the ovary. The patch is placed on your body once a week for 3 consecutive weeks, with one week off for your menstrual cycle to take place. The patch has a higher risk of blood clot formation compared to other forms of birth control.

What is the ring (NuvaRing)?

The ring is a plastic ring that has estrogen and progesterone in it that is slowly released into your body to prevent the ovaries from releasing eggs. You squeeze the sides of the ring together and put into your vagina, similar to a tampon. The ring stays in for 3 weeks, then you take it out for a week to have your menstrual cycle.

What is the shot (Depo-Provera)?

The shot is an injection of the hormone progesterone which prevents the ovaries from releasing eggs. It lasts for 3 months. The shot requires you to go into the doctor’s office every 3 months to receive it.

What are LARCs?

Long Acting Reversible Contraceptives (LARCs) are effective forms of birth control that work without requiring you to take any additional action for a long time. LARCs include implants like Nexplanon and IUDs. The advantage of using a LARC is that it doesn’t require a patient to do anything (other than see a healthcare professional regularly). It is generally more effective because it removes the need for patients to remember to do something every day or once a month.

What is an implant (Nexplanon)?

An implantable subdermal device releases hormones steadily to prevent the ovaries from releasing eggs. It lasts for 3 years. Your healthcare professional will insert it into your arm between the biceps and the triceps underneath the skin. It only takes a few moments under a local anesthetic. It can be removed and once removed, you will be able to become pregnant again within 5 days.

What is an IUD?

An IUD is a small device shaped like the letter T that is placed by a healthcare professional into the uterus to prevent pregnancy. There are various types of IUDs. Some are progesterone-only IUDs and may be used for patients who have not had any children or who have a smaller uterus. There are slightly larger IUDs for women who have had children and may have a larger uterus. There are even IUDs that have no hormones at all like the ParaGard that lasts for 10 years.

What are condoms?

Condoms are barrier devices that reduce the risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. There are male condoms that are placed on an erect penis and female condoms that can be inserted into a vagina. The benefits of condoms are that they can be purchased at many stores and do not interfere with a woman’s hormonal cycles. They are not as effective as other forms of birth control because they can break. Another problem is that people who use condoms for birth control don’t always use them consistently, every time they have intercourse.

What is spermicide?

Spermicide is a gel that is used along with barrier methods such as condoms to prevent sperm from reaching and fertilizing the egg. They are not very effective when used alone and should always be used with a barrier method like a condom, cervical cup, diaphragm, or sponge.

What are emergency contraceptives?

Emergency contraceptives are pills that release hormones to keep an egg from implanting into the uterus. They are available over the counter. They should be used within 24 hours of unprotected sex or if an emergency occurs, such as a broken condom. They may be effective up to 5 days after intercourse. Types of emergency contraception include the ParaGard IUD and the “morning-after pill.” You should never rely on emergency contraceptives as a primary form of birth control.

What are the side effects of birth control?

The side effects of birth control depend on the patient and vary by the method being used. For example, the major side effect of an implantable such as Nexplanon is irregular bleeding. The shot (Depo-Provera) can be an appetite stimulant, and some patients can gain weight. It can also remain effective for up to a year after stopping the shot, so it may be harder to get pregnant afterwards. You may also experience irregular bleeding. Side effects of the ring (NuvaRing) include discomfort in placement and irregular bleeding. In addition, some people have trouble with it falling out during intercourse. Side effects of the pill include cramping, nausea, bloating, menstrual headaches, irregular bleeding, and breast tenderness.

Can you get nauseated from using birth control?

The birth control pill can make some people nauseated. One recommendation to try is to eat before taking the pill or take it at bedtime. If the pill is making you nauseated, you might want to consider other options like the ring (NuvaRing).

Will I gain weight if I use birth control?

Generally, all types of hormonal birth control can cause about a 5-pound weight gain. The Depo-Provera shot specifically is an appetite stimulant, and some people gain a significant amount of weight when using this form of birth control.

Will birth control cure my acne?

Acne has been known to be improved in some people using birth control pills.

Can you become depressed from using birth control?

Generally, birth control does not cause depression. However, some people report mood instabilities on various types of birth control, though this is not a common side effect. If it does happen, you might want to try a different dosage or a different method of birth control.

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