Birth control: What are your options?

You can choose from all kinds of contraception options. Find the one that’s right for you.

A lot goes into choosing a type of birth control. It seems like the options are endless — pills, patches, rings. Short-term and even permanent options. Then there are the potential side effects. It can be a lot to think about. So, how do you know which is the right one? You do your homework. And when you know your options, picking the right one can be a little easier.

What types of birth control are available?

A variety of contraceptives are available — from a pill you take every day to an IUD that lasts up to 10 years. If you’re trying to find the right birth control for your needs, consider the pros and cons of each type.

Birth control pill

“Birth control pills, also called ‘the pill,’ use hormones to prevent pregnancy and regulate the menstrual cycle,” says Pam Gressens, CRNP, a nurse practitioner at Geisinger Saint Luke’s Women’s Health in Orwigsburg. They come in two types: combined pills (which contain both estrogen and progestin) and progestin-only pills (also called “mini pills”). The pill prevents pregnancy by:

  • Suppressing ovulation
  • Thickening cervical mucus to make it harder for sperm to reach an egg
  • Thinning the uterine lining to make it harder for an egg to implant

For most types, you take 21 days of active pills, followed by seven days of inactive pills with no hormones. You’ll typically get your period during the week of inactive pills. Missing a pill can put you at risk for pregnancy, so consider setting an alarm or reminder to help you remember to take your pill each day.

If you plan to get pregnant, you can start trying as soon as you stop taking the pill.

Intrauterine device (IUD)

An IUD is a small, t-shaped device implanted in the uterus. It works to prevent sperm from reaching an egg. “IUDs are reversible and last anywhere from three to 10 years, depending on the type,” says Gressens. An IUD may be a good option if you prefer long-term birth control.

Hormonal and non-hormonal options are available. Hormonal IUDs emit a continuous dose of progestin. They may also reduce your menstrual flow. And the non-hormonal IUD, Paragard®, emits copper ions. Those ions irritate sperm, preventing them from getting to an egg. The copper IUD may make your menstrual flow heavier or last longer, so keep that in mind when considering this option.

Arm implant

During a minimally invasive procedure, your doctor will insert a thin, tiny rod into your upper arm. There, it emits a continual dose of the hormone progestin. It’s long lasting, preventing pregnancy for up to five years.

Vaginal ring

The birth control ring is a small, flexible ring you place inside your vagina. Like combination birth control pills, the ring contains both estrogen and progestin to prevent sperm from reaching an egg.

You’ll keep that ring for 21 days. Then remove it for seven. During those seven days, you’ll have your period. After that week is up, you put a new ring in, changing every three weeks.

If you forget to insert a new ring, use backup protection like condoms to avoid pregnancy.

Contraceptive patch

The patch works similar to combination birth control pills, emitting a low dose of hormones to prevent ovulation. To use it, clean and dry your skin. Then decide where to stick it. Choose from your:

  • Arm
  • Buttock
  • Upper body
  • Abdomen

You’ll place a new patch every week for three weeks, then remove on the fourth week. During the week without a patch, you’ll have your period. After seven days, apply a new patch.

Don’t forget to check your patch regularly to make sure it’s still there. “If it comes off or gets damaged, you could be at risk for a pregnancy,” says Gressens. “Apply a new patch and use backup contraception for a week.”

Contraceptive injection

The contraceptive injection is a shot of progestin given by your healthcare provider every three months. It prevents pregnancy by suppressing ovulation and thickening cervical mucus.

Things to consider when choosing birth control

Birth control affects everyone differently. So, what works for you may not work for someone else. Before choosing birth control, think about your goals. Start by considering:

  • Whether you plan to have children in the future
  • If you’d prefer taking something daily, or using something that’s lower maintenance
  • Effectiveness
  • Your personal health
  • Potential side effects

“Birth control doesn’t prevent against sexually transmitted infections, so to protect yourself, use condoms or another barrier method,” Gressens says.

After weighing your options, talk to your women’s health provider. They can answer any questions you have and explain the pros and cons of each type. You’ll work together to find the right birth control for you.

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