Among many other topics, a woman’s right to access and choose a method of birth control has come up as a major point of discussion. In the ever-changing world of healthcare, it is sometimes difficult to know what options exist and how to access them, especially if you are not covered by insurance or do not regularly visit your OB-GYN.
Efficacy and convenience is also a big concern among women, such as those who do not plan on having children for a few years, or maybe at all.
When choosing a birth control method, it is important to consider your present and future reproductive needs. Creating a “reproductive life plan” before you get started should help you make the right decision. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) defines this as “a set of personal goals regarding whether, when, and how to have children based on individual priorities, resources, and values.” Your goals right now may be vastly different from your goals in five years, so keep in mind that you should choose a method that can be tailored to you!
While it is no substitute for a visit with your doctor to discuss your options, here is a quick pros and cons guide for understanding some of the newest and most common forms of birth control. Let’s look at these methods in order from most to least effective:
The only 100% effective, free, and no-side-effects form of birth control. However, many women find that abstaining from sexual activity is unrealistic and does not suit their personal needs.
You’ll need a prescription for …
This is a small, flexible rod that is surgically inserted into the inner upper arm. It is over 99.9% effective at preventing pregnancy. With this implant, you would no longer need to take birth control daily, and it lasts up to three years! However, some women report unpleasant side effects such as prolonged bleeding followed by lack of periods, uncomfortable insertion, headache, and acne. This option is also very expensive if not fully covered by your insurance.
Intrauterine device, aka the IUD:
This is a small, T shaped device which is inserted directly into your uterus by your physician. Some contain hormones (99.9% effective), others do not (99.2% effective). It is up to you to decide which to use, but this choice should be carefully considered with the help of a physician. Keep in mind that the hormonal IUD will come with some side effects, such as headaches, breast tenderness, breakthrough bleeding, and eventual loss of your period. This option is safe to use while breastfeeding, and fertility returns soon after taking the IUD out. IUDs can last over 5 years depending on which option you choose! This allows for an extremely effective and long lasting method of birth control for women who aren’t planning on childbearing for a while, albeit with some side effects. This can also be considerably expensive depending on your insurance.
These injections are given every three months, and are 99.7% effective at preventing pregnancy after the first injection. They are safe to use while breastfeeding, so women who have just given birth may consider this as a great option for preventing another pregnancy! Some side effects include headache, nausea, dizziness, and bloating. Remember, these are all hormonal effects of a drug being injected into your body!
This is a flexible ring that is inserted into the vagina on a monthly basis. It is about 92% effective, and is worn for three weeks at a time. It is more affordable than some other forms of birth control, but problems include headache, discomfort during sexual activity, and the possibility of expulsion from the body.
OCPs, or “the pill”:
This is the tried and true option for many women over the past few decades. When used CORRECTLY, oral contraceptive pills can be up to 97% effective at preventing pregnancy. Keep in mind that these pills should be taken every single day, preferably around the same time each day. Some cons of taking the pill include interactions with other medications, the responsibility of having to take a pill daily, and some hormonally related side effects. However, this form of birth control is often used to make periods more regular, lighter, and decrease menstrual cramps and acne. This is also a pretty affordable option depending on your insurance.
If getting a prescription won’t work…
Don’t give up on condoms just yet! If used properly, these are very effective, but have a typical use efficiency of 84%. They are also one of the only forms of birth control (other than abstinence) that can protect against sexually transmitted infections. They are widely available in many drugstores and even grocery stores. Condoms (male or female) are typically inexpensive, and some clinics even offer them for free. Using a condom also involves your partner in contraception. Some downsides to condoms are the possibility that they may break, and also can decrease spontaneity during sexual activity.
Use an emergency contraceptive (EC) in situations where your birth control may have failed, you didn’t use any, or you aren’t sure whether you’ve been consistent with your OCPs. These pills may be taken up to 72 hours after unprotected sex, but are more effective the sooner you take them. They are about 89% effective at preventing pregnancy if taken within the 72 hour window. Emergency contraceptives usually cost around $40-$50, and can be found at your local pharmacy. Recent studies have shown that Plan B (progestin-only) has decreased effectiveness in women whose BMI is over 26.
In this case, it is recommended that women with a BMI over 26 take another form of EC called ella (ulipristal). Ella is even more effective at preventing pregnancy, and can be taken up to 5 days after unprotected sex. However, ella often requires a prescription, so if you are unable to get one in time, try to take Plan B (progestin) as soon as possible. Some side effects of both of these medications include nausea, vomiting, and irregular bleeding.
This is just a quick overview of some of the many forms of birth control available to women. Speak with your physician or schedule an appointment at Planned Parenthood to learn of all the options, and choose the best one for you. Remember, you are your own advocate when it comes to your healthcare! Stay informed, and make the best decisions for your bright future.