Choosing a Birth Control Method That's Right For You
The OB/GYN physicians at Northern Florida's All About Women overview birth control options available to women - and how to choose one
It's just part of life: if you're a sexually active woman, you have to figure out your approach to birth control. While condoms are the only form of birth control that also protects against STDs, many health care providers recommend, and many women choose, to use an additional more reliable form of birth control as well.
Here we'll overview some of the most effective forms of birth control for women, highlighting each one's particular benefits. We'll also explore three factors you should consider which can affect the form of birth control you choose.
Forms of Female Birth Control
There are many different forms of birth control, which include ones for men. We'll of course focus on options for women. The Association of Reproductive Health Professionals (ARHP) considers the following forms of birth control to be extremely effective:
The following two options (Implant, IUD) are known medically as Long Acting Reversible Contraceptives (LARC).
- Implant (Nexplanon): An implant is a tiny plastic rod that is inserted into your upper arm where it releases a hormone called etonogestrel. The implant prevents pregnancy for three years. They have the advantage of being a low-maintenance and fairly long term. Implants are considered safe for use when breastfeeding, or for use by women who cannot use estrogen.
- IUD: IUDs are small, flexible devices inserted into the uterus to prevent pregnancy. IUDs have the advantage of being long term, low-maintenance forms of birth control that are just as effective as sterilization with the benefit of reversibility. Fertility usually returns quickly after having an IUD removed.
Women who choose an IUD have the option between a hormonal or non-hormonal IUD. Hormonal IUDs (brand names Mirena and Skyla) emit small amounts of progesterone into the uterus to prevent pregnancy.
These hormones may also help relieve the symptoms of heavy periods. They are effective for three to five years, depending on the brand. Non-hormonal IUDs emit trace amounts of copper that prevent pregnancy. They are effective for up to 10 years.
- Sterilization: For women who are sure they're done having children, sterilization is a permanent birth control option. Learn more about these options and procedures here.
These forms of birth control are considered very effective by the ARHP:
- Depo-Provera Shot: Depo-Provera is a progestin shot you receive from your OB/GYN every 12 weeks. The low-maintenance shot can offer fewer cramps and lighter periods for women, but it can take up to a year to get pregnant after removal.
- Oral Contraceptives: One of the most popular forms of birth control, oral contraceptives, commonly called "the pill", come in an estrogen/progestin combo pill or a progestin only form. While you have to take the pill at the same time every day for maximum effectiveness, it may reduce heavy periods and can offer some protection against some health conditions. Fertility returns quickly after you stop taking the pill.
- Patch (Ortho Evra): The patch is an adhesive square worn on the body, which releases hormones similar to the pill that prevent pregnancy. The patch must be changed weekly, but offers many of the same benefits as the pill, including a quick return to fertility, without the daily upkeep.
- Vaginal Ring (Nuva Ring): The vaginal ring is a flexible, small ring that you insert into the vagina every three weeks. The ring releases estrogen and progestin to prevent pregnancy, and offers many of the same benefits of the pill.
What's the Right Choice for You?
While all these types of female birth control will do the job, it's a big decision to figure out which will work best for you.
You should consider certain lifestyle factors that can affect your choice of birth control method. Here are three questions to ask yourself:
- What's Your Pregnancy Outlook? If you want to get pregnant within the next couple of years, you may want to choose an easily reversible form of birth control. If you're done having children, you might want to consider sterilization.
- What's Your Personality? Are you good about taking medication on a schedule or do you need something that you can forget about? The pill is an easy, accessible choice for women who can remember to take it, but options like the ring or implant may be better for women who want something they can forget about.
- Are You Concerned About Hormones? Women who are nursing may want a birth control that doesn't contain estrogen since it can lower milk supply. Women who want to avoid hormones all together may consider a copper IUD or a barrier form of birth control.
The OB/GYN doctors and midwives at All About Women are always open to discussing the pros and cons of birth control methods, and helping you choose the right one.