Oh no, I forgot to take my pill today!
What? We used the last one last night?
I don't have time to run to the pharmacy today!
I have to wait how long before I can try to get pregnant?
If lately you have found yourself uttering these words and stressing out about your birth control, then perhaps you are overdue for a birth control check-up. If you have never used birth control before, then you definitely want to have all the facts before making such an important decision to avoid these situations in the future.
Today, women have more choices than ever when it comes to birth control and everyday more contraceptive options are approved by the FDA. Of course, with more birth control options come more choices and the most important question, "Which birth control option is best for me?" Before investing in a birth control method, start by taking an assessment of your needs, desires, health and lifestyle.
Here are some questions to ask yourself when deciding which birth control option is best for you:
- Are you 35 years of age or older?
- Is your overall health good or do you have specific health issues such as diabetes, obesity or high blood pressure?
- Do you smoke?
- How often do you have sex, and how many partners do you have?
- Do you want to have children in the future, and if so, how soon? and
- Do you have a health care provider and health insurance?
Types of Birth Control
Barrier methods include:
- devices (diaphragms, cervical caps, sponges);
- sheaths (male and female condoms); and
- spermicide (in the form of gels, foams, creams and tablets), which block or stop sperm from traveling to the egg.
Some of these products are for one-time use (male and female condoms, sponges and spermicide), while others may be reused (diaphragms and cervical caps).
Hormonal methods work by preventing pregnancy by interfering with ovulation, fertilization and/or implantation of the fertilized egg using female hormones (estrogen and progestin). Hormones may be administered orally by ingesting a combination pill (estrogen and progestin) or the mini pill (progestin only).
This happens on a monthly or quarterly cycle, or applied internally through a vaginal ring or externally through a patch or an injection. The time interval between hormone dosages is one of the most important distinctions between the different hormonal options.
Implants are devices inserted into the body that can be kept in place for a few years. The primary device, known as an intrauterine device (IUD), affects the way sperm move and stops it from traveling to the egg. It also changes the lining of the uterus, making it harder for an egg to attach.
The Good, The Bad and The Bottom Line
One-Time Use Barriers: Condoms (Male and Female), Sponge and Spermicide Alone
What you will love: you can buy them over the counter without a prescription. For condom users, you will get the highest level of protection from sexually transmitted infections (STIs), except for abstinence. There are no hormonal side effects, and there is no wait if you want to get pregnant tomorrow.
What you will hate: the loss of spontaneity, especially when the moment arrives, and the nightstand is bare. The irritation and rash if you are allergic to latex or spermicide. The mess and keeping track of how long to leave in the sponge and spermicide to be effective without the risk of developing toxic shock syndrome. For the environmentalist, the thought of cluttering landfills with these disposables.
Bottom line: if you are primarily concerned about safety and are actively searching for Mr. Right or dating a lot just for fun, the latex condom provides the maximum protection against sexually transmitted infections. Condoms and sponges are also the most accessible form of birth control.
Muti-Use Barriers: Diaphragm and Cervical Cap with Spermicide
What you will love: the cost savings and eco-friendliness of these multi-use devices. No hormonal sides effects. No wait if you want to get pregnant tomorrow.
What you will hate: the visit to the doctor's office to have the diaphragm fitted or to get a prescription for the cervical cap. For busy women or preoccupied minds, remembering to take out the device within the window period. The mess and possible side effects from irritation, potential allergic reactions and urinary tract infections.
Bottom line: if you are concerned about costs and are comfortable using insertable birth control then the diaphragm will give you the most bang for the buck as the cheapest birth control.
The Oral Pill
What you will love: the 95% effectiveness rating, shorter, lighter and more predictable periods, and the return of spontaneity in the bedroom and elsewhere. For extended pill users, you have the bonus of having only 4 scheduled periods a year.
What you will hate: for the forgetful -- remembering to take your pill every day. The potential sides effects include headaches, nausea/vomiting, changes in your period/spotting or bleeding between periods, breast tenderness, changes in mood, and weight gain. The increased health risks for women over 35 and smokers.
Bottom line: if you are stickler for routine and are in good health, younger than 35 years of age and a non-smoker, the pill is a highly effective method of contraception at a reasonable cost.
Hormonal Applicants: Patch, Vaginal Ring and Injection
What you will love: the 99% effectiveness rating, shorter, lighter and more predictable periods, and more spontaneous sex. Saving your memory cells for something else because you only have to remember to change the patches or vaginal ring (NuvaRing) every 3 weeks, or visit your health care provider every 3 months for a shot (Depo-Provera).
What you will hate: the exposure to higher-than-average levels of estrogen than most oral contraceptives. Waiting a few months to get pregnant once the biological clock has rung. Putting up with the same side effects as taking an oral pill plus the risk of increased vaginal discharge, swelling and irritation. For injection users, there is also an increased risk for bone loss if you get the shot for more than 2 years.
Bottom line: if you are somewhat forgetful or have a busy lifestyle, are in good health and don't mind the wait to try to get pregnant after stopping your contraception, then an alternative hormonal application offers a few more conveniences that the traditional pill.
Implanted Devices (Copper IUD, IUD and Progestin, and Rod and Progestin).
What you will love: a long-term contraception solution with a 99% effectiveness rating. The rod can stay in place for 3 years; the IUD with progestin for 5 years; and the copper IUD for 12 years. You will also be hormone-free with the copper IUD. The rod is implanted in a less intrusive area under the skin in your arm.
What you will hate: upfront costs which can range from $500 to $1,000. There are common side effects, which can include cramps and irregular bleeding and uncommon side effects, which could include pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility. Overweight women will also be disappointed with the rod's reduced effectiveness for them.
Bottom line: if you can't envision the pitter-patter of little feet on the horizon, then an implanted device offers a long-term birth control investment.