Birth control can help prevent unintended pregnancies, reduce painful periods and spotting between periods and even protect against endometriosis (growths of the uterine lining that develop outside the uterus). Some methods require daily upkeep (like the pill), while others are “get it and forget it” methods like IUDs or implants.
There are a few different types of birth control pills. Most people who take the pill use a combination of estrogen and progestin. These pills are taken orally every day and help prevent pregnancy by stopping ovulation, thickening the cervix, and in some cases blocking sperm from reaching the egg. It’s important to follow the instructions on your pill pack, including using a backup form of contraception, like condoms, for the first 7 days you start taking them.
If you’re new to the pill, it may be helpful to pick a time of day to take it that will help you remember—like at lunch or before bed. Many people also find that having a daily reminder on their phone or tablet helps them stick with it. It’s also a good idea to keep your pills in the same place so they don’t get lost.
IUDs are one of the most effective forms of birth control if they’re used correctly. During the time they’re in place, both copper and hormonal IUDs prevent pregnancy by blocking sperm from reaching an egg. (Copper IUDs also trigger an immune response that creates a chemical environment in the uterus that’s toxic to sperm.)
Women with a history of pelvic infections or other complications should avoid copper IUDs, which can have some serious side effects, including cervical cancer and uterine perforation.
After insertion, a woman may have cramps or backaches for 1 to 2 days. Over-the-counter pain relievers can help with these symptoms. A doctor slides a plastic tube through your vagina and into your uterus to insert an IUD. It only takes a few minutes. Women who have IUDs should use backup contraceptives if they have unprotected sex. An IUD can be removed at an office visit if you decide it’s no longer right for you.
The implant releases progestin into your body to prevent pregnancy for up to 3 years. It is also reversible. It’s a good option for women who cannot use estrogen-containing birth control, like the pill, patch or ring. It may make your periods lighter, less painful, or not happen at all. It’s safe for breastfeeding, too.
If you decide to get the implant, a trained provider will numb your arm and put it in place. You may experience some pain or bruising in the area where it was inserted.
You will need to use a backup method of birth control, like condoms, for 7 days after the procedure. The implant doesn’t protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) so you should always use a condom for sex. You should also avoid gaps in contraceptive methods, like when switching from the pill to another form of birth control.
The patch contains a combination of estrogen and progestin, which prevent pregnancy by stopping your ovaries from releasing eggs. It also thickens your cervical mucus and thins the womb lining, so a fertilized egg is less likely to implant.
You’ll wear a patch for seven days at a time. It’s best to change it on the same day each week. You can shower, exercise, and swim with the patch on — but make sure you check it often to avoid it getting wet or falling off (that happens about 5 percent of the time).
With perfect use (following all directions exactly), the patch is about 99 percent effective. But remember that it doesn’t protect against sexually transmitted infections like chlamydia or gonorrhea, so you’ll still need to use a condom every time you have sex. Some medications can affect how well the patch works, too.
A vaginal ring is a soft plastic ring that sits high in the vagina and slowly releases pregnancy-preventing hormones. It prevents pregnancy by stopping your ovaries from releasing an egg each month, thickening the mucus around the entrance to your uterus (womb) and changing the lining of your uterus so a fertilised egg is less likely to attach and implant.
You can use a ring at any time during your menstrual cycle, but you have to insert it correctly. You can do this yourself by squishing the ring between your thumb and index finger. If you remove it for sex or exercise, make sure to put it back in right away. If it comes out for more than two hours, you need to use backup contraception like condoms for seven days.
You can wear the ring continuously — without taking it out for a week each month — to skip your period, but this is considered off-label and isn’t recommended by the manufacturer.
Also known as the Depo shot, this birth control method can be more reliable than pills or patches. You get a shot every 12-13 weeks, so you don’t have to remember to take a daily pill or worry about missing one. But you will need to visit a health center for the injection, and it can be expensive if your insurance doesn’t cover it.
The injection steadily releases the hormone progestin into your body, which prevents your ovaries from releasing an egg each month (ovulation). It also thickens the mucus around your cervix and makes it harder for sperm to move through the cervix to reach an egg.
You can start it at any time during your menstrual cycle, but it may take up to 3 months for it to become fully effective. You should use a backup method of contraception during this time.