“Family planning has far-reaching benefits for women and their families. Women who can plan the number and timing of their births enjoy improved health, experience fewer unwanted pregnancies and births, and have lower rates of induced, and often unsafe, abortion. In addition, women who have control over their fertility have a chance to get more schooling and find paid employment-achievements that enhance their social and economic status and improve the well-being of their families.” [Guttmacher Institute, 2000, "Women and Societies Benefit When Childbearing Is Planned]
While abstinence is the most effective way of preventing pregnancy, this is not always the best choice, especially if you are married or in a long-term relationship where sexual intimacy is important to your relationship.
There are many different types of birth control and choosing the method that is best for you can be confusing. Understanding your options and learning about each can help you make the right decision.
There are several main categories of birth control:
Implants - an implant is placed under the skin on your arm. This method has few side effects and lasts up to 3 years and is extremely effective . It may cause changes in your monthly cycle.
IUC - an IUC is placed in your uterus by your doctor. It lasts anywhere from 5 to 10 years, has few side-effects and is extremely effective. You do need to do regular checks on the string to make sure it is in place.
Sterilization - this method surgically prevents pregnancy by blocking either the eggs or sperm.
Hormonal methods are available for women and are effective in preventing pregnancy when used as prescribed. They can all cause changes in your monthly cycle, including having lighter periods (or eliminating periods).
Mini-Pill or Pill - a prescription for women, taken once a day that is effective when used as directed.
Patch - also available by prescription for women, a new patch is placed on the skin each week.
Ring - available by prescription, women must place a new ring into their vagina once per month
Shot - lasts for 12 weeks, must have your doctor give you a shot every 12 weeks
There are a number of barrier methods which are available over-the-counter, making them more convenient than the other methods, however, these methods are also less effective in preventing pregnancy. These methods include condoms (for men and women), diaphragm, spermicides, and the sponge.
Questions to Ask Your Doctor
Before deciding on a birth control method, you should talk with your doctor about your options. Some methods, such as birth control pills, may not be right for women with certain medical conditions. All have both benefits and disadvantages. A thorough discussion with your medical provider should help clear up misconceptions and help you find which method will best fit your lifestyle. The following are some questions you should ask your doctor:
Are there health conditions that will prevent me from taking birth control pills or other hormonal birth control methods?
Your doctor should explain that hormonal birth control methods have a small risk of causing blood clotting and you should be aware of your risk of heart disease and stroke. If you have had or at risk for breast cancer, your doctor should discuss progestin only birth control methods.
What are the side effects of hormonal birth control methods?
Many women take birth control pills with minimal side effects, and often these side effects disappear within a few weeks of starting the pills. However, it is important for you to be aware of any side effects and what side effects warrant you stopping the pills or contacting your doctor.
What are the medical risks of using hormonal birth control methods?
Your doctor should complete a thorough medical examination as well as discuss your family medical history to help you decide whether there are significant health risks from using hormonal birth control methods.
What non-hormonal methods of birth control are most effective?
Many women prefer not to use any birth control that contains hormones. There are several barrier methods that provide protection, but many are not as effective as the hormonal or surgical methods. Your doctor will be able to go over different methods, including an IUD which the doctor inserts in your uterus but does not use hormones to prevent pregnancy.
If I want to get pregnant, how long will it take after I stop using birth control?
This depends greatly on which method you are using; for example, when using barrier methods, you can get pregnant immediately. Your doctor should be able to give you additional information based on your choice of birth control.
What is Emergency Contraception?
Emergency contraception should not be used as a regular form of birth control but can help if you have had unprotected sex. Your doctor can explain more about this and you can also read: Emergency contraception: How much do you know about the morning after pill?
Will my birth control prevent STDs?
Birth control does not prevent the spread of STDs. Condoms help to reduce your risk of contracting STDs. Your doctor can further explain how to reduce your risk of contracting a STD.
“Choosing Your Birth Control Method,” 2009, Staff Writer, California Family Health Council
“What to Ask About Birth Control in Women,” 2008, Leslie Berger, The New York Times
“Women and Societies Benefit When Childbearing Is Planned,” 2002, August, Deirdre Wulf and Patricia Donovan, Guttmacher Institute
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.