Contraception (Birth Control) Pills: Everything You Need to Know

Contraception (Birth Control) Pills: Everything You Need to Know

When there are so many birth control options, how do you know which one to choose? Birth control methods include various types of hormonal pills, condoms, IUDs, and more. Here’s what to know when deciding which is right for you.

What Is Birth Control?

Birth control (contraception) is any device, medicine, or medical procedure used to prevent pregnancy. When it comes to birth control, most forms are for female contraception. Male birth control methods include condoms and vasectomy (surgery).

Female birth control use is fairly common in the United States. The CDC reports that more than 65% of women in the U.S. between the ages of 15 and 49 use some kind of contraception.

We’ve come a long way since the people of ancient Greece placed goat bladders in their vaginas to keep from getting pregnant.3 Whether you want a pill you take every day, a shot in your arm four times a year, or a device placed in your uterus (which could last more than a decade), you’ve got options.

Some forms of birth control, like condoms, you can buy off a store shelf. Others require a prescription or a visit with a healthcare provider.

Types of Birth Control

Your birth control choices include the ones below:1

  • Barrier methods (male and female condoms) keep sperm from reaching your uterus.
  • IUDs (intrauterine devices) are small T-shaped devices. When one is placed inside your uterus, it stops sperm from fertilizing your egg.
  • Hormonal methods (like the pill, implant, shot, ring, patch, and some IUDs) keep your ovaries from releasing an egg each month.
  • Sterilization (tubal ligation for women or vasectomy for men) is a permanent surgical method to prevent pregnancy.
  • Natural family planning relies on you figuring out the days you’re most likely to get pregnant, then not having sex (or using a barrier method) on those days. You may also hear this called a fertility awareness-based method or a natural rhythm method. Products like fertility monitors can help track when you’re most likely to conceive.
  • Spermicide (in foam, suppositories, or film) blocks sperm from reaching your uterus.
  • Emergency contraception (as a pill or IUD) is available if your current birth control fails. Birth control can fail if a condom breaks or you forget to take your pill. It can’t reverse a pregnancy that’s already started, but it does reduce the chances that sperm fertilizes an egg.
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Birth Control Side Effects

As good as birth control is in preventing pregnancy, it can have its downside too. Side effects can range from mild to serious. Talk to your healthcare provider if you’re concerned about possible side effects from your birth control. Here’s a breakdown of the side effects by birth control type:

  • Birth control pills can cause side effects like spotting, sore breasts, nausea, and headaches. Some types containing more than one hormone can also increase your risk of blood clots and high blood pressure. These conditions can lead to a stroke or heart attack.
  • IUDs come in two forms: copper and hormonal. With the copper IUD, you may have painful periods and bleeding for the first few months. If you opt for a hormonal IUD, you may see spotting, more days of bleeding, and heavier bleeding at first. Other side effects include headaches, nausea, sore breasts, and mood changes.
    IUDs also increase the risk of ectopic pregnancies. An ectopic pregnancy is when the fertilized egg implants somewhere other than the uterus. It is a serious medical problem that requires immediate medical treatment.
  • Vaginal rings may cause increased discharge, vaginal infection or other irritation, sore breasts, headache, vomiting, diarrhea, changes in sex drive, and weight changes. More serious but uncommon side effects include chest pain, shortness of breath, and depression. As a form of hormonal birth control, vaginal rings pose the same risks as the pill, namely an increased risk of blood clots and high blood pressure.
  • Birth control shots can cause irregular bleeding. In the first year, you may also have longer periods of bleeding or spotting. Sometimes weight gain is reported as a side effect but is usually less than 5 pounds on average.
  • Birth control patches can irritate your skin and cause breakthrough bleeding. They can also raise your risk of blood clots and stroke.
  • Spermicides can irritate the vagina. Spermicides are recommended as contraception if you’re in a monogamous relationship (you have sex with only one person) and that person is HIV-negative.
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