Today more women than ever have access to an array of effective birth control options. But which birth control is right for you? Choosing the best birth control method is a process you should talk through with your primary care provider or gynecologist. Every birth control method has pros and cons and different levels of effectiveness. Some methods may not be viable options for women with certain health conditions.
Use the information below as your guide for learning more about different birth control methods. When you feel ready to discuss the best option for yourself, schedule an appointment online with a gynecologist in Tempe or Mesa. Or, if you’d prefer for a health care professional to contact you, fill out our brief Contraception Questionnaire.
Because a prescription is not required, barrier methods, such as the male and female condom, are some of the most common birth control methods in use. These methods work by preventing sperm from meeting the egg.
Male condoms are about 85 percent effective (female condoms, 75 percent) when used correctly.
The birth control pill is perhaps the next most popular method of birth control. There are two general categories of prescription birth control pills: (1) combination pills, which contain estrogen and progestin, and (2) mini pills, which only contain progestin. A pack of combination birth control pills can be monophasic, meaning every pill contains the same amount of hormones, or multiphasic, which means that the hormone levels can vary, based on when in the cycle the pill is supposed to be taken. Combination pills work by suppressing ovulation, thickening cervical mucus, and thinning the endometrium (lining of the uterus).
Combination birth control pills are about 99 percent effective when taken correctly.
The mini pill is similar to the combination pill, but contains only progestin – no estrogen. These pills thicken cervical mucus, preventing sperm from reaching the egg. They also change the endometrium so that a fertilized egg cannot be implanted. Some mini pills can stop ovulation, as well.
Mini pills are about 95 percent effective when taken correctly.
Ortho Evra / “The Patch”
Ortho Evra, commonly referred to as “the patch,” is a hormonal birth control method that contains estrogen and progestin – just like combination birth control pills. Women wear the patch on the upper torso, abdomen, buttocks, or upper arms for three weeks (one patch per week), and then go without a patch for the fourth week of the month. Like combination birth control pills, Ortho Evra functions by suppressing ovulation and thickening cervical mucus.
The patch is about 99 percent effective when used correctly. It is 92 percent effective in women weighing over 198 pounds.
An intrauterine device (IUD) is a small, plastic, T-shaped device that is inserted into the uterus via the cervix. There are several different types of IUDs available, but all of them prevent healthy sperm from reaching the egg. Some IUDs contain copper, which is slowly released into the uterine cavity. These IUDs may last as long as ten years. Other IUDs contain hormones, such as progesterone. Many women like their IUD because there is no opportunity for user failure – in contrast with other birth control methods, such as the condom and the pill.
Intrauterine devices are 99 percent effective.
Depo-Provera is a type of hormonal injection (similar to progesterone) that can prevent pregnancy. Like the IUD, there is no risk of user error, which makes it a popular choice for many women. Depo-Provera injections are administered once every 12 weeks (in the arm or buttocks). Injections provide pregnancy protection for up to 14 weeks.
Depo-Provera is 99 percent effective.
Essure for Tubal Ligation
The Essure procedure is a tubal ligation procedure. It is the only FDA-approved female sterilization procedure that has resulted in zero pregnancies during clinical trials. Unlike other tubal ligation procedures, there is no clamping or severing of the fallopian tubes, no general anesthesia is needed, and no incisions are required. Instead, with the Essure procedure, two small micro-inserts made of a stainless steel core, nickel titanium alloy, and polyester fibers are inserted via catheter through the vagina, cervix, and uterus into the fallopian tubes. Over the next three months, the surrounding tissue in the tubes grows around the coils, forming an occlusion or blockage in the fallopian tubes. This occlusion prevents sperm from ever coming into contact with the ovum. Three months after the procedure, patients have a special x-ray with a contrast agent, which confirms that the fallopian tubes are occluded.
Essure is 99.8 percent effective, based on five years of clinical data, making it the absolute most effective form of birth control ever designed.
NuvaRing, a hormonal vaginal ring, is one of the most popular forms of birth control, having been prescribed over 44 million times in the U.S. over the past decade alone. It is a small, doughnut-shaped device that is inserted high in the vagina. The ring releases estrogen and progesterone for three weeks, and is removed for the fourth week of the cycle. It is not a barrier device, but functions by suppressing ovulation and increasing cervical mucus, which makes it more difficult for sperm to enter the cervix.
The NuvaRing is 98 percent to 99 percent effective when used correctly.
Emergency post-coital contraceptives (EPOC), better known as “morning after pills,” can be used within 72 hours of having unprotected sex. Most of these drugs consist of two doses of hormone pills, which are taken 12 hours apart. These drugs work by blocking egg production, preventing fertilization, or preventing fertilized eggs from being implanted in the uterus. A prescription is required to obtain these pills.
Emergency contraception is approximately 75 percent effective when used within 72 hours of unprotected intercourse.
How do you know which birth control is right for you?
The above list is not a comprehensive list of all birth control methods available. Rather, this list can be used to help you understand a few of the many different types of birth control on the market. So, which birth control is right for you? Only your primary care provider or gynecologist can help you decide. Here are a few questions to ask yourself and your physician when choosing a birth control method.
- How effective is it? Obviously, the purpose of birth control is to not become pregnant. If you absolutely cannot get pregnant at this time in your life, then you will probably want to consider a birth control method with a very high effectiveness rate, such as the combination pill.
- How much room for user error is there? If you know that you’re not likely to remember to take a pill every day, then you might be better off choosing a birth control method that doesn’t require any action or maintenance on your part. Maybe Depo-Provera or an IUD would be best for you.
- What does it cost? Contraceptive costs can vary widely, from cheap or free (condoms) to thousands of dollars (some tubal ligation procedures). Check with your insurance provider to see what options may be covered in your plan. Learn more about how the Affordable Care Act may affect your healthcare costs and needs as a woman. [LINK TO ‘Understanding the Affordable Care Act’ PAGE]
- Does it protect against infection? Do you need a contraceptive that protects against STDs? If so, talk to your gynecologist about the best away to protect against pregnancy and disease.
- Do you want to have children someday? When? Women who come off some birth control methods, such as Depo-Provera, may have to wait a year or so before they are able to conceive. If you have a timeline in mind for having children, let your gynecologist know so that you don’t use a contraceptive that will postpone your ability to conceive once you’re ready.
Health Conditions That May Affect Your Choice in Birth Control
Some health conditions may preclude you from using certain birth control methods. Let your physician know if you:
- Are or could be pregnant.
- Are currently breast-feeding.
- Have ever had blood clots in the legs or lungs – or have a close family member who has.
- Have had any serious health issues, such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, or migraine headaches.
- Have an STD.
- Have ever had breast cancer.
Have more questions about which type of birth control is right for you? Take our Contraception Questionnaire, and a health care professional from our practice will get in touch with you shortly. Also, you can schedule an appointment with a gynecologist in Tempe or Mesa online or by calling Arizona Associates for Women’s Health at 480-257-2700.