When it comes to effective methods of birth control, abstinence is still the only 100% guarantee that you will not become pregnant. There are, however, several other methods of contraception that offer effective birth control against an unwanted pregnancy as well as other health benefits such as birth control for hormone imbalance. Depending on your health history, lifestyle, and long term goals, your gynecologist can help you determine which method of birth control will work best for you. Let’s discuss the various types of over the counter birth control and prescription birth control available, their effectiveness, ease of use, and the pros and cons of birth control.
One of the most popular methods of barrier birth control, the condom works by blocking the introduction of sperm to the woman’s body, is widely available, and inexpensive to use. When used correctly, this is a very effective, although not infallible, method of preventing pregnancy. Risks in relying on this type of birth control alone include the possibility of improper application and the risk of breakage or displacement during use. Using another form of birth control in addition to a condom increases the effectiveness of this method. Condoms are not reusable.
Diaphragms & Cervical Caps
Another form of barrier birth control, a diaphragm is a rubber dome that is placed over the cervix before intercourse. A cervical cap is very similar to the diaphragm, but smaller. The cons include the need for both of these devices to be fitted by a doctor, and the possibility of improper placement. These devices cannot be used during a menstrual cycle due to the risk of toxic shock syndrome.
Birth Control Sponge
This over the counter birth control barrier device can be purchased without a prescription and is also placed over the cervix like the diaphragm and cervical cap. The sponge is a foam device that has the additional protection of a built in spermicide to help prevent pregnancy. The same risk of improper placement exists, and this device also cannot be used during a menstrual cycle. The condom, diaphragm, cervical cap, and sponge all offer users an 84 to 89% success rate when used correctly.
This device is a flexible ring approximately two inches wide. It is placed inside the vagina and does require a doctor’s prescription. It can be left in place for three weeks before being removed for one week to enable menstruation. The vaginal ring releases progestin and estrogen to help prevent pregnancy by affecting ovulation. Periods are usually lighter with less negative side effects, although breast tenderness and headaches are possible. The ring has a 92% success rate.
Birth Control Pill
The most common methods of contraception when it comes to prescription birth control is the birth control pill. The pill is sometimes prescribed as much as birth control for hormone imbalance as it is for contraception. This method uses estrogen and progestin to prevent ovulation, so that the woman’s body does not release an egg. When taken correctly, this is a very effective method of birth control that offers additional benefits such as lighter periods and less menstrual cramping for many women. The vaginal ring and birth control pill offer users a 92 to 95% success rate. You’ll need to consult with your doctor to obtain a prescription, and the downside of using this method includes the possibility of breast tenderness, increased risk for spotting, blood clots, and increased blood pressure.
Birth Control Patch
If you can’t remember to take a daily pill, you might want to consider a birth control patch, which delivers the same benefits of lighter periods and less cramping without the need to take a pill every day. The patch is worn on the skin for three weeks (changed weekly) and removed for one week. A prescription is required for the patch. It contains the same type of hormones as the birth control pill, with similar benefits and possible side effects. The effectiveness rating is 92%.
Birth Control Shot
The Depo-Provera hormonal birth control injection is a method of contraception that lasts for three months. For most women it works even better than the birth control pill or patch and offers the convenience of being administered in your doctor’s office just four times per year. There is no other device or additional method of birth control necessary. It may cause spotting or other side effects. Extremely effective, this method offers users a 97% success rate. A prescription is required.
Intrauterine Device (IUD)
This device is placed inside the uterus. There are several types of IUDs available today. The hormonal IUD must be replaced after 3-5 years, and the copper IUD can work effectively for as long as 10 years. Both types of intrauterine devices make it difficult for sperm to fertilize a woman’s eggs. This is one of the most long lasting methods of contraception, is very low maintenance, and the hormonal IUDs offer shorter, lighter periods for many women. However, IUDs can cause irregular bleeding or heavier bleeding, and copper IUDs can increase cramping with periods. There is also a risk of displacement. This is a highly effective method of birth control, as the IUD offers a 99% success rate.
Birth Control Implant
Next to abstinence, this may be the most effective method of birth control, with a success rate of 99%. A small rod the size of a matchstick is inserted in a woman’s upper arm and can remain there for three years. The small device releases the same type of hormones used in the birth control shot. The downside of this method is that it is more costly than other methods of birth control due to the exam, the cost of the device, and the insertion. Similar side effects as birth control, irregular periods are most common.
Plan B Pill
Also known as emergency contraception and the “morning after” pill, this method of contraception can be purchased at most pharmacies by persons 18 years of age or older. These pills are not a safe birth control method for regular use and are designed to prevent pregnancy in the event of an emergency. The hormones in these pills prevent an egg from implanting in the uterine wall. The pills offer a 98% success rate and are effective when taken up to 72 hours after unprotected intercourse. Possible side effects include nausea, vomiting, breast tenderness, abdominal pain, headache, dizziness, and fatigue and irregular period.
The effectiveness of birth control depends in large part on correctly employing whichever method you choose. Talk to your doctor to determine the various methods of contraception that would best fit your lifestyle and health needs. At Colorado Obstetrics and Women’s Health, our OBGYN staff offers women in the Colorado Springs area a personalized, comprehensive health care for all phases of life, from puberty through the childbearing years, into menopause and beyond. Give us a call today to schedule an appointment for a pap smear, pregnancy test, or wellness exam. We look forward to helping you achieve your best health.