Patch, pill, shot, ring: There are so many birth control methods out there that it can be difficult to choose.
Contraception's primary purpose is to prevent unwanted pregnancy, but not all methods work the same. It's helpful to be familiar with your options before visiting the doctor, so you can make the most informed choice.
Keep these considerations in mind when researching what birth control method is safest for you. Allow these questions to guide your research and don't replace the advice of a medical professional.
1. What's your schedule?
When women think of birth control, likely the first thing that comes to mind is the pill. Hormonal birth control pills need to be taken daily. For those on-the-go or with unpredictable schedules, this can be a headache, especially if a dose is accidentally missed.
You should consider your pace of life and daily schedule when choosing a birth control method because it's important to use your method of choice correctly and consistently. If you choose a method that doesn't align with your schedule, chances are you won't be using it consistently.
When researching methods, make sure to look into the frequency of dose. While taking the pill is a daily occurance, getting a hormonal birth control shot requires a doctor's appointment every three months (though some patients self-administer it at home). Using a hormonal birth control ring means changing it monthly. Some methods, such as IUDs or implants, require an in-office placement procedure but need no attention until they're removed, sometimes years later.
2. How well do you know your partner?
Open communication is a cornerstone of any relationship, and communicating about birth control is no exception. If you're in a monogamous relationship, talk with your partner about the methods you're considering.
If you have multiple partners and aren't looking to get pregnant, it's worth thinking about methods that both protect you from sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancy. While women run the risk of unwanted pregnancy, men are responsible for birth control and preventing sexually transmitted infection, too.
It's a safe bet to pair external condoms (also called male condoms) with any pregnancy prevention method you plan to use. On their own, condoms are only 85 percent effective at preventing pregnancy but are the only way, aside from abstinence, to prevent STIs. Keep condoms on hand to protect yourself and your partner in the heat of the moment.
3. How much does it cost?
Costs differ by birth control method. Two big factors affect the price: Whether or not the method requires a prescription and access to health insurance. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, employer-provided insurance as well as plans sold in the Marketplace must completely cover FDA-approved birth control methods. However, a recent SCOTUS ruling granted employer exemptions to the law.
Aside from condoms, hormonal birth control pills are one of the most affordable options. Less regular methods, such as shots or patches, cost more without insurance. If you don't have insurance, there are services that offer low-cost prescriptions to keep birth control accessible.
When considering the cost, don't forget to factor in how much you'll pay for a visit to your OBGYN as well as the cost of the prescription itself. Your best bet is to call your insurance provider, or the service you plan to use, to get a clear picture of the price before heading to the pharmacy.
4. Are you planning to get pregnant?
Your future family is important to consider when choosing a birth control method. Depending on what stage of life you're in, your preferred method will change, so don't hesitate to switch it up.
First, decide whether you need short-term or long-term protection. Month-to-month methods, like hormonal rings or pills, are easy to come off of quickly when it's time for a baby. Longer-term methods, like an implant or IUD, require a doctor's visit for removal.
When you talk to your doctor about your family's plans, make sure to ask about any lasting implications of hormonal methods. Some hormonal birth controls, such as the shot, can take a few months to fully leave your system, which means you might not be able to get pregnant as soon as you planned.
5. What are the side effects?
Most hormonal birth control methods have side effects, but some people don't experience them. For others the resulting symptoms can disrupt everyday life. Weigh the side effects of the methods you're considering and ask your doctor about them. Make a plan for what method you'll try next if the side effects of your first choice become unbearable.
Additionally, talk with other women in your life to what method they use, what side effects they experience and what worked for them. It will give you insight into the variety of ways bodies handle birth control and can help you know what to expect.
6. What are the benefits?
Some hormonal birth control methods have benefits outside of preventing pregnancy. For those struggling with hormonal acne or intense cramping, birth control pills can sometimes provide relief. Most hormonal methods tout the benefit of shorter, lighter periods and the ability to skip a period, which you should only try after talking with your doctor.
Additionally, certain methods are less risky for patients who have specific underlying conditions, a history of smoking or are over age 35.
7. How effective is it?
If you plan to engage in any sexual activity, it's important to know how effective your birth control is at preventing pregnancy. Consider your relationship status and family plans when weighing this factor. If you accidentally became pregnant, would you be prepared?
Abstinence is the only birth control method that is 100 percent effective. The effectiveness rate for common methods decreases as the method's use gets more involved. For example, birth control pills are 99 percent effective when used exactly as prescribed, but 91 percent effective based on common use because it's the patient's responsibility to take the pill correctly and consistently. However, spermicide only has a 71 percent effectiveness rate because it's difficult to use correctly.
Remember that aside from abstinence, condoms are the only effective way to prevent STIs. Even if you're using another method of birth control, adding a condom provides an extra layer of protection against pregnancy.
8. What are your personal convictions?
A variety of personal opinions and convictions can influence your birth control choice. Is a more natural approach important to you? Look into non-hormonal methods and natural family planning. Do you have religious beliefs? Certain types of birth control may not be for you, so make sure to research exactly how the method works before committing to it. If environmental concerns are high on your list, disposable methods might not be right for you. Check for greener alternatives and evaluate their effectiveness before using them.
With these questions in mind, continue to research and talk with your doctor. There are numerous methods out there, and one of them will work for you.