Birth control is certainly a wonderful thing and there are a wide variety of options out there to choose from. But, that can make it difficult to decide which birth control method is best because of the wide variety of options available!
To begin with, have a look at the birth control types available, their benefits and side effects. You can find this information in my birth control guide here.
Next, consider how birth control fits into your lifestyle and pick a method that is effective, convenient, acceptable to you and your partner, and that does not cause side effects that are very bothersome for you.
10 questions to ask yourself and your clinician
Your birth control decision may be influenced by more than your sex life. Some of the things you might want to think about when choosing your contraception are:
- Is it convenient?
- What are the potential side effects?
- Do I have to remember to use it and, if so, will I remember?
- How soon will it start working?
- Does it protect me against sexually transmitted infections?
- How will it affect my periods? Will this method cause me to bleed more or less?
- Will the bleeding I have while using this method be predictable or not predictable?
- Is this method reversible?
- Will it affect my chances of getting pregnant after stopping the contraception and can I get pregnant immediately after stopping it?
- How easy is it to access? E.g. Is it easy for me to get a prescription/to find somewhere to get the coil fitted/have blood pressure checked every year?
Different birth control for different circumstances
Here are a few examples of how you and your clinician might weigh up the pros and cons based on your lifestyle, sex life and more.
These aren’t one-size-fits-all, but more an example of some of the more common birth control options that women choose at these stages of life.
Starting out having sex
Starting a combined hormonal contraceptive (CHC), in the form of a pill (or ring or patch), or progesterone only pill is usually the birth control the many young women start with.
It is sometimes used during the teenage years, before sexual activity begins, to regulate periods and it can also help with acne.
A challenge with CHCs is that they need to be taken regularly and need commitment, otherwise, they don’t work in preventing pregnancy.
If you are starting out having sex and don’t really want periods, you might prefer the Depo injection. The injection can delay the return of your fertility, which may not be bothersome if you aren’t planning a pregnancy any time soon. The Depo is not recommended for more than 2 years however due to bone density loss unless other birth control methods are considered inadequate.
Casual sexual partners
If you are having sex with multiple partners or having casual sex, it is usually recommended you use condoms, as these are the only contraception that protects against both STIs and pregnancy at the same time.
There is no reason, if you are young and sexually active, not to try out longer acting reversible contraception, such as the intrauterine system (Mirena coil), intrauterine device (copper coil) or an implant.
You need to find the time to book and have it fitted at a family planning clinic, but it means peace of mind in terms of contraception for the next 3-5 years, depending on which one you choose.
When breastfeeding, you shouldn’t take contraceptives with oestrogen in them, so the combined hormonal contraceptives aren’t an option. But all progesterone forms are suitable.
And don't be fooled by the fact that breastfeeding has stopped your periods! You may still fall pregnant during this time.
Breastfeeding only fully protects you from pregnancy about 80% of the time, so if you are very sure you would rather not have an unplanned pregnancy on your hands - any of the progesterone only contraceptives are suitable.
Often we start a progesterone only pill in the postnatal checkup, whilst the mother books for long acting reversible contraception to be fitted.
In between having children
If you are considering having more children and don’t mind using a form of contraception that’s less reliable, then withdrawal (pulling out before ejaculation) or Family Awareness Methods (using body temperature measurements and apps specifically for this) might be suitable.
If you’ve completed your family
If you know you’re almost certainly not keen to get pregnant again, long acting reversible contraception is a good option, as you don't have to think about it once it’s fitted.
If you are also in your 40s and heading towards the menopause, a hormonal coil is a great option because if you choose to take HRT for symptoms of the menopause then the progesterone in the coil can act as the progesterone part of HRT. Plus it can be kept in until after the menopause if fitted after the age of 45.
If your current birth control doesn’t suit you
If you didn't get on with one hormonal method, it doesn’t mean that all hormonal methods are unsuitable. Some are very suitable and can significantly improve your quality of life, particularly if you have acne or heavy, painful periods.
So if you are having issues with your birth control, discuss the issues that are important to you in a birth control method with your clinician and find the most suitable method for you!
The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of a doctor with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never delay seeking or disregard professional medical advice because of something you have read here.