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Which birth control is right for me?

Whether you want to prevent pregnancy, control your periods or protect yourself from sexually transmitted diseases, birth control can help.

Finding the right option can take some time. Medications and devices don’t all work in the same way, and your goals for birth control may vary throughout your life.

But every woman who is sexually active and wants to avoid pregnancy should use birth control, says Kendra Gamble-Webb, M.D., a Piedmont obstetrician and gynecologist. Some methods can also alleviate chronic pelvic pain, endometriosis and heavy menstrual bleeding.

“When making the choice of what birth control is best for you, consider your family history and personal history of illness. Some hormonal contraception can increase the risk of a blood clot and stroke,” Dr. Gamble-Webb says.

Despite common misconceptions, she says, using birth control now won’t stop you from becoming pregnant later (when you’ve stopped using it). That’s why it’s important to find an option that fits your lifestyle and long-term plans.

“Once discontinuing these methods,” Dr. Gamble-Webb says, “most patients can get pregnant within six to twelve months.”

Here is a guide to commonly used birth control methods.  

Pills

One of the most popular forms of contraception, the pill prevents your body from ovulating, explains Dr. Gamble-Webb. In addition to preventing pregnancy, it can be used to treat chronic pelvic pain and heavy bleeding.

However, she adds, the pill must be used daily for effectiveness. If you have trouble remembering to take medication, the pill may not be the best solution for you.

Condoms

Relatively affordable and easy to use, condoms are the only birth control that can also prevent sexually transmitted diseases, Dr. Gamble-Webb says.

“I can’t stress this enough: If you are not in a monogamous relationship, you should use condoms every time,” she adds.

Condoms are not as effective at pregnancy prevention as other forms of birth control. However, if you want a non-hormonal option, condoms could be a good choice.

Intrauterine devices (IUDs)

Placed in the uterus by your physician, the IUD provides protection for five to ten years. It works by changing the lining of your uterus, Dr. Gamble-Webb says.

“It’s excellent for women who want long-lasting contraception,” she says.

IUDs are not only for women who have already given birth, she adds. With several IUDs on the market, including brands with and without hormones, there are options to suit varying needs.

Vaginal rings

Like the pill, vaginal rings give you both estrogen and progesterone. You’ll insert the ring inside your vagina, keep it there for three weeks, and then remove it for a week.  Your menstrual cycle will begin, and a new ring is inserted the following week.

Injections

Every three months, you’ll see your doctor for a shot of progesterone-only birth control. This method is useful for women who cannot use both progesterone and estrogen, Dr. Gamble-Webb says, and it can also help women with heavy bleeding.

However, she warns, this option causes weight gain in some women.

Patches

Wearable patches contain both estrogen and progesterone to prevent ovulation. They may pose risks for some people, Dr. Gamble-Webb says.

“The patch is definitely a medication that you don’t want to give to women who smoke cigarettes,” she explains, “because there is a higher risk of blood clots.”

Implants

This progesterone-only method is the most effective birth control outside abstinence, Dr. Gamble-Webb says. Your doctor will implant a small rod beneath your skin, and it prevents pregnancy for up to three years.

Emergency contraception

After unprotected sex, you have several days to use emergency contraception. It is hormonal therapy to prevent ovulation, Dr. Gamble-Webb says, and it is not as effective as other birth control methods. Additionally, emergency contraception can cause side effects like bleeding.

“It’s not something that we recommend you use in place of other birth control,” Dr. Gamble-Webb says.

With so many choices available, there’s an option to suit your lifestyle. But whatever method you select, Dr. Gamble-Webb advises you to keep a few things in mind at the start:

  • Abnormal bleeding is possible at first. If you bleed for more than 10 days, talk with your doctor.
  • Any hormone has the potential to cause depression and anxiety. If you experience those symptoms, let your physician know as soon as possible.
  • Some patients may experience gastrointestinal side effects. To alleviate those, Dr. Gamble-Webb recommends taking your medication at night or with food.

You may need to try several types of birth control before settling on one. Even if it takes a bit of time to find what works, birth control use is crucial.

“Once a woman makes a decision to become sexually active,” emphasizes Dr. Gamble-Webb, “she should immediately look at methods to prevent unwanted pregnancy.”

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