As we build awareness around unplanned pregnancy with World Contraception Day, it’s the perfect time to better understand the different types of birth control. By improving awareness, this day strives to help people of all ages to make informed choices about their sexual and reproductive health.
Types of birth control options
Birth control pill: Combination pills and Progestin only pills
A daily pill for oral contraception is often the most common form of birth control for many women. Oral contraceptives are more than 99% effective when used as directed.
A combination pill comes in the form of one pill containing both estrogen and progestin hormones. Combination pills work by preventing your ovaries from releasing an egg. A combined pill may also affect the uterus lining and cervical mucus to stop sperm from reaching the egg.
Rather than stopping an egg from being released from the ovaries, progestin only pills release only one hormone (progesterone) to prevent ovulation, thicken cervical mucus and thin the endometrium to stop implantation.
Although taking oral contraceptive pills is a favoured form of birth control for many women and has been proven to be highly effective, this method relies upon the person adhering to a strict schedule, as advised by their doctor. There are active pills and seven inactive pills within the pill pack. Active pills must always be taken at the same time each day, as a missed pill will decrease the effectiveness of birth control. Taking inactive pills allows you to have your period and helps you to continually reinforce the ritual of taking the pill at the same time each day.
Various types of combined hormonal birth control are available, delivering different doses of hormones to suit the needs of each individual. If you are considering combination birth control pills, it’s a good idea to discuss your options with your healthcare provider to determine the most effective contraceptive pill for you.
Vaginal ring birth control
This form of birth control contains hormones that prevent pregnancy in the form of a soft latex-free ring inserted into the vagina. The ring works by releasing a continuous dose of progestogen and oestrogen. The low dose release of these hormones works to prevent ovulation for up to three weeks.
According to recent studies, approximately 1.5 million women worldwide use a vaginal ring as their chosen type of birth control. While it is a common choice among many women, it’s important to note that the ring may cause high blood pressure, as with other hormone pills. Before obtaining a script from your doctor, it’s essential that you know your average blood pressure and monitor your readings when using the ring to minimise the likelihood of developing health problems in the future.
An intrauterine hormonal device (IUD) is used as a form of long-term birth control to prevent pregnancy. Unlike oral contraceptives, an IUD does not rely on a person taking the pill daily but is a T-shaped device inserted into the uterus. After insertion, a hormonal IUD can last up to 6 years before losing its effectiveness. In some cases, weight gain may be a side effect due to increased water retention and bloating due to progestin.
When discussing contraception for safe sex and to prevent pregnancy, it’s essential to understand that both men and women play a role in making an informed decision. While birth control pills may assist in preventing pregnancy, they will not protect against sexually transmitted infections or diseases. If you take the pill for pregnancy prevention, it’s also worthwhile to use condoms in addition to birth control pills, as taking the pill is not 100% effective.
As the most well-known form of emergency contraception, the morning after pill can be taken after sex to prevent pregnancy. The morning after pill should be taken as soon as possible following a sexual encounter but can be taken up to 5 days after sex, depending on which pill you are prescribed. Emergency contraception is not guaranteed to be completely effective in preventing pregnancy but has a success rate of between 80% and 98%.
Preventative birth control is recommended for long-term use, as the morning after pill should not be an ongoing method of contraception.
Everything to know about taking birth control pills
Hormonal contraceptives are not only used for preventing pregnancy. They can also regulate the menstrual cycle, alleviate symptoms of endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome and help with various other women’s health conditions. The pill works by releasing two hormones into the body that affect the ovaries and stop sperm from joining with an egg.
The general pill pack will contain a supply of the active pill and inactive pills, which should be taken as advised by your doctor, following a strict schedule to maintain efficacy. This treatment comes in the form of a mini pill, making it an easy solution even for those who aren’t great at taking tablets.
As with any medication, certain risk factors are associated with taking birth control pills. In some cases, taking a hormone pill can increase the risk of elevated blood pressure and blood clots. If you’re considering oral contraceptive pills, discuss your medical history with your doctor and seek advice surrounding which type of birth control pill is right for you. If your GP identifies any potential health risks, they may suggest an alternative course of treatment for birth control.
Is taking the pill only used for pregnancy prevention?
Although preventing pregnancy is an everyday use of the oral contraceptive pill, this medication is also frequently prescribed to treat other hormonal health conditions.
Birth control pills may relieve the symptoms of endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome and treat a range of other women’s health conditions.
Do birth control pills work?
Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Planned Parenthood shows that the most commonly prescribed birth control pills are effective 99.7% of the time. Although this makes oral contraception one of the most effective birth control methods, it is highly dependent on the patient adhering to a strict prescription schedule. A missed pill may lead to unplanned pregnancy, while other factors also have the potential to taint the pill’s effectiveness, such as certain antibiotics and bouts of vomiting.
Taking the pill should always be a consistent part of your daily routine for it to be a highly effective form of birth control. If you are a forgetful person, it’s a good idea to use a birth control reminder app or set a reoccurring alarm on your phone for a friendly reminder each day.
Understanding reproductive health
As we focus on raising awareness with World Contraception Day, it’s an excellent time to develop a deeper understanding of your own sexual and reproductive health.
Your GP or gynecologist can often be an invaluable source of information, as they know your personal circumstances and medical history. Planned parenthood or family planning clinics can also provide resources and knowledge to guide you through this journey.
Risks of unprotected sex
Many women take the pill to prevent pregnancy; however, it’s crucial to understand that while a birth control pill may be highly effective in minimising the chances of unplanned pregnancy, it will not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
The only guaranteed way to ensure you do not contract an STI or have an unplanned pregnancy is to abstain from sex. For many people, this is not a lifestyle they wish to lead. If you are sexually active, the best way to minimise your chances of infection is to use a condom and see your doctor for regular sexual health checks.