The INSIDER Summary:
• There are eight types of prescription, FDA-approved birth control.
• Each one has different side effects and effectiveness.
• INSIDER spoke with a gynecologist and learned the three questions you need to ask yourself to find the best contraceptive for you.
Not all birth control is created equal — and that can make choosing a method insanely complicated.
Currently, your doctor can prescribe one of eight different of FDA-approved contraceptives (diaphragm, cervical cap, pills, patch, ring, injections, implant, or IUD) and each method has a different rate of effectiveness, plus different potential side effects.
So how do you sort through the dizzying array of options? INSIDER asked gynecologist Nerys Benfield, MD, MPH, director of the division of family planning at the Montefiore Health System, for a little help. These are the three simple questions you should ask yourself (and your doctor) when you’re looking for the right birth control:
1. How long do you want to prevent pregnancy?
This is why you’re using birth control, after all.
“[For] anyone who’s looking to conceive in less than a year, I would recommend short-acting contraceptives like the pill or the patch or the ring,” Benfield said. “Certainly if they wanted to use a long-acting choice like the implant or the IUD, they definitely could. But that seems like a lot to go through if you’re only using it for a short period of time.” (Here’s what it really feels like to get an IUD, by the way.)
“The other one that’s really important to think about is the injection. That can actually impact fertility even up to a year after the last dose,” Benfield said. “For most women, it’s going to run out at the 3 month interval, as it should, but for some women it can continue to have a suppressive effect. So if someone’s looking for less than a year [of contraception], I would not recommend the injection.”
If you know you don’t want children for a while, then you’re better off with long-acting method like the IUD, which can stay in place for anywhere from 3 to 10 years depending on which version you pick. Then again, you can also use short-acting methods, like the pill, for a long time.
2. What have you used in the past, and how did you like it?
Your past experiences with birth control will guide your present-day choice.
“[This is] especially important when we’re talking about hormonal contraception, looking at different side effects you liked versus effects you didn’t like,” Benfield said. “Women can react in different ways to different hormones.”
And make sure you weigh all aspects of your birth control experience, not just side effects, Benfield said: For example, maybe the pill agreed with your body, but you had a hard time remembering to take it every day. That might prompt you to choose something lower-maintenance in the future, like an IUD.
3. What do you want your periods to be like?
Ah, the wonders of modern medicine: You can basically design your ideal period by choosing certain types of birth control. With injections, IUDs, and implants, for example, women can experience a complete disappearance of their period — and they love it. Other hormonal options, like the pill, patch, or ring, just make periods lighter and shorter.
But some other women want to experience a totally natural cycle, and that’s fine too. In that case, a non-hormonal option like the ParaGard IUD could be a great fit, Benfield explained. Physical barriers, like diaphragms and cervical caps, would also let you have your natural period — but note that they’re way less effective at preventing pregnancy.
“There are some women who are super thrilled by the idea of no period, and there are some women who are not excited about that because they value a regular period,” Benfield said. “I find people go both ways, and the nice thing is that we have options that can support you in whatever you want.”
Want to learn more about the many forms of birth control? Here’s a handy, detailed guide from the FDA.
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