Basic Guide to Birth Control Options

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There are some times in your life when it’s just not in the plan to have a baby (or another baby).  But if you’re a mom, it may feel strange to think about starting birth control again – and there’s a lot of new information out there!

Here’s an overview on some common forms of birth control:

Condoms

Condoms are the most misused form of birth control because they are not properly explained to most users.  There are three things to look at before use: the expiration date, whether there’s an air pocket, and the fit.  Latex actually does expire, and when it does, it degrades, and becomes holey.  When you’re looking at a wrapped condom that has an air pocket, you can rest assured there are no holes in the packaging.  Even with the air pocket present, make sure to give a condom a look-over for rips or holes.  Finally, check out how it fits the penis.  If it’s too loose, it runs the risk of sliding off midway through.  If it’s too tight, there is a chance it will pop when he ejaculates.  When using it, pinch the reservoir so there is room for the ejaculate, and roll the rest down to the base of the penis.  Make sure it stays on the whole time you’re having sex. 

Condoms are the only form of birth control that reduces the risk of sexually transmitted diseases.  With perfect use, it is 98% effective at preventing pregnancy.  However, because most users do not pay attention to the state of the condom before use, the average effectiveness is actually only 82%.  They are also the least expensive form of birth control.  Many health care providers and clinics offer free condoms.  If you are purchasing them, they usually cost less than $1 per condom and come in packs of 1 to 12 condoms.  The only side effect to worry about is if you have a latex allergy.  With that allergy, latex application can cause redness, itching, and burning.  If you are experiencing this sensation, see a doctor to check for sexually transmitted diseases or latex allergy. 

Birth Control Pills

Birth control pills are the most commonly prescribed version of hormonal birth control.  A cocktail of hormones cause the lining in the uterus to thin so a fertilized egg cannot attach, and they also cause a mucus lining to build up at the cervix preventing the penetration of sperm.  The pill must be taken every day and is most effective when taken at the same time each day.  When used perfectly (taken at the same time every single day), the birth control pill is 99% effective.  However, because most women have difficulty taking the pill at the same time and many women forget pills and skip days, the average effectiveness is 91%.  Birth control pills usually cost between $15 and $50 per month.  A lot of insurance companies will help you out, so some co-pays are as low as $9 per month.  If you do not have insurance and cannot afford your birth control, Planned Parenthood has a program to pro-rate the cost of your birth control based on your income level.  

The side effects of birth control pills vary based on the cocktail of hormones in each variation.  Breast tenderness, bleeding between periods, and nausea/vomiting are most common among all the different kinds of pills.  These symptoms are most common in the first two to three months of taking the pill but become less noticeable once your system becomes familiar with the hormones.  It is possible to get pregnant if you skip a pill or if too much time elapses between pills.  If you choose to become pregnant, you just have to stop taking the pill.

IUD (Intrauterine Device)

An IUD is a small T-shaped device that is inserted into the uterus by a health care provider.  There are two kinds.  ParaGuard contains copper and lasts up to 12 years.  Mirena releases a small amount of the hormone, progestin, and lasts up to 5 years.   IUDs are the most effective in terms of perfect use because a health care provider has to insert it.  The perfect use effectiveness is 99%.  IUDs are also more costly than other forms of birth control because of the length of effectiveness.  They start out at $500 and can cost more than $1,000 depending on type of IUD, health care provider, and the support of your insurance.  Some side effects of IUD insertion are irregular, heavier periods with more cramping.  Right after insertion, you may experience cramps or back pain.  If you do want another child, you can become pregnant right after the IUD is removed by a health care professional, but sex is not recommended for about a week after to let your uterus heal.

The Birth Control Shot (Depo-Provera)

Depo-Provera is known as the Birth Control Shot, and is administered once every 3 months by a hormone injection in your arm.  Perfect use has a 99% effectiveness rating, but that relies on getting the shot exactly three months apart.  Due to real life schedules though, the average use effectiveness is only 96%.  A shot usually costs between $35 and $75 plus the cost of seeing the doctor. 

Side effects include irregular bleeding in the first 6 to 12 months.  Some women are concerned with the irregularity and believe they’ve become pregnant.  If this is your concern, take a pregnancy test.  Temporary bone thinning is another possibility that can be prevented by taking extra Calcium and Vitamin D through food and supplements.  After you stop receiving injections, it can take anywhere from 6 to 10 months to become pregnant.

Birth Control Ring (Nuva Ring)
The Nuva Ring is comparable to the birth control pill than to an IUD.  It works by constantly releasing hormones into your blood stream.  You will insert one into your vagina once a month for three weeks at a time.  The fourth week is the week of your period.  If used perfectly, there is a 99% effectiveness.  However, because they may possibly slide out during sex and because some women forget to change it regularly, the average effectiveness rating is only 91%.  The birth control ring costs between $15 and $80 each month. 

Side effects include bleeding between periods, breast tenderness, and nausea/vomiting (all caused by the hormones released).  It may also lower your sex drive.  Symptoms usually stop 2 to 3 months after continued use.  You can become pregnant right after taking it out, even if it just slips out.

Emergency Contraception/Morning After Pill

The morning after pill is a form of emergency contraception that can be picked up at a health center or drugstore and used within 5 days of unprotected sex.  It is important to recognize that it is not the abortion pill.  The morning after pill prevents ovulation and thickens the mucus of the cervix to prevent the entrance of sperm. The effectiveness of taking the morning after pill is 89% for perfect use.  It usually costs between $10 and $70 per pill pack.  The side effects include breast tenderness, irregular bleeding, dizziness, and headaches until the hormones wear off.  The hormones stay in your system for 24 hours, so it is possible to become pregnant the next day.  It is not recommended to use this as a primary form of birth control (hence the name Plan B… if it were to be used every day, it wouldn’t be called emergency birth control).

This article is not intended as medical advice, and this information should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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