Think back to when you decided which birth control (BC) to use. Maybe your choice made the most sense for your lifestyle at the time, or perhaps you were feeling overwhelmed by all the options and just asked for what your friends were using. Either way, as time passes, your needs evolve. Maybe you’re ~thinking~ about starting a family, or perhaps you now want a birth control method that can pull double duty and help with acne or cramps.
“Given that there are lots of options for birth control, there are also lots of opportunities to find the right one,” assures Heather Irobunda, M.D., a board-certified ob-gyn in New York City. By taking into account your lifestyle, needs, and personality, you can find a form of BC that you like, whether it’s a more permanent form that can work for years, or a “shorter-term” method like a patch, pill, or ring that you can stop using whenever. But first, ask yourself the six questions below. Heading to the gyno armed with the answers can help you and your doctor decide on the best option for you.
1. Do you want kids soon-ish?
It’s important to keep your family-planning timeline in mind when choosing a form of birth control. Long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) such as an IUD—either a hormonal one or a copper device—can provide worry-free contraception for years at a time, making it an ideal option if you don’t see kids in the near future, explains Kecia Gaither, M.D., M.P.H., an ob-gyn, and maternal-fetal medicine doctor at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln.
On the other hand, if you see yourself with a baby on the way semi-soon, think twice before going with a “longer-term” method like an IUD or a BC shot. In some cases, the shot has been linked with a 5- to 7-month delayed return to fertility after you stop using it. Things like the patch, ring, or the pill would likely be better options, Dr. Gaither notes.
2. How’s your memory?
This one’s a biggie. “Your birth control method is most effective if you use it correctly,” reminds Dr. Irobunda. That means if you miss pills often, you won’t be adequately preventing pregnancy. “For those of us who are busy and find it hard to remember taking a pill every day, longer-acting forms of birth control, such as an IUD, the implant, or the shot may work better,” she says. “There are also forms like the patch or the ring that you can switch out weekly or monthly, respectively, that may help alleviate any issues remembering to take something daily.”
3. Would you prefer a hormone-free option?
“If you are someone who is concerned about taking a hormonal form of contraception, consider the copper IUD,” says Dr. Irobunda. In essence, a non-hormonal IUD negatively impacts sperm’s ability to move and reach your egg (which has to happen for you to get pregnant). Once inserted, the copper IUD works for up to 10 years and is more than 99 percent effective, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
4. Do you have another condition that BC could potentially help treat?
Birth control helps prevent pregnancy, yes—and certain pills containing both progestin and estrogen are approved to treat symptoms of some medical conditions. An example: Some hormonal contraceptives have the added benefit of improving symptoms such as excessive hair growth and acne in patients with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a common hormonal disorder that impacts about 1 in 10 women of childbearing age, says Dr. Gaither.
If you have a super heavy flow, terrible cramps, acne, or even endometriosis (a painful condition where tissue similar to the tissue that lines your uterus grows outside of the uterus), some hormonal BC pills may be able to help. In short: Be sure to tell your doc about any and all symptoms or medical conditions you have when choosing a form of BC if you need your BC to potentially work double-duty.
5. Will you be freaked out if you don’t get your period every month?
Because guess what? Some forms of hormonal birth control may cause you to have light periods or no periods at all, Dr. Irobunda says (Which from a medical POV, is safe, BTW.) “Although this may sound awesome to some women, it can make others nervous,” says Dr. Irobunda. “It may cause some women to believe that they are pregnant, and some women simply do not feel comfortable not having a period.”
6. Are you in a monogamous relationship?
If so, have you both been tested for sexually transmitted infections? “All birth control methods are formulated to prevent pregnancy,” says Dr. Irobunda, “but only barrier contraception (aka condoms) prevent the transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).” If you’re not 100 percent sure your relationship is monogamous and you’re not using a barrier form of contraception, you may be increasing your risk of STIs.
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