The best birth control

The Depo Provera shot is the only birth control method proven to cause weight gain. Most women do not gain weight on the pill, patch, or ring. When they do it is usually no more than five pounds and may be due to other causes. Some women also lose weight when using these methods. Ultimately, you may require some trial and error in finding the right birth control method for you, but we wouldn’t expect your new birth control to cause weight gain for you.

At Nurx, we offer many types of hormonal birth for you to choose from including:

  • Combination pill: Combination pills contain estrogen and progestin and must be taken daily. With typical use, they’re 91-99% effective.
  • Progestin-only pill: Progestin-only pills, or mini-pills, do not contain estrogen and must be taken daily. With typical use, are 91-99% effective.
  • Patch: Patches contain estrogen and progestin and are applied directly to your skin once per week. They’re 91-99% effective.
  • Ring: The ring is inserted into the vagina once per cycle so it can release progestin and estrogen. It’s at least 91% effective.
  • Shot: Shots containing progestin are given once every three months. They’re at least 94% effective.

If you would like to order birth control from Nurx, start your order here.

Contents

I Gained 15 Pounds After Going on the Pill—So I Spoke to Gynecologists to Find Out Why

I’ve always had a fast metabolism. Thanks to genetics and being an athlete, I never had to think about weight or my diet growing up. (In fact, I was so thin that my high school classmates gave me the nickname “slinky.”) I was also able to maintain my normal weight and avoid the freshman 15 throughout college. But once I graduated, got into a relationship, and decided to get on birth control pills, my body started to change.

After five months on the Pill, I noticed that my favorite joggers weren’t fitting the way they used to and I was hungry all the time, even after a big meal. It wasn’t until my doctor said “wow, you’ve gained 15 pounds since I’ve last seen you” that I realized things were getting out of hand.

RELATED: The Most Effective Birth Control, Ranked

I amped up my workouts and tried (emphasis on “tried”) to cut out sugar and fast food, but I was still gaining weight in my face, stomach, and thighs. I couldn’t figure out why this was happening when the only thing I had really changed about my routine was my form of contraceptive. To find out what was up, I spoke to two gynecologists and a nutritionist. Here’s what I learned.

Hormonal birth control doesn’t cause permanent weight gain

“Over 40 studies have basically disproved the theory or myth that birth control is related to significant weight gain,” says Petra Casey, MD, associate professor and ob-gyn at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.

However, taking hormonal birth control of any kind, such as the pill, an IUD, or an implant, may prompt your body to retain more fluid before your period. That can cause you to gain a few pounds, but this typically vanishes after your period is over, says Dr. Casey. It’s also normal to gain one to four pounds after starting hormonal birth control, she adds, but this is a temporary side effect that goes away after three months.

The one exception is the Depo-Provera shot, which Dr. Casey says is known to result in significant weight gain. “About 25% of women who start on it gain approximately 5% , and this generally happens within the first six months,” she explains.

RELATED: What It’s Like to Get Nexplanon, the Birth Control Implant in Your Arm

Estrogen could be telling your brain to eat

Although estrogen, a key component in most forms of hormonal birth control, doesn’t directly cause weight gain, it might be the reason a woman doesn’t feel as full after she eats—thanks to estrogen’s effect on hormones that affect appetite, explains nutritionist Alisa Vitti, founder of FLOliving.com. While Dr. Casey told me that clinical studies do not prove this, Dr. Ross believes it makes sense. Since my birth control pills contain estrogen, this could be the reason I felt hungrier . . . and as a result, I ate more and gained weight.

Lifestyle changes could be the culprit

If the Pill itself isn’t the reason I’ve packed on some pounds, what is? Sherry Ross, MD, ob-gyn at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in California and author of She-ology, advised me that before blaming my birth control for my weight gain, I should first look to my lifestyle.

Other factors happening in a woman’s life at the same time she gets her first rx for the Pill—such as a new relationship, a new environment, depression, or stress—could be making her eat more than usual or choose foods that aren’t healthy without realizing it. In my case, the change to my relationship status and stress from graduating college and dealing with finances could play a part in my extra pounds.

“In adolescence or when they go off to college is when most women start the Pill, and these are also times when young women tend to gain weight,” explains Dr. Ross. “I think it’s important to really look at what’s happening,” she says.

RELATED: 7 Health Benefits of Birth Control Nobody Talks About

If weight gain bothers you, you have options

Hormonal birth control affects every woman differently, so if you’re taking one type and you think it’s messing with your weight (and no lifestyle factors come into play), switching to a similar type of contraception that has a different hormone combo can nix the weight gain. Dr. Ross recommends talking to your doctor about your medical and lifestyle history, so he or she can suggest a method or brand with the right levels of estrogen and progestin for you.

Just remember that it might take time to find the right type of hormonal birth control that keeps your weight steady. “Sometimes you have to change them two or three times to find the brand that works best for you, and what works best for you may not work best for your closest BFF,” Dr. Ross says.

RELATED: Amazing Moments in Birth Control

How I’m handling my extra lbs

As for me, I’ve realized that my new relationship and stressful life as a postgraduate in debt most likely led to my appetite increase. But I’m not ruling out the estrogen level in my birth control pills either. That’s why I’m planning to take a break from them for a short period and then consult with my doctor to find a contraceptive method that might work with my body better.

I’m also making a commitment to control my portion sizes and stick to my workout regimen in hopes of fitting into my joggers again. And I’m seeking out a therapist to help me better handle life’s difficult transitions—instead of turning to sugar for comfort.

Will Long-Term Birth Control Make Me Gain Weight?

By Stuart Shalit, DO, OB/GYN—Virtua Obstetrics & Gynecology

If you want to prevent pregnancy, a long-acting reversible contraceptive (LARC) is a safe and effective birth control option. But, the number one question women ask their ob/gyns remains—will it make me gain weight?

Here are the facts so you can decide if a LARC is right for you.

What are LARCs?

A LARC is a birth control option that can prevent pregnancy for several months or years, depending on the type you choose. In addition, LARCs are reversible. This means they can be removed or stopped if or when you’re ready for pregnancy.

There are three types:

  • The intrauterine device (IUD), a small T-shaped device that’s inserted into your uterus (Mirena, Liletta, Paragard and others)
  • The implant, a small plastic rod placed under the skin in your arm (Nexplanon)
  • The injection, or shot (Depo-Provera)

These forms of birth control are administered right in your doctor’s office—no surgery involved. They’re hardly noticeable, don’t interfere with your ability to have sex, and rarely have side effects.

Do LARCs cause weight gain?

Many women believe that birth control will make them gain weight. Contraceptives that contain hormones, including LARCs, do have the potential to cause slight, short-term weight gain.

In most cases, weight gain related to the use of LARCs is limited to 3-5 pounds and is caused by temporary bloating and water retention similar to what you might experience during your period. It’s also dependent on the hormone levels already in your body, as well as how your body reacts to the hormones in your LARC. Weight also is influenced by lifestyle factors and other physical changes.

There’s evidence that suggests that the birth control injection is more likely to cause weight gain, which is due to the higher dose of hormones given at one time. The copper IUD doesn’t contain hormones and, therefore, doesn’t cause weight gain.

If you use a LARC and gain some weight that persists for more than a few months, it’s probably not related to your birth control. Pay attention to your diet and activity level and make adjustments to see if that helps you shed unwanted pounds. If you can’t budge the weight, talk to your doctor. He or she may want to check for other conditions that could cause weight gain, including thyroid problems or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

How effective are LARCs at preventing pregnancy?

Unlike other birth control methods such as the pill, ring or patch, LARCs aren’t affected by patient compliance and are more than 99 percent effective at preventing pregnancy.

LARCs include the copper or progestin IUDs, the injection and the implant, which are all methods of contraception that women can use for an extended length of time. Unlike the pill, which a woman must remember to take at the same time every day, the IUD and implant are inserted once and are highly effective for 3, 5, or up to 10 years without any daily effort. The injection takes a little more effort as it must be administered every 3 months. However, all forms are more error-proof, more effective, and often better tolerated than the hormonal birth control pill.

LARCs also have a lower failure rate than female sterilization (having your “tubes tied”). That’s because the effectiveness of a sterilization procedure depends on the way the surgery is performed and how your body heals afterward.

Although LARCs are highly effective at preventing pregnancy, it’s important to remember that they don’t protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

How do LARCs prevent pregnancy?

All LARCs work differently to prevent pregnancy.

Mirena, Liletta, Kyleena and Skyla—are IUDs that contain a hormone called progestin that makes them very effective at preventing pregnancy. In addition, they can make your period lighter, or in some cases, stop it completely. IUDs that use progestin last for 3-5 years.

Paragard is another IUD, but it’s made of copper and hormone-free. It interferes with sperm movement, egg fertilization and embryo implantation. It can be used for up to 10 years.

Nexplanon, the birth control implant, is placed under the skin in your arm and uses a form of progesterone to prevent pregnancy. It can make your period lighter and lasts for up to 3 years.

Depo-Provera contains a hormone similar to progesterone that’s injected in your arm or buttocks. You need to visit your doctor’s office every 3 months for an injection.

Are LARCs right for me?

LARCs can be a good choice if you have no short-term plans to become pregnant, or if you’re looking for a birth control option that doesn’t require you to do anything else to prevent pregnancy. Talk to your doctor to find one that’s a good fit for your lifestyle.

To schedule an appointment with a Virtua OB/GYN, call 1-888-847-8823.

Updated May 14, 2018

If you have sex, using birth control + a condom is the best way to prevent pregnancy. Bonus: condoms help protect you from STDs, too!

What’s the best way to prevent pregnancy?

The only 100% certain way to avoid pregnancy is to not have penis-in-vagina sex, or do any sexual stuff where sperm can get on a vulva or in a vagina (this is called abstinence).

But if you’re going to have vaginal sex, the best way to prevent pregnancy is to use a very effective birth control method (like the IUD or implant) plus a condom.

Some types of birth control work better than others. The kinds of birth control that work the best to prevent pregnancy are the implant and IUDs — they’re also the most convenient to use, and the most foolproof.

Other birth control methods, like the pill, ring, patch, and shot, are also really good at preventing pregnancy if you use them perfectly. But people aren’t perfect, and these methods are easier to mess up than implants and IUDs.

It’s super important to make sure you use your birth control the right way. This means you can’t forget to take your pill, change your ring, or get your shot on time — or you’ll be at risk for pregnancy. So the best method of birth control for you is the one you’ll always use correctly. Take our birth control quiz to find out which methods might be best for you.

No matter what method you choose, you can get extra pregnancy prevention power by using birth control and a condom together.

Condoms + Birth Control = Extra Protection

Condoms are your safer sex superhero: they’re the only way to get protection from pregnancy and STDs during vaginal sex.

No birth control method is perfect. So using condoms with another type of birth control (like the implant, IUD, or pill) gives you backup protection in case either method fails. And condoms seriously lower your chances of getting all kinds of sexually transmitted infections, like HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and herpes.

Another great thing about condoms is that you can get them almost anywhere, like drugstores, grocery stores, convenience stores, and gas stations. Condoms don’t cost a lot of money, and sometimes they’re even free at community clinics, school health centers, or Planned Parenthood health centers.

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Birth control pills (oral contraceptives) and the Depo-Provera shot are two hormonal methods of birth control. Both methods work by changing the hormone levels in your body, which prevents pregnancy, or conception. Differences between “the pill” and “the shot.”

Birth control pills are available as combination pills, which contain the hormones estrogen and progestin, or mini-pills that only contain progestin. In comparison to the Depo-Provera injection, which prevents pregnancy for three consecutive months.

Both methods of birth control are very effective in preventing pregnancy. Both the combination pill (if you take them as directed) and shot are up to 99% effective in preventing pregnancy. While the mini-pill is only about 95% effective in preventing pregnancy.

Both methods cause weight gain, and have other similar side effects like breast pain, soreness or tenderness, headaches, and mood changes. They may lead to decreased interest in sex in some women. There are differences between the other side effects of these methods (depending upon the method) that include breakthrough bleeding or spotting, acne, depression, fatigue, and weakness.

Both oral contraceptives and the Depo-Provera shot have health risks associated with them, such as, heart attack, stroke, blood clots, and cervical cancer. Birth control pills appear to increase the risk of cervical cancer. Talk with your OB/GYN or other doctor or health care professional about which birth control method is right for you.

Read more: Birth Control Pill vs. Shot (Depo-Provera): Similarities and Differences Article

The Most Effective Methods of Birth Control, Ranked

3. LARCs: A more effective option than the shot is a Long-Acting Reversible Contraceptive, or, a LARC. LARCs include IUDs and hormonal implants, both of which are surgically implanted into the body. LARCs are 99% effective, and some of them last for up to ten years. While they are a low-maintenance option, they are more expensive than a pill, patch, or vaginal ring, and their insertion requires a doctor’s visit.

2. Sterilization: Coming in second place on the list is sterilization, surgical procedures that permanently disrupt the Fallopian tubes (“getting your tubes tied”), preventing the egg and sperm from meeting. Without insurance coverage, these surgeries may cost up to $6,000 and should not be thought of as reversible. Like abstinence, sterilization is a life choice. Unlike abstinence, sterilization is essentially permanent. While sterilization is 99% effective, it is not a decision one should make lightly.

1. Abstinence: This might seem obvious, but the most effective way to prevent pregnancy is to abstain from sex. That’s right, abstinence is still the best form of birth control—that is, if it’s a lifestyle you choose to maintain.

If you’re interested in trying the pill, patch or ring—great news: you can now skip the hassle of the doctor’s office visit and get your birth control prescribed online. With Simple Health, you’ll get your prescription online and your refills delivered to your door—for free—right when you need them. Check out our easy, doctor-designed consultation and make your birth control process easier (and more affordable) than it’s ever been.

Try it now and we’ll waive your consultation fee (regularly $20)! If you have insurance, you can likely get your birth control—including regular shipping to your door—for absolutely free. No insurance? No problem. Get birth control delivered for just $15/month.

Which Birth Control Is Right for You?

You can get these birth control methods by prescription from your own doctor or from a doctor in a sexual health clinic.

Cervical Cap

What is it? A soft, flexible covering that fits over the cervix to prevent sperm from entering the uterus. You fill it with spermicide before use.

Effectiveness: 80 percent

Availability: Available from most doctors and sexual health clinics.

Price: Depending on your health insurance coverage, free to $75, plus the cost of the doctor visit and the cost of the spermicide.

Pros: The cap is a possible option for you if you don’t want the hormonal effects of the pill, implant, shot, or patch. It can be left in for multiple acts of intercourse in 48 hours.

Cons: There’s a possible increased risk for toxic shock syndrome. It’s possible to develop sensitivity or an allergic reaction to spermicide. The cap also has to be left in the vagina for four hours after sex, and some users find it messy.

Diaphragm

What is it? A soft, flexible disk that blocks the cervix. You cover it with spermicide before use.

Effectiveness: 88 percent

Availability: Available from most doctors and sexual health clinics.

Price: Depending on your health insurance coverage, free to $80, plus the cost of the doctor visit and the cost of the spermicide.

Pros: The diaphragm is a possible option for you if you don’t want the hormonal effects of the pill, implant, shot, or patch. It can be left in for multiple acts of intercourse in 24 hours, if you insert more spermicide every six hours.

Cons: There’s a possible increased risk for toxic shock syndrome and urinary tract infection. It’s possible to develop sensitivity or an allergic reaction to spermicide. The diaphragm has to be left in the vagina for six hours after sex. Some users also find it messy, or don’t like reapplying spermicide.

Implant

What is it? A plastic rod about half the size of a matchstick that’s placed under your skin, it releases the hormone progestin, which affects ovulation and makes cervical mucus thicker to block sperm.

Effectiveness: 99 percent

Availability: Available from most doctors and sexual health clinics.

Price: Depending on your health insurance coverage, free to $800 for implanting, free to $300 for removal.

Pros: One of the most effective options available. Lasts up to three years but can be removed at any time.

Cons: It disrupts periods and can cause minor side effects such as acne, breast tenderness, and weight gain.

Copper Intrauterine Device (IUD)

What is it? Intrauterine devices (IUDs) are small T-shaped instruments that are placed in your uterus during a doctor visit and remain there for several years. There are two kinds of IUDs. The copper IUD prevents a fertilized egg from implanting in your uterus.

Effectiveness: 99 percent

Availability: Available from most doctors and sexual health clinics.

Price: Depending on your health insurance coverage, free to $800, plus the cost of the doctor visit.

Pros: It can be left in place for up to 10 years.

Cons: Side effects include random spotting during early use, more cramps during your period, and heavier PMS effects.

Hormonal Intrauterine Device (IUD)

What is it? IUDs are small T-shaped instruments that are placed in your uterus during a doctor visit and remain there for several years. The hormonal version is the second kind of IUD. It releases progestin, which affects ovulation and makes cervical mucus thicker to block sperm.
Effectiveness: 99+ percent

Availability: Available from most doctors and sexual health clinics.

Price: Depending on your health insurance coverage, free to $800, plus doctor visit.

Pros: It can be left in place for three to five years.

Cons: The hormonal IUD can make you stop having periods (which some users may consider a “pro”).

Combination Pill

What is it? The combination pill uses estrogen and progestin to prevent ovaries from releasing eggs, and helps prevent sperm from entering the uterus by thickening cervical mucus.

Effectiveness: 91 percent

Availability: Available from most doctors and sexual health clinics.

Price: Depending on your health insurance coverage, free to $50 per month, plus the cost of the initial doctor visit.

Pros: Some women prefer the pill because they don’t like the idea of having a birth control method that has to be inserted or implanted. The pill can also reduce the severity of period symptoms.

Cons: If you forget to take it on time every day, you have to use another birth control method as well.

Hormonal Pill

What is it? The hormonal pill — also known as the minipill — uses progestin to thicken cervical mucus and, to a lesser degree, affects how your ovaries release eggs.

Effectiveness: 91 percent

Availability: Available from most doctors and sexual health clinics.

Price: Depending on your health insurance coverage, free to $50 per month, plus the cost of the initial doctor visit.

Pros: Some women prefer it because they don’t like the idea of having a birth control method that has to be inserted or implanted.

Cons: If you forget to take the pill on time every day, you have to use another birth control method as well. The hormonal pill can also increase some effects of your period, like breast tenderness.

The Pill and Cancer: Pros and Cons

Research suggests that both forms of the pill slightly reduce risk of endometrial and ovarian cancers, but it could slightly increase risk of breast, cervical, and liver cancers. Many factors influence the likelihood of contracting these cancers, regardless of your birth control use, including your inherited risk.

Patch

What is it? A flat patch, about 2 square inches. You place it on your skin and it releases the hormones estrogen and progestin. These affect the release of eggs and their ability to implant and thicken cervical mucus. Apply a fresh patch every week for three weeks and then use no patch for a week so you can have your period.

Effectiveness: 92 percent

Availability: Available from most doctors and sexual health clinics.

Price: Depending on your health insurance coverage, free to $50 per month, plus the cost of the initial doctor visit.

Pros: Most users experience no side effects. You just have to remember to change it once a week.

Cons: If mild side effects are experienced, they include nausea, headaches, and breast tenderness. You’re more likely to have these side effects if you smoke.

Shot

What is it? An injection of the hormone progestin, given every 90 days in a doctor’s office. It prevents pregnancy by affecting ovulation and the uterine lining, and thickening cervical mucus.

Effectiveness: 98 percent

Availability: Available from most doctors and sexual health clinics.

Price: Depending on your health insurance coverage, free to $60 every 3 months, plus the cost of the doctor visit.

Pros: All you have to remember is your doctor’s appointment.

Cons: Most users notice some effect on their period, including having no period at all. Nausea, headaches, and depression have also been reported. You’re more likely to have these side effects if you smoke. Inability to conceive can last for up to a year after you stop taking the shot. Studies have linked the shot to loss of bone density, which could cause osteoporosis. It’s possible this effect is temporary.

Vaginal Ring

What is it? A flexible ring about 2 inches wide that’s placed in your vagina. You insert the ring yourself and leave it there for three weeks, then remove it for one week to have a period. It releases progestin and estrogen, preventing pregnancy by affecting ovulation and the uterine lining and thickening cervical mucus.

Effectiveness: 92 percent

Availability: Available from most doctors and sexual health clinics.

Price: Depending on your health insurance coverage, free to $80 a month, plus the cost of the doctor visit.

Pros: Put it in and forget it for three weeks. You may have lighter periods and fewer premenstrual effects.

Cons: Breast tenderness and headaches have been reported.

Almost all women in the United States use birth control at some point. After all, it’s one of the easiest ways to take control of your future plans and live life the way you want.

Perhaps in part because it’s so popular, there are many birth control options to choose from. Some you may have heard about or tried, while other options might be new to you. Finding the contraception that works best for your personal lifestyle and family planning can be very rewarding because it lets you direct your life the way you want. But you can spend a lot of time and energy trying out different types of birth control, and it’s easy to get frustrated before you find the right one. With so many possibilities, where do you start? What should you keep in mind?

Below we’ve collected the most important details so you can easily compare different birth control options and start a conversation with your doctor. Let’s get started.

Types of birth control

Generally, there are five categories of birth control methods. Each method works in a different way, like preventing sperm from getting to an egg or discouraging your body from releasing eggs. But every contraceptive technique has the same primary goal of helping you avoid unwanted pregnancy.

One thing to note before we dive in: Birth control and sexually transmitted infection (STI) prevention aren’t the same thing. Only condoms protect against STIs when used correctly. If STI prevention matters to you, you’ll want to use condoms in combination with another method.

1. Short-acting hormonal contraception

Hormonal birth control involves adjusting your body’s natural estrogen and/or progestin levels to make pregnancy much less likely. Common methods include pills you take every day, a patch you replace every week, a vaginal ring you change every month or a shot your doctor gives you every three months. All of these methods require a prescription. For most women, they’re about 91% to 95% effective at preventing pregnancy.

Hormonal birth control side effects can vary, especially when you’re just starting out. But one beneficial side effect that many women notice is a decrease in period flow, frequency or pain. If your menstrual cycle gives you trouble, a hormonal birth control option is definitely worth exploring.

2. Long-term contraception

Long-term contraception can be a good choice if you want effective, lasting birth control without much maintenance. Choices include an implant inserted into your arm or an intrauterine device (IUD) inserted into your uterus. These methods are 99% effective at preventing pregnancy. They’ll work for 3–10 years, depending on the particular method you choose. The implant (Nexplanon) and hormonal IUDs (such as Skyla, Mirena, Kyleena) work by adjusting your body’s progestin levels over time. Copper IUDs (ParaGard) do not use hormones. Instead, the copper stops sperm from fertilizing your eggs.

Implants or IUDs can be great options because they don’t require any extra work on your part: Once your doctor puts in the device, you’re covered. But if your plans change and you’d like to have kids, it’s easy to get your implant or IUD removed. You may experience a little discomfort when your device is put in place, and some people can experience a few temporary or (less commonly) ongoing side effects such as weight gain, headaches and soreness. But many women find the benefits of low-maintenance, long-term birth control to be well worth it.

3. One-time barrier contraception

Condoms, sponges, diaphragms, cervical caps and spermicide are all barrier birth control methods. They each work differently, but they all create a sperm “barrier” during sex to physically prevent sperm from reaching an egg. Barrier contraception methods don’t require a prescription and are available at many stores or online. Additionally, condoms help protect against STIs, the only birth control method to do so.

You only use barrier contraception when you’re actually having sex. You need to use it every time you have sex and also need to use barrier contraception correctly for it to be most effective. Because of this, barrier contraceptive techniques don’t usually work as well. They prevent pregnancy between 71% and 88% of the time, depending on the method. But you can also combine methods for greater effectiveness. For example, it’s recommended that you also use spermicide if you’re using a diaphragm or cervical cap. Talk to your doctor for specifics.

4. Permanent contraception

Tubal ligation (for women) or vasectomy (for men) are relatively simple surgical procedures intended to make pregnancy impossible. They’re almost 100% effective at preventing pregnancy. If you’re very sure you don’t want to have children in the future, they’re a great option to consider.

Recovery time from these procedures usually takes only a few days. Your (and your partner’s) sexual function won’t be impacted, and if you choose tubal ligation, you’ll still get your period. Essentially, nothing will change in your day-to-day life, except that you won’t be able to get pregnant. This makes permanent contraception one of the most convenient birth control options, but only if you’re confident you don’t want kids going forward. Reversing a tubal ligation or vasectomy is possible, but there isn’t any guarantee your fertility will return.

5. Emergency contraception

If you have sex without using birth control – or your birth control fails – emergency contraception can help prevent pregnancy. If you need emergency birth control, there are two types of pills available as well as a copper IUD. No matter which method you prefer, you’ll want to use emergency contraception as soon as possible for it to be most effective.

One type of pill, often called “Plan B,” is available from most pharmacies without a prescription; it can prevent pregnancy up to three days after sex. The more effective pill, often called “Ella,” does need a prescription but can prevent pregnancy up to five days after sex. Copper IUDs also require you to see a doctor, but they’re almost 100% effective when inserted within five days of intercourse.

Emergency contraception isn’t meant to be your primary birth control method – only a backup in case something doesn’t go as planned. You’ll have more control if you regularly use other methods first.

So what’s the best form of birth control?

It all depends on you. For starters, you’ll want to consider what your goals are, what your lifestyle is like, how often you have sex, whether you have insurance, what you and your partner are comfortable with and what you’re planning for the future.

Because every woman is different, the contraception that works best for your friends or family members may or may not be convenient or most effective for you. But regardless of the birth control method you end up choosing, use it as directed for the lowest chance of pregnancy.

Of course, you’ll want to talk to an OB-GYN to get personalized birth control advice. Your doctor can give you more details about each option, and they’ll help you make a choice (or choices) you’ll feel great about.

Taking time to make sure you’ve selected the best birth control option for you can give you more power over your choices. And that’s well worth it for your health, your well-being, your peace of mind and your future.

The best birth control pill for you: A guide to contraceptive options

Since it was first legalized in the U.S. in the 1960s, the birth control pill has become one of the most popular forms of female contraception. Sixty percent of all women of childbearing years are estimated to use some type of birth control to avoid pregnancy. Many women opt to use birth control pills thanks to their ease of use, availability, safety, limited side effects, additional health benefits, and effectiveness.

Types of birth control pills

Birth control pills contain synthetic versions of hormones, estrogen and progestin, that your body produces naturally. Which specific pill is best for you depends on your body’s needs, plus the recommendation of your healthcare provider.

Here’s a brief explanation of the various types of pills on the market:

  • Combination pills: Taken orally at the same time each day, combination pills regulate your menstrual cycle with a blend of the hormones estrogen and progestin.
  • Extended cycle pills: A combination pill that contains both estrogen and progestin, these pills are designed to allow for longer menstrual cycles. For example, instead of having twelve periods per year, a female on an extended cycle pill will have her period every twelve weeks, so only four periods a year.
  • Progestin-only pills: Also called the minipill, this birth control pill only contains the hormone progestin (a synthetic version of the natural hormone, progesterone). Like combination pills, it is taken orally daily.
  • Low-dose pills: Available as both combination or progestin-only, low-dose pills contain a lower dose of hormones. Just as effective as high-dose pills, low-dose pills are believed to cause fewer side effects.
  • Emergency contraception: Unlike other pills, these are used after sexual intercourse to prevent pregnancy, usually in the case of unprotected sex or a broken condom. There are various types, including combination, progestin-only and antiprogestin pills.

What is the best birth control pill?

It’s no secret, everyone’s body is different. That’s why, in order to determine the right birth control pill for you, you’ll need to have an open conversation with your doctor or gynecologist. There are many factors to consider when choosing a birth control pill, including your health history, how you respond to treatment, and your lifestyle and preferences. The journey to finding the best birth control pill for you can often take some trial and error and requires an open dialogue with your physician.

Combination birth control pills

Combination pills are a blend of two hormones, estrogen and progestin, typically taken once a day at the same time each day. The combination birth control pill prevents pregnancy in three ways:

  1. Preventing sperm from reaching the egg and fertilizing it. Sperm is stopped thanks to a thickening of cervical mucus.
  2. Suppressing ovulation. If eggs are not released, they are not there to be fertilized.
  3. Thinning the uterus’ endometrial lining so if an egg is fertilized, it cannot implant.

There are four types of combination pills currently on the market in the U.S: conventional combination pills, extended cycle combination pills, monophasic combination pills, and multiphasic combination pills. The conventional combination pill contains the two hormones estrogen and progestin, and follows a standard dosing schedule. This generally includes 21 days of the active pill along with seven pills that are inactive. This means that you’ll get your period each month when you take your inactive pills. When a combination pill contains the same amount of estrogen and progestin in each pill, it’s called monophasic. When the hormone levels vary in each combination pill to mimic a woman’s natural hormone changes through her cycle, it’s called multiphasic.

Combination birth control pills are 99% effective at preventing pregnancy if used correctly. However, if not taken perfectly, the combination birth control pill is only 91% effective. For maximum pregnancy prevention, make sure to take your pills at the same time daily and start new pill packs on time. If you want to be extra careful, use a backup method of contraception, such as condoms.

Advantages

Pros of the combination pill may include the following:

  • Shorter, lighter and more regular periods
  • Less severe menstrual cramps
  • Improved acne
  • Less severe PMS
  • Preventing period-related anemia (due to less intense periods)
  • Reducing risk of ovarian cancer

Disadvantages

Cons of the combination pill may include the following:

  • Breast tenderness
  • Breakthrough bleeding or irregular menstruation
  • Bloating
  • Nausea and weight gain
  • Slight increased risk for heart attack, stroke and blood clots
  • Combination birth control pills can cost anywhere from $5 to $50 a pack, depending on your script and prescription coverage. Fortunately, SingleCare can help you save on your birth control prescription. Try searching for the lowest priced options available in your area.

Popular combination birth control pills

Consider these common combination birth control pill brands as options when comparing pills for pricing and side effects:

  • Alesse
  • Apri
  • Aranelle
  • Aviane
  • Enpresse
  • Estrostep FE
  • Lessina
  • Levlen
  • Levlite
  • Levora
  • Loestrin
  • Mircette
  • Natazia
  • Nordette
  • Lo Ovral
  • Ortho-Novum
  • Ortho Tri-Cyclen
  • Yaz
  • Yasmin

RELATED: Yaz vs. Yasmin

Extended cycle pills

Extended cycle pills are a type of combination pill, however, they create longer cycles and are designed to be taken over longer periods of time. Unlike the standard combination birth control pill, extended cycle combination pills are typically prescribed for 12 to 13 weeks of continuous active pills followed by a full week of an inactive pill. This extended cycle pill still allows you to get your period, just less often.

Depending on your body and dosing schedule, you may only get your period three or four times a year on this pill. If you are looking to skip your period altogether, continuous dosing may be prescribed at the discretion of your healthcare provider, although some women may still experience spotting. A continuous dosing schedule includes taking a combination pill every day without taking any breaks from the hormones.

As a combination pill, the effectiveness of extended cycle pills are considered 99% effective at preventing pregnancy if used correctly. However, effectiveness drops to 91% if not taken correctly. One way to help ensure maximum pregnancy protection is to set a daily alarm on your phone that reminds you to take your pill at the same time each day, and set an alert you when to need start your new pill pack. Some women use a backup method of contraception, like condoms, if they want additional protection against pregnancy.

Advantages of extended cycle pills are much the same as for conventional combination pills, with the addition of:

  • Fewer periods
  • Potentially lighter, shorter periods

As a type of combination pill, cons of extended cycle pills are also similar to conventional combination pills, with the addition of:

  • Potential spotting between periods
  • Possibility of heavier periods

Popular extended cycle birth control pills

There are a few extended cycle birth control pills available, including:

  • Seasonale
  • Seasonique
  • Lybrel

Progestin-only birth control pills (minipills)

The minipill is a birth control pill that only contains the hormone progestin, which is a synthesized version of the naturally occurring hormone, progesterone. Unlike the combination birth control pill, the minipill does not contain estrogen.

Minipills prevent pregnancy in a similar way: it stops sperm from reaching a female egg by thickening cervical mucus. On the off chance sperm does reach and fertilize an egg, the minipill also thins the uterus’ endometrial lining so the fertilized egg cannot implant. Minipills, however, do not prevent eggs from being released as consistently as a combination pill.

Progestin-only birth control pills are oral contraceptives that are taken every day, and must be taken at the same time each day to maximize effectiveness.

The minipill is just as effective at preventing pregnancy as the combination pill (about 99%) if taken perfectly. However, because the minipill must be taken at the same time each day, it has a higher failure rate than the combination pill. If it is not taken at the same time, for example 9 a.m. Monday, then 11 a.m. on Tuesday, your risk of pregnancy is increased for about 48 hours. About 13 females in every 100 get pregnant when on the minipill, in comparison to nine in 100 women on the combination pill.

If you miss taking your scheduled dose on any day, consider abstaining from sex or use additional protection, such as a condom, over the next 48 hours or more. This added precaution can help to prevent any unplanned pregnancies during the interruption of doses.

Why would the minipill be used?

There are a few reasons why your doctor may recommend a progestin-only pill instead of the more-common combination pill. For starters, the minipill contains no estrogen, so this could be a perk if you are sensitive to this hormone. Your physician may prescribe a progestin-only pill for you if you notice that you are sensitive to the estrogen in a combination pill. You may also be prescribed the minipill if you have a family or personal history of blood clots. Lastly, your physician may prescribe the minipill if you are currently breastfeeding, as it is safe to use immediately after giving birth. As always, consult your doctor if you are breastfeeding and looking for the best birth control option for you.

Pros of the progestin-only pill may include the following:

  • Safer option if you are at risk of blood clots, high blood pressure, cardiovascular concerns, or if you suffer from migraines
  • Can be used if you are sensitive to estrogen
  • Can be used immediately after giving birth if you are breastfeeding
  • Shorter return to fertility

Cons of the progestin-only pill may include the following:

  • Must be taken at the same time daily in order to be effective
  • Slightly higher failure rate than the combination pill
  • Like the combination pill, minipills can cost up to $50 a month. Consider looking into how much you could save on your minipill with SingleCare.

Popular progestin-only birth control pills

Consider these common minipill brands as birth control options when comparing pills for pricing and side effects:

  • Ortho Micronor
  • Nor Q D
  • Ovrette

Low-dose pills

Low-dose birth control pills are a type of combination pill that have, as the name suggests, lower hormone levels. Specifically, low-dose pills have 35 micrograms or less of estrogen, while ultra-low-dose pills have 20 micrograms or less of estrogen. The decreased levels of estrogen prevent common side effects like headache, nausea, and tender breasts while maintaining effectiveness.

They work the same way as regular combination pills by preventing ovulation, sperm reaching an egg, and the inability for a fertilized egg to implant due to thinning of the uterus’ endometrial lining.

One of the reasons low-dose pills have become so popular over the last 20 years is because they are just as effective at preventing pregnancy and regulating menstrual cycles as their high-dose counterparts. With typical use, low-dose pills are 91% effective. When used perfectly, they can be more than 99% effective in preventing pregnancy.

Why would the low-dose birth control be prescribed?

Due to their effectiveness and reduced side effects, the majority of birth control pills prescribed today are considered low dose. As the low-dose pill contains lower levels of estrogen, your doctor may prescribe it if you have an estrogen sensitivity.

If you think you’ll struggle to take the pill at the exact same time each day, as required with the progestin-only minipill, a low-dose birth control pill may be recommended as an alternative, as there is a slightly larger window for when you take it daily.

If your doctor does recommend you try a low-dose pill, here are some pros:

  • Reduced estrogen-related side effects
  • Less side effects than higher-dose pills
  • Less severe menstrual cramping and PMS
  • Reduction of acne
  • Reduced risk of ovarian cancer
  • Period regulation

As with most medications, there are some potential side effects and cons to using a low-dose birth control pill:

  • Slight risk of increased blood pressure
  • Rare potential for blood clots and deep vein thrombosis
  • Spotting between periods
  • Headache
  • Nausea

Popular low-dose pills

Many of the pills available today are low-dose. Here are some of the most common and popular brand names, with many generic versions also available:

  • Yasmin
  • Levora
  • Ortho-Novum
  • Apri
  • Aviane
  • Yaz
  • Lo/Ovral
  • Levlen 21

Emergency Contraception Pill

Emergency contraception pills, otherwise known as the morning after pill, are used by women after having unprotected sex, or if a condom breaks. In the U.S. the most common morning after pills, available to purchase over-the-counter at pharmacies without I.D., are levonorgestrel pills. Levonorgestrel is a type of progestin hormone. Although many brands are available, they work in the same way: they prevent the release of an egg from the ovary or preventing fertilization of the egg by sperm. Morning after pills should not be used on a regular basis to prevent pregnancy, but instead as an emergency contraceptive or backup in case regular birth control fails or is used incorrectly.

When should emergency contraception be used?

Emergency contraception should be used after unprotected sex, or when another birth control method, like condoms, failed or were used incorrectly. It’s generally advised to take a morning after pill as soon as you can after sex. You can take a levonorgestrel (Plan B, My Way, AfterPill, Take Action) up to five days after unprotected sex, however the longer you wait, the less effective it becomes.

Although levonorgestrel morning after pills are the most common in America, if you’re over 155 pounds, you may be advised to try another option like ella (30 mg of ulipristal acetate). This is a prescription only option however, and may make your hormonal birth control ineffective. In some cases, your doctor may recommend a copper IUD, which can then also be used going forward (up to ten years) as an effective birth control method.

Effectiveness of emergency contraception?

The effectiveness of the morning after pill varies depending on how quickly you take it after having unprotected sex. For example, if you take Plan B One-Step within 24 hours, it is about 95% effective, however if taken within three days of unprotected sex, the morning after pill can reduce the chance of pregnancy by 75-89%

Advantages of emergency contraception

  • Available over the counter
  • No I.D. required
  • Can be purchased by persons of any gender
  • Inexpensive
  • Highly effective
  • Little to no side effects
  • Single dose

Disadvantages of emergency contraception

  • No serious side effects have been reported
  • Lightheaded
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting within two hours of taking the pill will render it ineffective
  • May not be suitable for women taking medication for liver problems, epilepsy, or severe asthma

Popular emergency contraception

There are a number of emergency contraception options available, including:

  • Plan B One Step
  • Take Action
  • My Way
  • Aftera
  • Paragard Copper IUD
  • Ella

Frequently asked questions about birth control pills

What is the safest contraception pill?

Generally, low-dose birth control pills, be it combination or progestin-only minipill, are considered safest as they are associated with the lowest risk of causing blood clots.

What is the difference between 21- and 28-day birth control?

The only difference between the 21- and 28-day birth control pill is that the 28-day includes either seven inactive “sugar” pills or seven iron pills.

Which birth control pill does not cause weight gain?

Although some women report weight gain from various types of hormonal contraception, studies, including this one, indicate no sign of weight can when using a low-dose birth control pill.

What is the best birth control pill for acne?

Only three types of contraceptive pill have been approved by the FDA to treat acne.These are all combination pills: Ortho Tri-Cyclen, Yaz, and Estrostep.

When should I take birth control pills?

For birth control pills to be most effective, you should take one pill at the same time each day.

Who shouldn’t take birth control?

If the following risk factors resonate with you, it is not recommended that you take any birth control that contains estrogen as it can increase the risk of clots, strokes, and heart attack.

  • You are over 35 years of age and smoke.
  • You are scheduled to have surgery that will reduce your mobility for extended periods.
  • You have a history of heart disease, deep vein thrombosis, or pulmonary embolism.

Which birth control method is most effective?

The most effective birth control method is abstinence; however, this may not be the preferred method for many. Alternatively, the most effective birth control options are the implant (Nexplanon) and IUDs (intrauterine device), especially when paired with a condom.

The implant is a small device that is inserted into your arm and slowly releases the hormone progestin into your body. It lasts for up to four years.

Non-hormonal and hormonal IUDs are available as small devices. The IUD is placed into your uterus, lasting up to 12 years.

Implants and IUDs are considered more effective than the pill as there is no human error in remembering to take your medication. If taken perfectly, the contraceptive pill (combination birth control pill or the minipill), shot (Depo-Provera injection), vaginal ring (NuvaRing), and patch (Xulane patch) can all be highly effective. Speak to your doctor about which method will work with your medical history and lifestyle.

Remember that birth control pills only protect from pregnancy. They do not protect against sexually transmitted infections or diseases. That’s why it’s always recommended to use them in conjunction with condoms.

Medications for Birth Control (Contraception)

Contraception is the deliberate use of a medicine, device, or a technique to prevent pregnancy that has the potential to happen during sexual intercourse. Contraception may also be called birth control. A contraceptive is the name given to any medicine or device used for contraception.

What are Contraceptives Used For?

Contraceptives are mostly used for contraception (to help prevent women from becoming pregnant). However, sometimes hormonal contraceptives may also be prescribed to:

  • Help with acne control
  • Help regulate periods
  • Prevent ovulation and pregnancy in women with primary ovarian insufficiency (POI)
  • Reduce pain and cramping during menstruation
  • Reduce the symptoms of endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), premenstrual syndrome or premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).

Emergency contraceptives are contraceptives that are taken (or inserted if an IUD) within a few days after unprotected sex to help prevent implantation of a fertilized egg and possible resulting pregnancy.

Condoms are contraceptives that may be used to reduce the transmission of sexually transmitted infections, although protection is not 100%.

What are the Differences Between Contraceptives?

There are several differences between contraceptives. The main difference is that some contain hormones whereas others do not. Hormone-containing contraceptives have more side effects than nonhormonal contraceptives. Some combined hormonal contraceptives also contain supplements such as iron or folic acid.

The following are different types of contraceptives:

  • Combined oral contraceptives (COCs): These contain an estrogen and a progestin to prevent ovulation (the release of an egg from an ovary), thin the uterine lining, and thicken cervical mucus making it impenetrable to sperm
  • Progestin-only contraceptives (POPs): These contain just one hormone, progestin. Most work by thickening cervical mucus, preventing sperm from entering the uterus. POPs must be taken within the same three hours every day
  • Hormonal contraceptive patch: One patch is applied each week for every three weeks, then usually followed by a patch-free week
  • Hormonal contraceptive rings: One ring is inserted into the vagina and remains in place continuously for three weeks, then removed for a one week break before a new ring is inserted
  • Hormonal shot/injection: An injection is administered under the skin once every 3 months (12 to 14 weeks)
  • Intrauterine devices (IUD): Small, T-shaped device that is inserted through the vagina into the uterus to prevent implantation of a fertilized egg. Lasts 3 to 10 years depending on the type
  • Implantable rods: Small rod the size of a matchstick that is implanted under the skin of the upper arm. Lasts up to 3 years
  • Female condom: Must be used every time that sex occurs. Provides some protection against STIs
  • Male condom: Contain either latex, polyurethane, or polyisoprene. Must be used every time that sex occurs. Provide some protection against STIs
  • Cervical cap/diaphragm with spermicide: A soft silicone cup that covers the cervix and is inserted before sex. May irritate, cause allergic reactions, and increase the risk of an abnormal Pap test
  • Sponge with spermicide: Soft polyurethane sponge that is inserted before sex and kept in place for six hours after sex
  • Spermicide alone: Must be used every time that sex occurs. Not very reliable. May irritate, cause allergic reactions, and increase the risk of STIs and UTIs.

Emergency hormonal contraception

The emergency contraceptive pill (ECP), sometimes called the ‘morning-after pill’ may be taken to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex, contraceptive failure, or after a sexual assault. Levonorgestrel ECPs work best if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex; however, they are still moderately effective if used within five days of unprotected sex. The ulipristal ECP can be used within five days of unprotected sex.

Is Contraception Safe?

Some types of contraception may not be suitable for some people.

Hormonal contraceptives are not recommended in women with certain types of cancer, at higher risk of clotting or strokes, liver disease, severe headaches, undiagnosed vaginal bleeding, uncontrolled high blood pressure or heart disease. Nonhormonal methods of contraception are more suitable for these women. Women who are pregnant who still wish to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections should use barrier methods of contraception (such as condoms).

Serious side effects associated with hormonal contraceptives include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Chest pain and an increased risk of blood clots, heart attack, and stroke
  • Leg pain or swelling
  • A severe headache
  • Severe stomach pain

Smoking increases the risk of serious heart side effects with COCs (includes the hormonal ring or patch). COCs should NOT be used in women aged over 35 years who smoke because they are at higher risk of serious side effects such as heart attack, blood clots, or stroke.

Certain medications and some supplements can make hormonal contraceptives less effective. Hormonal contraceptives do not offer any protection against STIs such as HIV or hepatitis. Male or female condoms should be used in combination with hormonal contraceptives if protection against STIs is needed.

What are Common Side Effects Associated With Contraception?

Hormonal contraceptives have been associated with several different side effects such as:

  • Acne
  • Appetite changes
  • Breast tenderness, enlargement or discharge
  • Changes to menstrual flow, bleeding or spotting between periods, painful or missed periods
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Gingivitis (inflammation of the gums)
  • Hair growth in unusual places
  • Mood changes
  • Nausea
  • Skin color changes (brown or black patches)
  • Stomach cramps or bloating
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Vaginal burning, discharge, irritation, itching, redness, or swelling
  • Vomiting.

Nonhormonal contraceptives may be associated with irritation, itching, redness, or discomfort during sex.

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