How to know which form of birth control is right for you

Birth control is a common prescription for women in the United States. After all, it’s one of the easiest ways to take control of your future plans and live life the way you want. 

Once you find the contraception that works best for you, it’s smooth sailing, but getting there can be tough. 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. Use these tips to help decide which form of birth control is right for you.

Familiarize Yourself With Birth Control Methods

Pills, rings, shots, barriers: You might be surprised by the variety of birth control options out there. Generally forms of contraception fall into two categories: hormonal and barrier. Non-hormonal methods do exist, such as copper IUDs, but the choices are more limited.

Hormonal methods include the pill, patch, shot, ring, implant or non-copper IUD. The effectiveness of these methods differs, but each uses a dose of hormones to prevent a woman’s ovaries from releasing an egg each month.

Barrier methods, such as male and female condoms, diaphragms, or birth control sponges, physically keep sperm from touching eggs. Sometimes condoms are combined with hormonal methods to prevent STIs.

Knowing the options and how they work is essential to narrowing down the field to the possibilities that could work for you.

Get Honest With Yourself

When selecting a form of birth control, it’s important to first evaluate your needs and lifestyle. Give attention to your schedule, sex life and past birth control experiences.

Depending on the form, birth control is taken daily, monthly or even less frequently. Don’t be aspirational when imagining your ability to keep up with a daily pill. If the thought of strict adherence to a daily dosage schedule makes you nervous, don’t worry—there are many other options that could be a good fit, such as a monthly shot or an IUD, which can give you several years of protection before needing to be replaced.

Next, think about your relationship status. Are you seeing multiple partners or in a committed monogamous relationship? Do you know your partners well? The additional STI protection provided by condoms might not be necessary if you have a regular partner. However, if STIs are a concern, adding condoms to whatever form of contraception you choose can help guard against both disease and pregnancy.

Lastly, if you’ve tried birth control before, think about why you quit or are seeking to change methods. Was it lack of access to a prescribing physician? Or the inability to regularly take a pill? Maybe the device, like the ring or IUD, was bothersome or the side effects unignorable? Don’t discount these experiences. Keep them in mind when choosing another form of contraception. While each method offers similar protection, many aspects differ, so it’s possible to find one that works for you.

Understand The Side Effects And Benefits

All forms of contraception have the same core benefit: preventing pregnancy. However, almost all methods have side effects.

The side effects for hormonal birth control are similar for all forms: headaches, fatigue, nausea, irregular bleeding and more. Yet, some types of hormonal birth control methods have elevated side effects for patients with health conditions or who are older. For example, estrogen-containing pills aren’t recommended for those over 35 years of age or who have blood-clotting disorders, breast cancer, migraines with auras or other conditions.

Non-hormonal methods deliver different side effects. For example, IUDs can cause heavier bleeding and intense cramping, especially in the first few months. Barrier methods, while often less effective, have little-to-no side effects, and condoms provide added STI protection.

When you consider the extra benefits of birth control, hormonal forms of contraception offer the most. Hormonal birth control can ease the symptoms of PCOS, reduce hormone-related acne and even lighten your monthly flow.

For some the benefits outweigh the side effects, and for others the side effects are deal-breakers for certain methods. It’s up to you and how your body responds, though a medical professional can help you weigh the risks and benefits.

Know Your Numbers

Theoretically all prescription birth control should be free with insurance, though some employers don’t have to pay for it. Depending on where you go, the doctor’s appointment to get the prescription should also be covered.

If you’re uninsured, ask yourself how much you can afford up front and on a regular basis. The average birth control pill costs up to $50 per month, and it can be more costly for options such as shots or patches. Devices, like IUDs and implants, have a one-time upfront cost for placement but don’t have any monthly fees. While they’re costly up-front, these methods last for the long haul, three years for implants and between three and 12 years for IUDs.

Make a Family Plan

Not surprisingly your family plan plays a huge role in choosing a form of birth control. If you plan to have children, think about what your timeline is and evaluate contraception methods accordingly. Having a family might not be on your radar, so a long term option, like a device, would make a good choice. But if you and your partner plan to begin trying for children soon, an option you can quit quickly is important.

It’s easier to get off some forms of birth control than others. With the pill it’s as simple as not taking it. If you have an implant or IUD, you’ll need to make an appointment to have the device removed. Keep in mind that depending on the form of contraception, it might take time for the hormones to clear your system.

Understand How To Get Access

Choosing a birth control method is one thing, but getting access to it is another. It’s not to say access is hard to get; it just differs depending on the method. For example, you can buy condoms at most convenience stores, but getting an IUD involves a medical procedure in a doctor’s office.

Do you see a doctor regularly or have an annual well woman visit? If so, you shouldn’t have a problem getting access to any form of contraception. The same is true if there are resources like Planned Parenthood available in your community. Both a doctor’s office and Planned Parenthood provide the prescriptions or procedures necessary for getting birth control. If neither of those are options, search online for telehealth providers that take care of both the doctor’s prescription and the contraception delivery.

Next, consider how easy it is to get a refill, so to speak. An IUD or implant replacement involves a trip to the doctor. Refills are easy to come by for birth control pills, patches, shots and rings. However, especially in the case of birth control shots, you’ll have to be comfortable administering them yourself.

When it comes down to deciding on a form of birth control, it’s key to strike a balance between the qualities that are most important to you. Talk with your doctor and see about switching methods if yours isn’t working for you. While shopping around for contraception is frustrating, it’s more important to find contraception that you can use regularly and effectively with limited side effects.