With so many birth control options on the market, unwanted pregnancies should be a thing of the past. But unfortunately, nearly half of all pregnancies in the U.S. each year are unintended. House Call Doctor has the scoop on 13 birth control options available to us today, so you can make an informed decision about your future.
Birth control is a hot topic of conversation at the doctor’s office. Honestly, with so many options out there now, unwanted pregnancies should be a thing of the past. My heart truly aches every time I see a pregnant teenager, or even an adult, who seems devastated after discovering a pregnancy.
However, what I’ve found interesting is how many women (and men) really are not aware of the numerous options there are to prevent pregnancy. It’s really not just about “the pill” anymore. There’s no “best” method – each person is different, and each option may or may not be right for everyone. So how do you know which one is right for you? Let’s review all the current available birth control possibilities, and their pros and cons, so that you can make an informed decision..
Who Can Get Pregnant?
Technically, if you are of child-bearing age, you can get pregnant. Child-bearing age refers to a woman who has reached puberty and has begun to menstruate. Once that happens, your body is likely capable of reproduction, no matter your actual age.
This means that pregnancy can happen to a 9-year-old child as well as a woman of 50 (until she hits menopause). Although it is generally more challenging to get pregnant as we age, it’s still a possibility. Also, it’s important to realize that periods and ovulation don’t always correlate – so even if your periods are irregular, you can still become pregnant.
13 Birth Control Options
If you don't desire a pregnancy, you have many options nowadays – some are older methods that have been available for many years, and some are more advanced (but not necessarily any better). So here are 13 birth control options currently available in the United States. I've also created this free chart where you can see all the current birth control options, including their pros, cons, and other pertinent info about each one. Make sure you download it right away:
Abstinence: Of course, what kind of doctor would I be if I didn’t include this as an option. This is the only method that is 100% effective in pregnancy and STD prevention – which is an important lesson to learn about other birth control methods. Pregnancy (and/or STD contraction) is possible with almost every type of birth control method out there…except for this one. Therefore, if you decide to become sexually active, be prepared for the big responsibility of becoming pregnant, because it can happen no matter what other type of birth control you use.
Condoms: This is the only other form of birth control (besides abstinence) that provides protection against sexually transmitted infections. It must be used every single time in order for it to be effective. I tell my patients that all it takes is once without it to get pregnant (and I’ve seen this happen numerous times). Keep it in your purse or wallet so that you always have one with you. It is 88% effective overall.
The Pill: It's one of the most common and oldest forms of birth control around. There are two main types – estrogen and progesterone - that is, combined pills and progesterone-only pills. Progesterone-only pills tend to be slightly more challenging to take since it’s very important to take them at the same exact time every day. However, pregnancy is much more likely when a pill is “forgotten” or skipped with either type. Therefore, if you tend to have trouble remembering to do something at the same time every day, then the pill may not be the best method for you. I tell my patients to place an alarm on their cell phone to remind them, or to couple it with something you do every day (like if you brush your teeth at the same time every night, or you awaken at the same time every morning, place your pills near your toothbrush or alarm clock along with a bottle of water as a reminder). Most common side effects include mild headaches, nausea, mood changes, or irregular periods – but these are much more common in the first 1-3 packs, and tend to resolve with time. The pill's effectiveness (if taken properly) is 95%.
Injection: The Depo-Provera shot is an injectable progesterone-only hormone that is administered in the doctor’s office every 12 weeks. It is one of the most effective forms of birth control available. Unfortunately, side effects tend to be more bothersome in some patients and include weight gain and irregular periods. Menstrual cycles can be irregular for the first 3-6 months, but after that, women tend to either stop bleeding altogether or bleed very lightly every month. Doctors also don’t recommend this method for more than 2 years at a time since it can cause bone loss with long-term use.
Vaginal Ring: This is a flimsy ring that you insert into the vaginal canal and leave in there for 3 weeks and then take out for one week. It releases combined hormones, and menstrual bleeding occurs during the one week that it’s left out. For many women, the biggest barrier in selecting this method is the idea of self-insertion. Those who use tampons typically feel more comfortable using the ring. It does not generally interfere with intercourse, and even if the male partner is able to feel it, it's rarely bothersome. This is a great method for someone who forgets to take the pill every day, but is not considering the IUD, implant, or sterilization. The ring is 95% effective at pregnancy prevention.