Is this topic for you?
Sometimes a woman may not
use birth control, or her method may fail. If this happens to you, you may
still be able to prevent pregnancy if you act quickly. For more information,
see the topic
What is birth control?
Birth control is any method
used to prevent pregnancy. Another word for birth control is contraception (say
If you have sex without birth control, there
is a chance that you could get pregnant. This is true even if you have not
periods yet or you are getting close to
The only sure way to prevent pregnancy is to not have sex. But
finding a good method of birth control you can use every time can help you
avoid an unplanned pregnancy.
What are the types of birth control?
many different kinds of birth control. Each has pros and cons. Learning about
all the methods will help you find one that is right for you.
- Hormonal methods include birth control
pills, shots (such as Depo-Provera), the skin patch,
the implant , and the vaginal ring. There is also a hormonal IUD (such as Mirena) that releases a small amount of hormone. Birth control that uses
hormones is very good at preventing pregnancy.
- Intrauterine devices (IUDs) are
inserted into your
uterus. IUDs work very well and are very safe. There are two main types of IUDs: the copper IUD (such as ParaGard) and the hormonal IUD (such as Mirena).
- Barrier methods include condoms,
diaphragms, and sponges. In general, these do not prevent pregnancy as well as
IUDs or hormonal methods do. Barrier methods must be used every time you have
- Natural family planning (also called fertility
awareness) can work if you and your partner are very careful. You will need to
keep good records so you know when you are fertile. And during times when you
are fertile, you will need to skip sex or use a barrier method.
- Permanent birth control (sterilization) gives you lasting
protection against pregnancy. A man can have a
vasectomy, or a woman can have her tubes tied (tubal ligation). But this is only a good choice if you
are sure that you don't want any (or any more) children.
- Emergency contraception is a backup method to prevent
pregnancy if you forget to use birth control or a condom breaks.
For hormonal or barrier methods to work best, you have
to use them exactly the way your doctor or the package instructions say. Even
then, accidents can happen. So it is a good idea to keep emergency birth
control on hand as backup protection. You can buy "morning-after pills," such as
Plan B, in most drugstores if you are 17 or older.
How do you choose the best method?
The best method
of birth control is one that protects you every time you have sex. And with
many types of birth control, that depends on how well you use it. To find a
method that will work for you every time, some things to think about
- How well it works. Think about how
important it is to you to avoid pregnancy. Then look at how well each method
works. For example, if you plan to have a child soon anyway, you may not need a
very reliable method. If you don't want children but feel it is wrong to end a
pregnancy, choose a type of birth control that works very
- How much effort it takes. For
example, birth control pills may not be a good choice if you often forget to
take medicine. If you are not sure you will stop and use a barrier method each
time you have sex, pick another method.
- When you want to have children. For example, if you want to have children in the
next year or two, birth control shots may not be a good choice. They can make it hard
to get pregnant for several months after you stop them. If you never want to
have children, natural family planning is not a good choice because it often
- How much the method costs. For
example, condoms are cheap or free in some clinics. Some insurance companies
cover the cost of prescription birth control. But cost can sometimes be
misleading. An IUD costs a lot up front. But it works for years, making it
low-cost over time.
- Whether it protects you from infection. Latex condoms can help protect you from
sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as
HIV. But they are not the best way to prevent
pregnancy. To avoid both STIs and pregnancy, use condoms along with another
type of birth control.
- If you've had a problem with one kind of birth control. Finding the best method of birth control may involve trying
something different. Also, you may need to change a method that once worked
well for you.
If you are using a method now that you are not happy
with, talk to your doctor about other choices.
What health issues might limit your choices?
birth control methods may not be safe for you, depending on your health. To
make sure a method is right for you, your doctor will need to know if
- Are or could be pregnant.
- Have any serious health problems, such as
high blood pressure,
migraine headaches, or
- Have had blood clots in the
legs (deep vein thrombosis) or lungs (pulmonary embolism), or have a close family member who
had blood clots in the legs or lungs.
- Have ever had breast cancer.
- Have a sexually transmitted infection.
How can you get birth control?
You can buy:
- Condoms, sponges, and spermicides in
drugstores without a prescription.
- Emergency contraception
in most drugstores without a prescription. But you do need proof that you are
17 or older.
You need to see a doctor or other health professional
- Get a prescription for birth control pills
and other methods that use hormones.
- Have an IUD
- Be fitted for a diaphragm or cervical cap.
Frequently Asked Questions
Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Femi Olatunbosun, MB, FRCSC - Obstetrics and Gynecology
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