9 Common Birth Control Options

When it comes to birth control, there's good news: You've got lots of options! From the birth control patch to the pill, find out which contraception method is best for you.

  • Michael Kraus

    If you're thinking of changing your birth control, you're not alone: an Emory University survey recently found that 43 percent of new or expecting mothers confessed to being dissatisfied with the contraception method they were using pre-baby. But there are plenty of birth control options to choose from, depending on your family-planning goals. "There are a number of factors for women to consider, including whether they're breastfeeding, how soon they plan to get pregnant again, and how often they have sex," explains John Repke, MD, chairman of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Penn State University School of Medicine, in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Here, a look at the most common birth control methods.


    The Combined Pill


    * Cost $15-$35 a month


    * What it is A daily prescription pill that contains estrogen and progestin. Traditionally, you take the birth control pill for 21 days and then take a week off, but several new types of pills such as Seasonale and Lybrel are taken continuously, so you don't get a period.


    * How it works It prevents your ovaries from releasing an egg (ovulation) and also thickens cervical mucus, which keeps sperm from joining with an egg.


    * Who it's for Any mom who wants reliable, nonpermanent birth control (the effects wear off quickly). It also helps treat conditions such as fibroids and endometriosis that can cause heavy periods.


    * Downside You can't use it if you're breastfeeding; some women have irregular bleeding, breast tenderness, headache, and a lower libido. If you're over 35 and have high blood pressure and/or are a smoker, most doctors don't recommend using this method due to increased risk of blood clots.


    * With perfect use, this pill is 99 percent effective. That number drops to 92 percent with typical use. Best bet: use it continuously.

  • Michael Kraus

    The "Mini Pill"

    * Cost $15-$35 a month


    * What it is A daily prescription progestin-only pill


    * How it works Thickens the cervical mucus


    * Who it's for Breastfeeding new moms -- without estrogen, it doesn't carry the risk of decreasing milk production.


    * Downside You've got to pop it like clockwork. If you take it more than three hours past the usual time, you'll need a backup method for 48 hours.


    * Like the combined pill, this pill is 99 percent effective with perfect use versus 92 percent with typical use.

  • The Shot (Depo-Provera)

    * Cost $30-$75 every 3 months, plus exam Cost


    * What it is An injectable method of birth control that contains progestin and is prescription only


    * How it works The hormone prevents ovulation, thickens cervical mucus, and alters the uterine lining.


    * Who it's for Breastfeeding moms who don't want to get pregnant for 2-3 years; those who can't take estrogen.


    * Downside Irregular bleeding may result. Can also cause temporary bone thinning; discuss this with your doctor if you're at risk for osteoporosis.


    * Use it without fail, and it's 99.9 percent effective. If you're late for a shot, that number falls to 97 percent.

  • Michael Kraus

    The Patch

    * Cost $30-$40 a month


    * What it is A thin, beige plastic patch you place on your butt, tummy, or arm once a week for three weeks


    * How it works Releases synthetic progestin and estrogen, which work by preventing ovulation, thickening cervical mucus, and more


    * Who it's for Busy moms who want a very reliable method of birth control but might forget to take a pill every day


    * Downside There's a slightly higher risk of blood clots for those who use the patch.


    * It's 99 percent effective when used perfectly. Miss a dose, and it's more like 95 percent.

  • Michael Kraus

    Diaphragms, Caps, and Shields

    * Cost $15-$75; diaphragm and cap last 2 years; shield, 6 months


    * How they work Keep sperm from joining the egg by blocking entry to the uterus -- used with contraceptive jelly


    * Who they're for Moms who really don't want to use a hormonal method or who have sex infrequently


    * What they are Soft latex or silicone barriers that cover the cervix -- you must be fitted in your doctor's office.


    * Downside These aren't super reliable, and you can't use them if you're having any type of vaginal bleeding, including your period. Some women who use these birth control methods start to develop frequent urinary tract infections.


    * These are about 94 percent effective with perfect use, but that drops to around 84 percent with typical use.

  • Michael Kraus

    The Ring (NuvaRing)

    * Cost $30-$35 a month


    * What it is A prescription-only ring inserted into the vagina once a month -- you can leave it in for three or four weeks.


    * How it works It releases synthetic estrogen and progestin that prevent ovulation, thicken cervical mucus, and thin the uterine lining.


    * How it works It releases synthetic estrogen and progestin that prevent ovulation, thicken cervical mucus, and thin the uterine lining.


    * Downside It's not for those over 35 who smoke or have high blood pressure.


    * With perfect use, it's 99 percent effective. Doctors find it roughly 98 percent effective for their patients.

  • Michael Kraus

    Condoms

    * Cost About 50 cents each


    * What it is A sheath of thin latex or plastic worn on the penis during intercourse -- it's available over the counter at your drugstore.


    * How it works It collects semen, preventing it from entering the vagina.


    * Who it's for Moms who don't want to take hormones, who have sex infrequently, or who are in nonmonogamous relationships.


    * Downside Many men hate condoms because they decrease sensation.


    * Ideally, condoms work 98 percent of the time; in reality, it's closer to 85 percent.

  • Michael Kraus

    IUDs (ParaGard, Mirena)

    * Cost $175-500 for exam, insertion, and follow-up


    * What they are T-shaped plastic devices inserted into your uterus by your ob-gyn


    * How they work Both prevent sperm from reaching the egg and thin the uterine lining, preventing egg implantation.


    * Who it's for Moms who are either done having kids or who want to space their babies at least three years apart.


    * Downside Up to 10 percent of IUDs are pushed into the vagina in the first year. There are rare reports of IUDs puncturing the uterus during insertion.


    * IUDs are more than 99 percent effective. ParaGard is good for a decade; Mirena lasts for five years.

  • Michael Kraus

    The Implant (Implanon)

    * Cost $300-$350 for office visit and insertion; good for up to 3 years


    * What it is A matchstick-size implant inserted under the skin of the upper arm


    * How it works Its progestin prevents ovulation and thickens cervical mucus.


    * Who it's for Breastfeeding moms who want to get pregnant quickly once they stop.


    * Downside It's not widely available yet (call 877-IMPLANON for more info). There's a small risk of complications associated with it.


    * Experts estimate Implanon is 99.9 percent effective.



    Copyright © 2008 Meredith Corporation. Originally published in the May 2008 issue of American Baby magazine.


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