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The Patch, The Pill, and More: Hormonal Birth Control Methods

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Figuring out what kind of birth control is right for you can be intimidating. Whether you choose to go with hormonal or non-hormonal methods (or both!) is up to you. Understanding how hormonal birth control works is key to making an informed decision! Here are some common methods of hormonal birth control.

How does hormonal birth control work?

Hormonal birth control works by mimicking the body’s own hormone cycles. There are a few different forms of hormonal birth control, but they all have the same or similar effects. There are three main ways that this method prevents pregnancy.

First, it prevents ovulation, so there’s no egg for sperm to fertilize. Second, it thins the lining of the uterus, so that a fertilized egg can’t get nutrients to grow. Third, it thickens the cervical mucus, which makes it harder for sperm to get past the cervix.

There are two hormones that are commonly used in birth control – Estrogen and Progesterone. Lots of hormonal birth control combines estrogen and progesterone in one method, but there are some progesterone-only options like the progesterone-only pill.

Typical use versus perfect use

When people talk about birth control, they often talk about typical use and perfect use. Perfect use is when a method is used absolutely perfectly. But humans aren’t perfect, and everyone makes mistakes sometimes! That’s why we also take typical use into account.

Typical use is how people are more likely to use their birth control. Condoms can expire, or you can forget to take your pill one morning. Birth control with a very high success rate with perfect use will usually have a slightly lower success rate with typical use. If you’re worried about not being able to use your birth control right, you might prefer an option like an IUD, where you don’t have to remember to do anything once it’s inserted.

The patch, the pill, and the ring

You can take hormonal birth control in the form of a pill. You can also get it as a shot, or a patch that goes somewhere on your body. Another form of hormonal birth control is the NuvaRing, a small, flexible plastic ring that you insert into your vagina. You can take some of these forms of birth control together, but not all of them. If you’re combining hormonal birth control methods, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about it first.

The patch, the pill and the ring all have to be used regularly to be effective. You need to stick to a schedule with the pill and take it every day, get the patch or shot regularly, and remember when to insert the ring. These forms of birth control are quite effective.  With perfect use, the pill is 99% effective. With typical use, it’s closer to 92%. These rates are about the same as for the patch and the ring.

IUDs

Some people refer to IUDs as “long-acting reversible contraception”. This is because they can prevent pregnancy for a long time – sometimes years! But if someone using an IUD decides they want to get pregnant, it’s easy to remove the birth control so they can do that.

IUDs are one of the most effective forms of birth control. This is because they don’t rely on you to use them perfectly. You don’t have to remember to take a pill, or the right way to put on a condom. IUDs don’t protect against STI’s, but they are over 99% effective at preventing pregnancy.

There are different types of IUDs. Hormonal IUDs use a synthetic version of Progesterone, so they can be a good option for people who can’t use birth control with Estrogen. A copper IUD (like the ParaGuard) is a non-hormonal method of birth control that can also be used for emergency contraception if you get it inserted up to five days after having sex. The IUD is inserted into your uterus.

One birth control method that works similarly to the IUD is the implant. The implant goes under the skin in your upper arm. It prevents pregnancy by releasing a hormone called progestin.  You get it inserted, and then you don’t have to do anything else for it to work. Like the IUD, the implant is 99% effective. It can be left in place for up to four years. However, the implant is not available in Canada right now.

Can hormonal birth control have side effects?

Some people do experience side effects with certain types of hormonal birth control. This is different for everyone! It might take you a try or two to find a hormonal method of birth control that gives you minimal or no side effects. Common side effects include:

  • Mood swings or depression
  • Spotting between your periods
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Breast tenderness
  • Changes in your sex drive

Some types of the pill can raise your risk for stroke. A doctor will be able to advise you if a type of birth control is safe for you to use.

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