There are many types of contraception, each with its own benefits and risks.
- Oral contraceptive pill
- Diaphragm or cap with spermicide
- Intrauterine device (IUD)
- Intrauterine System (IUS)
- Contraceptive injection
Read more about the types of contraception
Choosing the right one depends upon your personal circumstances. It’s important to think about how reliably you think you can use each form of contraception and how you plan to protect yourself from sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
You’ll also need to consider some other factors, including your medical history, how you feel about your periods changing, how often you have sex, and if you’ve just had a baby.
It also helps to look at how effective each method of birth control is, so you get a level of contraception you’re happy with.
What criteria is considered for hormonal contraception?
Hormonal contraception like the combined pill and birth control patches contains estrogen, which affects many different physiological processes within the body. For some women, taking estrogen is not recommended as it can increase the likelihood of developing some health conditions.
You may not be suitable for the combined pill if you:
- have high blood pressure
- smoke and are over 35 years old
- have ever had a blood clot
- have diabetes, heart disease or lupus
- have a history of breast cancer
- suffer from migraines.
If you cannot take estrogen, there are plenty of other contraceptives that may be suitable, including the progestogen-only pill, an intrauterine device (sometimes called a coil) or condoms.
Using the contraception correctly
You must use contraception correctly for it to be fully effective. You need to be confident that you will take the contraceptive pill at around the same time every day, or fit a condom or diaphragm before starting to have sex, every time. If you fail to do this even once, you could become pregnant.
If you think you might struggle to use one of these methods correctly, you may be better suited to contraception that works by itself once it’s been administered, like an injection, implant, IUD or patch.
The effect on your periods
Some forms of contraception can make your periods stop or become lighter, heavier, or irregular, and you may want to consider this when deciding which is best for you.
- The oral contraceptive pill, birth control patch, IUS, and the contraceptive injection can all cause lighter or irregular periods.
- IUDs can make periods heavier and longer.
Barrier methods of contraception like a diaphragm or condoms do not affect periods.
If you’ve just had a baby
If you’ve just had a baby, you’ll need to use contraception straight away if you don’t want to become pregnant again. You can become pregnant even when you are breastfeeding and before your period returns.
When deciding which contraception to use, you’ll need to consider all the usual factors, such as your medical history and lifestyle.
If you are breastfeeding or had complications during your pregnancy or labour, your doctor may advise you to wait a short time before using some types of hormonal contraception.
Protecting yourself from STDs
“More than 1 million STIs are acquired every day worldwide.”
The World Health Organization
Sexually transmitted infections like chlamydia, hepatitis and HIV are easily spread by sexual contact. STIs can cause symptoms like vaginal discharge, ulcers on your genitals and abdominal pain, but you could still have an STI even if you have no symptoms.
Some STIs can seriously harm your health, affect your chances of having a baby in the future, and even increase your risk of developing cancer.
It is essential for your current and future health that you protect yourself against STIs.
Condoms are the only contraceptive that both prevents pregnancy and protects against STIs.
How effective is each method?
Contraception that doesn’t rely on you remembering to take it or use it correctly is the most effective at preventing pregnancy. The contraceptive implant, IUD and IUS are all more than 99% effective.
If used perfectly, the injection, oral contraceptive pill, and the birth control patch are more than 99% effective. However, the possibility of user error with these methods (like forgetting to take a pill or not getting your injection on time) means that they are generally less than 95% effective.
Condoms are 98% effective if used correctly, every time.
A diaphragm with spermicide is 92-96% effective if used correctly, every time.
Read more about methods of contraception
Emergency contraception – The Morning After Pill
If you have unprotected sex, you are at risk of becoming pregnant.
It is always better to have reliable contraceptive cover before having sex, but if you do have sex without contraception or your contraception fails during sex (for example, if your condom tears), and you don’t want to become pregnant, you can access emergency contraception.
There are two types of emergency contraception: an oral tablet often called a ‘morning after pill’, and an intrauterine device (IUD).
A doctor or nurse fits an IUD by passing it through the vagina and cervix, into the uterus. An IUD provides ongoing contraception and can stay in place for up to ten years. Read more about IUDs.
The morning after pill is effective up to three days after having unprotected sex. It works by interrupting your natural hormones to stop your ovary from releasing an egg so that you can’t become pregnant.
The morning after pill can cause side effects such as headaches, nausea, or sickness (if you’re sick within two hours of taking the morning after pill, return to your healthcare provider as you may need another dose).
After using emergency contraception, you may wish to talk to your doctor or nurse about reviewing your usual methods of contraception to make sure you are using the right method for you.