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Someone getting a birth control injection.

Preventing Pregnancy With Birth Control

Types of Birth Control and What They Do

In order to prevent pregnancy before you are ready or to avoid getting pregnant altogether, you need to ensure you are using some type of birth control (and using it properly).

Different Types of Birth Control

Many types of birth control are available to suit all preferences, comforts and allergies. While birth control is intended to prevent pregnancy, it cannot prevent sexually transmitted infections.

Hormone-based Birth Control

Hormones like estrogen and progestin (synthetic progesterone) prevent ovaries from releasing an egg and thicken the cervical mucus making it hard for sperm to enter the uterus. You will need to get a prescription from your doctor to use hormone-based methods such as the pill, the shot, the patch, the vaginal ring and the hormonal IUD.

Birth Control Pills

If you can rely on yourself to remember to take a daily pill, this could be a good option for you. Pills either use combination hormones or progestin-only. If you forget to take the pill or do not take it correctly, it will not be an effective method of birth control. Overall, the pill is about 90% effective against pregnancy. Taking the pill may reduce acne during ovulation, premenstrual symptoms, heavy bleeding, cramping and mood severity leading up to your monthly period.

Hormone Shot

Hormone shots are long acting and are required once every three months. A health professional administers the shot and when taken on schedule, the shot is about 96% effective. Some users experience lighter periods, improved menstrual symptoms, decreased pain of endometriosis, reduced risk of uterine and ovarian cancers. Some possible side effects include unpredictable bleeding, bone loss, weight gain, headaches, breast tenderness, delay in returning to fertility and mood changes.

The Birth Control Patch

The patch is a small square that is applied each week. It sticks to the skin and releases estrogen and progesterone into the blood stream. When the instructions are followed, the patch is about 90% effective. It may cause irregular menstrual bleeding, nausea, breast tenderness, headaches, light-headedness, mood changes and skin reactions at the patch site.

Vaginal Ring

You insert this flexible ring into your vagina and it slowly releases progestin and estrogen into the bloodstream. Like the pill or patch, use of the ring depends on your menstrual cycle. It gets inserted at the beginning of your period and stays in the vagina for three weeks. If used correctly, the ring is about 90% effective in preventing pregnancy. Side effects include headaches, breast tenderness, upset stomach, high blood pressure, vaginal irritation and discharge.

Intrauterine Devices (IUDs)

An IUD is a long-term set it and forget it option and can prevent pregnancy for three to 10 years. You need a health professional to insert and remove the T-shaped device in the uterus. You can get the IUD removed at any time and you are able to get pregnant as soon as the IUD is out. There are two types of IUDs, the copper IUD and the hormonal IUD. The copper IUD can cause longer and heavier flow. The hormonal IUD reduces menstrual flow and cramping over time. Side effects include spotting, mood swings and breast tenderness.

Barrier Methods

To prevent pregnancy, barrier methods are devices put in place each time you have sex. While they have fewer side effects than hormonal methods or IUDs, barrier methods do not prevent pregnancy as well as their hormonal counterparts. Barrier methods include condoms, diaphragms and sponges.

Condoms

Male (eternal) and female (internal) condoms are available and serve a dual purpose as they help reduce the risk of STIs as well as prevent pregnancy. Condoms are single use only and one of the most affordable birth control options. Condoms can break or slip off, which reduce effectiveness, but overall, they are about 80% effective. You can increase effectiveness of a condom by using spermicidal foam with them.

Diaphragms

A diaphragm is bowl-shaped and made of flexible silicone. It goes into the vagina to cover the cervix so sperm cannot get in to fertilize the egg. When used with spermicide, a diaphragm is about 88% effective. Effectiveness also relies on proper fit and care of the diaphragm. When taken care of properly, a diaphragm can last up to two years. Diaphragms are not widely available in Canada and buying the necessary spermicidal jelly to use with the diaphragm is also difficult. Side effects can include irritation, strong odor or vaginal discharge, allergic reaction, increased risk of urinary tract infection and possible toxic shock.

Sponges

A single-use contraceptive sponge is made of soft, round plastic. Before intercourse, it needs to be placed deep in your vagina to cover the cervix and block the entrance to your uterus. The sponge also contains spermicide to slow the sperm down and prevent it from reaching the egg. It is about 88% effective in women who have never given birth and 76% effective in women who have given birth. One downside of the sponge is that it can be difficult to use properly. Side effects may include irritation and has a risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome.

Emergency Contraception (The Morning After Pill)

In the instance where your current birth control fails, for example a condom tears or diaphragm slips out of place, there is emergency contraception available. Emergency contraception pills delay ovulation so the egg does not get released. It is about 89% effective if the pill is taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex. Side effects include nausea, vomiting, breast tenderness and headaches.

Permanent Birth Control

There is also an option for those who are sure they do not want any (or any more) children. There is an option to be sterilized by vasectomy or tubal ligation (getting your tubes tied) and both procedures are over 99% effective.

No matter which method of birth control you use, make sure you follow product instructions every time. If you do not want to get pregnant, or get someone pregnant, make sure you are taking the proper precautions.

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