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What contraception is best for me?

4th June 2020

When it comes to contraception and birth control, there are a number of options for women of both the hormonal and non-hormonal variety. But deciding which one to go for is a very personal decision and one we’ve tried to make easier by offering you some more information, as well as pros and cons, below.

The contraceptive pill

The contraceptive pill is a hormonal method of birth control that requires taking one tablet every day to prevent pregnancy. There are two different kinds; the combined pill and the progestogen-only pill (“mini pill”) which can be suitable for different women based on whether or not they contain oestrogen.

Pros

  • It’s over 99% effective with perfect use (93% in everyday use)
  • It can alleviate heavy or painful periods
  • It doesn’t interrupt sex
  • You don’t need to think about it every time you have sex
  • It’s easy to reverse if you wish become pregnant
  • There are lots of different kinds available, so you can likely find one that suits you
  • You can most likely use the pill 21 days after giving birth
  • There are pills suitable for women who are breastfeeding
  • It can help to reduce acne
  • It reduces your risk of cancer of the ovaries, womb and colon

Cons

  • It needs to be taken at the same time every day and is less effective if your routine slips
  • It doesn’t offer protection against STI’s
  • It can be affected by other medications
  • It can be affected by vomiting or having diarrhoea
  • It can cause side effects such as headaches and mood swings
  • It can increase your risk of blood clots and breast cancer

The contraceptive implant

The contraceptive implant is a small flexible plastic rod that is inserted into the inner part of your arm, where it slowly releases progestogen to prevent pregnancy. Once implanted into the arm (by a medical professional), it will remain there for 3 years until you either have it removed or replaced.

Pros

  • It’s more than 99% effective
  • It lasts for 3 years
  • It doesn’t interrupt sex
  • It’s suitable for women who can’t have oestrogen
  • You don’t need to think about it every day
  • It can reduce heavy or painful periods
  • Your fertility returns to normal after it’s removed

Cons

  • Your periods may be irregular
  • It can have side effects like headaches and nausea
  • You can’t stop using it without having it removed by a professional
  • It requires a small procedure to have it fitted and removed
  • It doesn’t protect you against sexually transmitted infections

The contraceptive injection

The contraceptive injection is similar to the implant in that it releases a slow stream of progestogen into the body, but this is done by injections every 8-13 weeks. The type will depend on how long they last, but all of them are administered by injection into your bottom (or occasionally upper arm).

Pros

  • Each injection lasts 8-13 weeks and doesn’t need to be thought about every day
  • It’s reversible
  • It doesn’t interrupt sex
  • It’s oestrogen-free
  • It’s not affected by other medicines
  • It can help with premenstrual symptoms
  • It’s safe for women who are breastfeeding

Cons

  • There can be a delay of up to a year before your fertility returns to normal
  • It can lead to weight gain
  • It doesn’t protect against STI’s
  • It can lead to side effects like acne, hair loss and mood swings
  • Any side effects can last for as long as the injection lasts (8-13 weeks)
  • Your periods can be altered, even after you stop the injections

The contraceptive patch

The contraceptive patch (known by the brand Evra patch) is a small sticky square that you adhere to your skin for a week at a time, where it releases hormones to prevent pregnancy.

It works in the same way as the combined pill (it contains oestrogen and progestogen) but through your skin rather than an oral tablet.

Pros

  • It’s easy to use
  • It’s over 99% effective
  • It doesn’t interrupt sex
  • It still works if you’re sick or have diarrhoea
  • You don’t have to think about it every day
  • It may reduce the risk of ovarian, womb and bowel cancer
  • It can make your periods lighter or less painful

Cons

  • It can cause skin irritation
  • You need to remember to change it every week
  • You can get bleeding between cycles
  • It doesn’t protect you against sexually transmitted infections
  • It may be visible which some women don’t like
  • Some medicines can make the patch less effective

The vaginal ring

The vaginal ring (NuvaRing) is a small flexible ring that you insert into the vagina to prevent pregnancy. It works similarly to other hormonal methods by releasing oestrogen and progestogen to prevent ovulation.

Pros

  • It’s over 99% effective
  • It’s easy to put in and take out
  • You don’t need to think about it every day
  • It doesn’t interrupt sex
  • It isn’t affected if you’re sick
  • It has no long term effect on fertility
  • It may help with premenstrual symptoms

Cons

  • You may not like the process of fitting it and removing it from your vagina
  • You can have spotting or breakthrough bleeding (especially at first)
  • You need to remember to change it
  • It can cause some side effects
  • It doesn’t protect against STI’s
  • Some medicines can make it less effective

The intrauterine device (IUD) 

The IUD is a small T-shaped plastic device that is fitted into the womb to prevent pregnancy by releasing copper. It is also sometimes known as “the copper coil” or “the coil” and lasts for 5 to 10 years (depending on the brand).

Pros

  • It works for 5 to 10 years
  • It’s suitable for most women
  • It’s non-hormonal so doesn’t come with typical contraceptive side effects
  • It doesn’t interrupt sex
  • It’s safe for women who are breastfeeding
  • It’s possible to get pregnant as soon as it’s removed
  • It works straight away once fitted
  • You don’t need to think about it every day

Cons

  • It can make periods longer, heavier and more painful
  • It can cause lower abdominal pain
  • It doesn’t protect against STIs
  • It can have higher risks associated with infections

The intrauterine system (IUS)

The IUS looks exactly the same as the IUD but instead of releasing copper, this small T-shaped device releases progestogen to prevent pregnancy. It also doesn’t last quite as long, and should be removed or changed every 3 to 5 years.

Pros

  • It’s one of the most effective forms of birth control
  • It lasts for 3 to 5 years
  • You don’t need to think about it every day
  • It’s good for women who can’t have oestrogen
  • You can get pregnant as soon as it’s removed
  • It’s not affected by other medicines

Cons

  • Your periods may become irregular
  • You may experience side effects like mood swings or loss of libido
  • It can have higher risks associated with infections
  • It may cause vaginal bleeding between periods or pain
  • It doesn’t protect against sexually transmitted infections

Condoms

Condoms are the only kind of contraceptive that protects against both pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections and are highly effective (when used correctly). They’re available in both male and female forms but the male version is the more popular by a long way.

Pros

  • They’re effective at preventing pregnancy
  • They protect against STI’s
  • They don’t cause side effects
  • They don’t cause long term changes to the body
  • They’re best for unplanned sex
  • They are available in various sizes and types
  • They are easy to use

Cons

  • They may feel like they interrupt sex
  • They can split or tear, especially if they get air trapped inside
  • Some people can be allergic to the material
  • They can make sex less enjoyable for some couples