A century ago, families with 10 or 12 children weren’t unusual. Married women often expected to have a baby every year. It wasn’t the best situation for a woman’s health, but our great-great grandmothers didn’t have much choice. Now, modern birth control methods allow women and their partners to make decisions about whether and when to have children.
Choosing the right kind of birth control can be more complicated when we have so many choices
Birth control options
There are a number of different effective birth control options. Your doctor can help you understand the differences and make the best decision for your specific needs and for your life.
Some of the most common kinds of birth control:
- Barrier methods, such as condoms and diaphragms, keep the egg and sperm from joining up to make a baby. Spermicides, chemicals designed to inactivate sperm, are often used with barrier methods. Some barrier methods, like spermicidal sponges and condoms, are available over the counter without a prescription. In general, barrier methods are less effective than other forms of contraception. Condoms help prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), as well as preventing conception.
- Hormonal methods, like birth control pills, the ring, and some IUDs, change a woman’s hormones to keep her from becoming pregnant. These methods of birth control use estrogen and/or progestin. They require prescriptions. These methods are usually more effective at preventing pregnancy than barrier methods. However, they are also more likely to cause side effects. There are many different kinds, so chances are good that you and your doctor can find a hormonal method that will work well for you. These contraceptives don’t prevent transmission of STDs.
- IUDs without hormones are also available. IUD stands for “intrauterine device.” These devices are put into the uterus, and they prevent a fertilized egg from settling in. Copper IUDs are very effective, and they can be a good choice for women who can’t tolerate hormonal birth control methods. IUDs don’t require you to remember to take a pill or to use a condom; they are less susceptible to human error than other methods.
- Permanent methods like tubal ligation or vasectomy are surgical options that make a man or woman unable to make babies. While it is possible to reverse these procedures, they are usually permanent.
Over the counter birth control methods like condoms don’t require a prescription, but most family planning methods do. A visit with your doctor can ensure that you make a choice that is appropriate and effective for you, and that fits your lifestyle.
Some of the things your doctor may ask you when discussing your birth control options:
- Your general health history
- How often you have sex
- How many sexual partners you have
- How many children you have
- Your plans for having children in the future
- Side effects of the various options
- Cost of different birth control methods
- How easy the options are to use
- Lifestyle choices like smoking
These questions are important. They can help you make the best decision about birth control. For example, smoking is a high-risk factor when you take birth control pills. If you are a smoker, your doctor will probably suggest a different method.
If there are other issues that will affect your choice of a birth control method, such as your faith or your spouse’s preferences, you should feel free to bring these points up with your doctor.
The cost, effectiveness, safety, and side effects of the various birth control methods vary a great deal. Talking with your doctor can help you balance the many different factors and make the best decision for your life.