Female contraception is a wonderful thing; it gives women freedom and autonomy over their bodies and puts family planning decisions firmly in their hands. But with so many different options available finding the right contraception that works for you can be tricky.
The most common form of contraception in the UK is the pill. For many of us, this is our first experience with contraception and usually the first method GPs suggest to their patients when they’re exploring contraception methods; it’s easy to take, has low risks and is cheap for the NHS to prescribe.
But is the pill the right contraception for you?
While the pill is great and works for millions of women many of us take it each day on autopilot without ever really thinking about how it works or if this is the best method for us. Have you ever thought about what other options are available to you? Or how these work? Is the pill really the right contraception for you?
To be honest we were a bit hazy too. So here’s a breakdown on the most popular contraceptive methods and just exactly how they work. Let’s see if your current contraception really is the right contraception for you.
Types of contraception
The Combined Pill
The combined pill is made up of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. It is taken at the same time every day for 21 days; after this, you have a 7-day break which is when you will experience a bleed. After the 7 days are up you start the 21-day cycle again.
The combined pill works by stopping the ovaries from releasing an egg each month. It also thickens the mucus in the neck of the womb which makes it harder for sperm to reach an egg as well as thinning the lining of the womb meaning a fertilised egg will have less chance of a successful implementation.
If taken correctly the combined pill is 99% effective but it’s important to note if you experience sickness or diarrhoea you will need to use another method of contraception, such as condoms. The combined pill may not be for you if you’re a smoker, overweight, suffer from blood clots, severe migraines or diabetes. So what do we think? Is it the right contraception for you?
The Progestogen Only Pill (The Mini Pill)
As suggested by the name the progestogen only pill contains the progestogen hormone only. There are two methods of progestogen only pills; these are the 3-hour progestogen pill and the 12-hour progestogen pill. The 3-hour progestogen pill must be taken within 3 hours of the same time each day. The 12-hour progestogen pill must be taken within 12 hours of the same time each day.
There are 28 pills in a pack which must be taken each day either within 3 or 12 hours of the same time depending on the type of pill you are taking. There is no break in between pill packet so once you have completed one 28 day cycle you immediately begin a new pack.
The progestogen only pill works by thickening the mucus in the cervix which stops any sperm from reaching the egg. If taken correctly the combined pill is 99% effective but it’s important to note if you experience sickness or diarrhoea you will need to use another method of contraception, such as condoms. The progestogen only pill might not be for you who suffer from liver diseases including cirrhosis or tumours. It’s also not advisable if you have or have had breast cancer, heart issues or are at high stroke risk.
The implant is a small plastic rod that is inserted under the skin. It releases the hormone progestogen into your bloodstream which thickens the mucus in the cervix and thins the lining of the womb preventing pregnancy. It lasts up to 3 years and is a great option if you struggle to remember to take daily pills.
To insert the implant the area is first numbed with a local anaesthetic; as this wears off you may experience some initial tenderness, bruising or discomfort. Only a doctor or nurse can remove the implant and it cannot be removed by yourself. You may also find your periods become lighter and less painful or stop altogether. Although some struggle with constant bleeding. The implant might not be suitable for you if you have liver diseases, have breast cancer or have had breast cancer or suffer from arterial diseases.
Have you tried the implant? If so, do you think its the right contraception for you?
The contraception injection steadily releases the hormone progestogen into the blood. Similar to the implant it thickens the mucus in the cervix and thins the lining of the womb preventing pregnancy. It can last from 8 – 13 weeks depending on which injection you have (there are two options available). And like the implant, it is a good option if you forget to take pills on a daily basis. Unlike the implant, the effects are not as long-lasting and it does require you to have repeat injections in order to remain effective.
There is minimal pain and discomfort in the injection. It can take up to a year for your fertility to return to normal. So it’s not suitable if you would like to get pregnant in the very near future. Like other progestogen only methods of contraception the injection is not suitable if you have liver diseases, have breast cancer or have had breast cancer or suffer from arterial diseases.
An IUD, also called the copper coil, is a small plastic and copper device that is put into your womb. An IUD works by releasing copper into the womb; this thickens the cervical mucus making it difficult for sperm to reach and fertilise the egg. It can also stop a fertilised egg from implanting in the lining of the womb.
An IUD will need to be fitted by a doctor or a nurse who will first need to check on the position and size of your cervix. Fitting an IUD can be uncomfortable and painful and some people will experience cramps and bleeding afterwards. After an IUD has been fitted you will need a follow-up appointment with your doctor or nurse.
An IUD is effective from 5-10 years depending on the type of IUD you have fitted. You may find your periods are heavier for the first 6 months or you may experience some irregular bleeding. IUD’s can move so it is important to check that it is still in place; your nurse or doctor will show you how to do this. If you think your IUD has moved it is important to seek medical advice immediately as you may not be protected against pregnancy.
You may not be suitable for an IUD if you suffer from issues with your womb or cervix or if you have any unexplained bleeding.
Similar to an IUD the IUS is a small plastic T shaped device that is put into your womb; instead of releasing copper, it releases the hormone progestogen to prevent pregnancy. Similar to other progestogen based methods of contraception this thicken the mucus in the cervix making it difficult for sperm to reach and fertilise an egg as well as thinning the lining of the womb.
It is inserted by a doctor or nurse and can remain effective from 3 to 5 years depending on the type you have fitted. Like the IUD, fitting an IUS can be painful and uncomfortable; initially, it can affect the heaviness and regularity of your periods. You will be shown how to check the IUS is fitted correctly. But if you think it may have moved it is important to seek medical advice immediately. An IUS might not be suitable for you if you suffer from issues with the cervix (including cervical cancer), liver diseases, breast cancer or arterial and heart diseases.
The patch is a small sticky patch that is applied to the skin and releases hormones into the bloodstream to prevent pregnancy. It contains both the hormones estrogen and progestogen which prevents the body from releasing an egg each month. It also thickens the cervical mucus making it difficult for a sperm to reach the egg and thins the womb lining to prevent fertilisation. You wear each patch for 7 days, before changing to a new patch on the 8th day. After three weeks you have one patch-free week where you will experience a bleed.
The patch can be applied to any part of the body but be sure to avoid sore or irritated skin. Also, avoid any position where the patch can be rubbed off. If you forget to remove a patch and it has been on longer than 48 hours you will need to apply a new patch as soon as possible. Start your cycle again from week 1 and use additional contraception methods to prevent pregnancy.
The patch may not be suitable for you if you smoke. Or if you are breastfeeding a baby less than 6 weeks old or if you’re overweight. Some medicines stop the effectiveness of the patch. So be sure to discuss any medication or supplements you are taking with your nurse or doctor.
The newcomer on the contraception scene is the “natural” contraception. This means no pills, no injections, patches or IUD/IUS. This type of contraception is based on period tracking and include companies such as Natural Cycles who’s app is actually classified as contraception. If you’re curious about natural contraception we’ve covered the topic in-depth here.
A Personal Choice
It is important to choose a contraception that works for you and fits in with your lifestyle. To choose the right contraception for you really. Your GP or nurse practitioner will be able to discuss your options with you and help you decide on a method that is best suited to you. It is important to remember that the only method of contraception that will protect your from STIs or STDs are condoms. It is also important to make sure you are taking your contraception in the prescribed way; if you think you’re not covered by your contraception then it’s important to seek medical advice immediately.
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