If you're not interested in having a baby right now, then you're probably following the ways to prevent pregnancy recommended by your doctor. Maybe you're on hormonal birth control. Or tracking your period. Or stocking up on condoms, so you're never without.
But even with all those precautions, it's still possible to make a few mistakes that can increase your chances of getting pregnant. Without realizing it, you might not be using the best form or birth control for you, or maybe you're accidentally having unprotected sex on an ovulation day. It's easy to make these types of mistakes. But it's also really possible to avoid unwanted pregnancy — if you take the correct measures.
First, talk with your partner about what kind of birth control methods you plan to use. "It helps to have you both on board with whatever method you choose," women’s health expert Ann Mullen, Director of Health Education at reproductive health company Cycle Technologies, tells Bustle. From there, you can research which contraceptive options are right for you. "There are a lot of good methods, so [you] should find one that really meets [your] needs."
After that, be consistent. As Muller says, it's important that you take charge of your own reproductive health and protect yourself. Here are a few things experts say can make pregnancy more likely, so you'll know what to avoid if you aren't looking to get pregnant.
While many women think they know which days they're ovulating each month, it's important to remember that it's super easy to misjudge your fertility risk (AKA, your chances of getting pregnant).
"Women can only get pregnant six days in their cycles, but these six days move around from one cycle to the next and most women don’t know when this is likely to occur," says Mullen. "It’s important to understand your risk and to protect yourself on days when pregnancy is possible."
And one way to do that is by tracking your period, and making sure you take extra precautions on your fertile days. "Period tracking is a simple way to help a woman understand her pregnancy risks on any day of her cycle," says Mullen. "You can do this the old-fashioned way, marking a paper calendar with your period start dates, or thanks to technology, you can do it all on your phone with using a fertility tracking app like Dot."
When choosing a birth control method, be sure to take your personality and lifestyle into account, so you can find one that best suits you. If you can't remember to use it regularly or properly, it definitely won't work.
"The best contraceptive method is one that you will use consistently over time," says Mullen. "If you aren’t good about taking your pill every day, it won’t work for you. If you aren’t good about keeping condoms in stock, it won’t work for you. If you are using a fertility awareness method and engaging in unprotected sex on your high risk days, it won’t work for you. Find something that you can use correctly and will use ongoing."
It's sounds so simple, but Muller says not planning ahead when it comes to sex is one of the most common reasons women who have had an unplanned pregnancy cite for the reason they didn't use contraception. "They weren’t expecting to have sex or [were] having sex infrequently so they didn’t think they needed contraception," she says. And yet it still resulted in pregnancy.
But with a little forethought, this can be easily avoided. "It’s important to plan ahead. Know what you can use to protect yourself if and when the occasion arises," Mullen says. "Always have a back-up method that you can use on the spot if needed — condoms, emergency contraception — whatever works for you."
If you use the pull-out or withdrawal method as a form of birth control, do be aware that it's not the most surefire way to prevent pregnancy. "Coitus interruptus has been around a long time and it seems to be making a come-back. But in typical use, it is not a very effective way to prevent pregnancy," says Mullen. "While it may be better than nothing, know that it can have a failure rate as high as 28 percent." If your partner times their ejaculation incorrectly, it can result in pregnancy. And your risk also goes up if you have sex again right afterward with sperm still present in or on the penis.
Lube can make sex more comfortable, and it can also help prevent the condom from tearing, which is a really great thing when you don't want to get pregnant. Just be careful when it comes to which lube you choose. "One of the major things people don't realize is that going 'natural' and using coconut oil as a lube can actually break down condom material, making it easier for sperm to escape," Nancy Redd, author of PREGNANCY, OMG!, tells Bustle. So skip the coconut oil when using latex condoms, and go for a silicone or water-based lube instead.
"Water-based lubricants are more common mostly because they’re less messy," Caleb Backe, a health and wellness expert at Maple Holistics, tells Bustle. "On the other hand, many people swear by silicone-based lubes since they work longer and more effectively. However, couples looking to avoid pregnancy should pay extra attention to the lubes they choose. Oil-based lubricants can significantly weaken latex and cause tears in condoms, potentially causing an unwanted pregnancy."
If you start having sex and forget to put on a condom, it's definitely worth it to pause for a second and get that thing in place — especially if you are not using any other form of birth control. But if you make a habit of having sex for a few minutes sans condom or any other form of birth control, before stopping to put one on, it can definitely increase your risk of getting pregnant.
As Mullen says, "If using condoms for pregnancy prevention, they should be in place from the beginning." That way sperm will stay where it needs to stay: inside the condom.
Many people swear by breastfeeding as a form of birth control, but that doesn't mean it's bulletproof. "Breastfeeding can protect you in the first six months after the baby is born, but only when you follow a specific protocol," says Mullen. "Don’t assume you are protected unless you are breastfeeding exclusively and haven’t seen a period return." Be sure to ask your doctor about how to do it, as well as the risk factors, so you'll know if it's right for you.
Once you get into your late 30s and 40s, you might think your chances of getting pregnant are too low to worry about. And yet, as Mullen says, "it’s not unusual for women in their 40s to have unprotected sex thinking that they can’t get pregnant," and then get pregnant anyway. "If you still get your periods, you can still get pregnant," she says. So if you aren't in the market for a baby right now, follow your birth control plan as you've always done.
Certain medications may decrease the effectiveness of birth control, so it is important to consult with your doctor if you are taking oral contraceptives in conjunction with certain types of medication. When it comes to antibiotics, some doctors believe that “many antibiotics can make birth control less effective by decreasing the hormone levels in birth control,” says Redd. "Whether this is because of a direct conflict between the two medications, or because the side-effects of antibiotics can make the pill less effective (say, if vomiting causes the pill to not be digested) is unclear, but it's better to play it safe and use a backup contraception while on antibiotics.”
Although it is important to note that research has only been able to prove that rifampin, an antibiotic commonly used to treat tuberculosis, can directly impact birth control's effectiveness. According to WebMD, other medications have also been proven to interfere with birth control, including certain anti-HIV drugs, some anti-fungal medications, certain anti-seizure medications, and some herbal remedies. If you are worried that a medication you may have been prescribed will impact your birth control, your best bet is to consult your doctor and find out if you should be using another form of contraception. Until then, a backup condom can't hurt.
By making small changes like these, and keeping in mind the little mistakes that can make you more likely to get pregnant, you can keep yourself safe.