I've been through a lot when it comes to birth control methods. I first went on the Pill when I was 20, then when I perceived that it was causing weight gain (though I'm unsure if it even was — I was having body image issues), I switched to the NuvaRing, a small bendable ring you put in your vagina each month. When I went on Accutane, an acne medication, I needed a backup method, so I also got a diaphragm and spermicide. After not having sex for a year, I stopped using the NuvaRing for convenience sake, and when I met my partner, we used condoms. But using condoms alone made me nervous, since they're only 85 percent effective, so now I also use a diaphragm. Trying all these methods taught me that I prefer a birth control method that doesn't mess with my body's chemistry, doesn't have side effects, and doesn't require a prescription (I'm always traveling, so that would be annoying). And I like to have more than one to be safe.
As my own story shows, birth control methods are very individual. There's no universal best method, so you should focus on finding the best method for you. "Side effects and health concerns are two of the main reasons that women site for discontinuing a contraceptive method, switching methods, or using methods inconsistently," Ann Mullen, Director of Health Education at women’s reproductive health company Cycle Technologies, tells Bustle. "So, it’s important to know what to expect and what you can do to address them."
Here are a few questions to ask yourself to figure out what birth control method may be best for you, according to experts.
One obvious factor for many people will be the cost of different methods, both in the short-term and in the long-term, Astroglide's resident OB/GYN Dr. Angela Jones tells Bustle. For example, an IUD could cost up to $,1,500, depending on your insurance, but you'll only have to pay once and it will last for several years. Condoms, on the flip side, can cost as little as 50 cents each, but you'll need a lot. If you have sex twice a week on average with 50-cent condoms, for instance, you're paying about $52/year.
A birth control method that seems great for you in theory won't work in practice if you can't get yourself to follow the instructions. For example, if you're forgetful or are always out and about, taking a pill at the same time each day may be difficult or annoying for you. "This is one of the more important considerations, as your ability to use as directed will directly impact the effectiveness of your contraceptive choice," says Dr. Angela.
"Some methods of birth control can stop your period entirely," Kara Manglani, CNM, a midwife in NYC and the founder of thefertiletimes.com, tells Bustle. For some people, like those who suffer from menstrual cramps, this may be a great thing. For others, it might be anxiety-inducing not to have that monthly reassurance that they're not pregnant. If you're in the first group, the Mirena IUD might be for you, or you could ask your doctor about taking the pill continuously instead of taking a sugar pill for several days a month.
Most birth control methods will allow you to get pregnant soon after you stop. However, the Depo shot can delay your fertility for up to two years after you stop getting it, says Manglani. If you have an IUD, you'll need to get it removed before becoming pregnant, and then you'll have to get it put back in afterward, which can be a painful procedure.
All hormonal birth control methods have side effects, and while it's difficult to predict which ones you'll experience, certain people are more at risk for certain ones. "Some women are predisposed to serious health concerns and may be at increased risk for blood clots, heart attack, stroke, liver disorders, and gallbladder disease if they use methods that contain synthetic estrogen," says Mullen. "If you have a family history of these health conditions or have other reasons to be concerned, make sure to tell your doctor before being prescribed a hormonal method."
If you plan to go for a hormonal method like the Pill, the ring, the shot, the patch, or an IUD, learn the side effects first. If one of them has one you can't tolerate, you may not even want to go there. "The body’s natural response to the synthetic hormones can be similar to when you are pregnant, so you might feel nausea, bloating, and swollen or tender breasts," says Mullen. "Other side effects include headache or migraine, break-through bleeding, loss of periods, and mood swings. You will likely not experience every symptom, but it is likely you will experience one or more symptoms on the list of possible side effects."
It's also worth asking yourself if you're OK with experiencing side effects at all or if you'd rather use a more predictable method like condoms or a diaphragm.
The combination pill — the kind of birth control pill that's typically prescribed, which has estrogen and progesterone — could make it more difficult to breastfeed. "It has been hypothesized that the combination pill would inhibit lactation or reduce milk volume," says Mullen. The data on this are inconclusive, she adds, but to be careful, it would be better to take the mini pill, which only contains progestin.
As you can tell, there are a lot of things to consider when you're choosing a birth control method. But fortunately, there are a lot of options out there. So talk to your doctor about what makes sense for you and if the first method you try doesn't work, try another one.