Birth control for the busy woman

Jan 15, 2006 at 3:00 p.m. ET

How often do you forget to take your vitamin, take out the trash or feed the fish? Women are wearing more hats than ever before and as a result find themselves busier than they might have ever imagined. Sometimes adding one more task to an already crowded schedule can send a busy woman over the brink of madness.

"I could never remember whether or not I took my birth control pill," says Cheryl Eshoo of Camillus, NY, expressing the view of countless women. Working, raising children, relationships, or a combination of all three demand a great deal of attention and effort. "I didn't have time to worry about birth control too," adds Eshoo, who has three children and works part-time.

Most women are well-informed about birth control options such as diaphragms, cervical caps and daily oral contraceptives. "Unfortunately, those weren't working with my lifestyle," says Eshoo.

Grateful for the advancements made in birth control options over the past three decades, busy women are looking to extended-use methods to regulate their cycles as well as plan their families. "Busy women are opting for birth control methods that do not require a great deal of maintenance," explains Dr. Nancy R. Jasper, MD of New York, NY.

Maintenance can be a very subjective term in relation to birth control. For some women, remembering to fill a prescription or schedule a doctor's appointment is too demanding. Others find remembering to take a pill every day cumbersome. A growing number of over-scheduled women also see having a monthly cycle as high maintenance and look to birth control for the added benefit of freedom from monthly cycles and pre-menstrual symptoms.

So what birth control doesn't require maintenance? "Several types," says Dr. Jasper.

Newest on the scene is Implanon, an implanted form of progestin-only birth control. Used by more than 2.5 million women, Implanon has recently been approved by the Food and Drug Administration and is poised to hit the US market soon. A matchstick-sized rod that is implanted by a physician in a woman's upper arm, it releases synthetic progesterone for up to three years.

While similar to the birth control device Norplant, which was removed from the market, Implanon has only one rod and supporters of the device are working to train doctors to prevent scarring upon removal of the device. Side effects can include headaches, weigh gain and depression, but "these are similar to other progestin-based birth control options," says Dr. Jasper, Assistant Clinical Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University.

"I wanted something that didn't have to be injected, implanted or taken every day," says graduate student and newlywed Lorelei Santoro of Baton Rogue, LA. In between taking classes and working full-time, Santoro felt that using the once a week contraceptive patch best suited her lifestyle. "It is easy to remember that when the trash needs to be taken out, my patch needs to be changed," says Santoro.

"Many women find replacing their contraceptive patches once a week easier to remember than taking a pill once a day," notes Dr. Jasper, "and consistency is crucial to maintaining effectiveness, so it is important busy women choose a method that they will be able to remember to use." Able to be discreetly placed on the upper torso (excluding breasts), upper arm, buttocks or abdomen and bikini area, the patch remains in place for a full week and works similarly to oral contraceptives.

Internal contraceptives also lend an element of discreetness and physical ease that many women on-the-go require. Also fairly new to the U.S. market, NuvaRing , which is replaced once a month by the woman using it, is a low-maintenance internal contraceptive offering the privacy that busy women crave.

The Mirena intrauterine device, which must be implanted by a trained physician, can remain in place for up to five years and provides women with the combined option of both birth control and altering their monthly cycles.

"We weren't planning any more children, but neither of us was ready to take any permanent steps yet. Receiving the shots was the perfect solution," says working mother Katie-Anne Gustafsson of Eskilstuna, Sweden describing her birth control method of choice. Referring to an issue common to many busy women, Gustafsson appreciates not having to track or plan her life around monthly cycles. "Depo-Provera injections are progestin-only and are stored in a woman's body. They are needed once every three months and can impact cycles for up to nine to twelve months after ceasing injections. LunelleTM is a combination of estrogen and progesterone similar to oral contraceptive and needs to be received once a month," says Dr. Jasper explaining two injections available in the United States.

Which option is best for you? Your lifestyle plays a large role in that decision. See your doctor to help you make the most appropriate choice for you!