A lot has changed since the revolutionary release of the very first birth control pill in 1960. Today there are numerous options available to treat a number of symptoms like period pain and acne, in addition to helping to prevent pregnancy. Before you choose one, consider all of your options.
Combination birth control pills
How it works: The original pill contains estrogen and progestin. According to the Mayo Clinic, it works by suppressing ovulation and by causing a change in the lining of the uterus to keep sperm from joining the egg. Extended-cycle combination pills also allow you to reduce the number of periods you have each year. The dosage of hormones included in the pill varies, and your doctor will determine which level of hormones will provide you the most benefits with the least amount of side effects.
Side effects: Speaking of side effects, combination birth control may cause spotting, nausea, breast tenderness, decreased libido and headaches. Also, smoking increases the risk of heart attacks and stroke.
How it works: This pill is a progestin only version, so it does not contain estrogen. It works primarily by changing the lining of the uterus to prevent sperm from reaching the egg. Though it sometimes suppresses ovulation, that’s not the key to its effectiveness. What is key is that you take the minipill at the same time every day for protection from pregnancy. Unlike the combination pill, the minipill can be prescribed if you have health problems like high blood pressure, migraines or high risk of heart disease. It’s also preferred if you hope to get pregnant soon after taking the pill or if you are breastfeeding.
Side effects: According to the Mayo Clinic staff, the minipill may be less effective than combination birth control pills. Other side effects may include ovarian cysts, acne, breast tenderness, depression, headaches, nausea and possibly even weight gain.
Important pill considerations
Before you take any type of birth control pill, it’s important to discuss any and all medications, vitamins and supplements you are currently taking. There are all kinds of factors that can interfere with the effectiveness of your birth control. Plus, depending on your medical history, a hormone-free alternative of birth control may be a better choice for your body, so keep an open mind to other options.
Other birth control options
There are many types of birth control, in addition to the pill. Before you decide on your preferred method, make sure you review the pros and cons of all your choices before you decide which one is right for you. For instance, you may want to consider the birth control patch or ring if you are looking for a hormone-based birth control that doesn’t require daily maintenance. For longer-term options, the Depo Provera shot provides birth control for up to three months, while Mirena, the hormone-based IUD, offers protection against pregnancy for up to five years.
Looking for a hormone-free alternative? Consider barrier methods like condoms, particularly if you’re not in a monogamous relationship. They’ve come a long way since their inception, so if you haven’t tried them in years, it might be time to revisit. Also, ParaGard, the copper IUD, offers hassle-free, hormone-free protection for up to 10 years. If you’re looking for a long-term birth control alternative, but you’re not ready for sterilization, it may be your best bet.