The right birth control method for you

Dec 24, 2013 at 8:00 a.m. ET

Babies are wonderful, but that doesn't mean you want to get pregnant every time you have sex. Follow your doctor's advice and our handy guide for insight into the right birth control method for you.

Woman with birth control pills

Which method is right for you?

Baby-making is highly personal, as it should be. The choice to not make a baby — at least not right now — is also highly personal. Women make choices about birth control based on a variety of factors, including religion, finances, the preferences of their partners and their overall health. First and foremost, talk with your doctor about your body and the types of birth control methods that are available to you.

If you don't want a prescription

Some women don't want to use a pill or device to prevent pregnancy. If you prefer a more "natural" approach to family planning, consider one of the following methods:

  • Natural family planning. This option is a decent one if you have religious objections to other forms of birth control, or if your body doesn't respond well to other methods. In natural family planning, you track either your cervical mucus, your body temperature or your rhythm calendar, and avoid sexual activity when you're ovulating to prevent pregnancy. It's not as effective as barrier methods or hormonal options.
  • Withdrawal. Warning: The withdrawal method is not very effective at preventing pregnancy. It requires your partner to withdraw during intercourse prior to his orgasm, which he may not be very good at doing. If you're not "trying" to get pregnant but you wouldn't exactly mind being pregnant, this is a reasonable option. Otherwise, you'll need a different method.
  • Barrier methods. Use a condom or female sponge to effectively prevent pregnancy. They can be a bit of a hassle, but they're good at preventing both pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (Note: Male condoms prevent STIs but female condoms and sponges only reduce the risk).

If you like a routine

For most women, birth control pills are a low-risk and effective option for preventing pregnancy. Most pills need to be taken daily. They're very effective at preventing pregnancy if they're taken as prescribed. Consider the following options for your birth control pills, but talk it over with your doctor, since many pill options are available.

  • Conventional. With conventional pills, you'll take a hormonal pill daily for three weeks, and then take a sugar pill daily for one week of the month. You'll have a normal period during the sugar pill week.
  • Continuous dosing. Hate your period? The continuous dosing pills on the market forgo the sugar pill week so you won't have a period.

If you're a little forgetful

Of course, a major shortfall of birth control pills is that you have to actually remember to take them on schedule. Choose one of the following options if you like the protection of hormonal birth control pills but just can't seem to remember to take them properly.

  • Birth control ring or patch. The ring and patch deliver the hormones of a birth control pill through your skin, so you only have to remember to take out the ring or switch out the patch once a month.
  • IUD. You can choose either a hormonal IUD (Mirena) or a copper IUD (Paragard) for an incredibly effective and long-lasting birth control method. IUDs only need to be changed out every five years for the Mirena or 10 years for the Paragard (you can remove them much sooner, if you'd like).
  • Implant. A birth control implant is a tiny, matchstick-sized device inserted into your arm. It's as effective as permanent sterilization, lasts up to three years and can be removed for an immediate return to fertility.
  • Birth control shot. You'll have to return to your doctor once every three months for ongoing birth control shots. Your doctor will administer the shot to your arm. If completed on a prescribed schedule, the shot is very effective at preventing pregnancy.

If it's the morning after

Sometimes women have unprotected sex, either because they forgot to use protection in the heat of the moment, or another birth control method failed.

  • Morning-after pill. So-called "morning-after pills" exist to help women in this predicament. You can choose from one of three brands and take the pill within five days of unprotected intercourse to prevent a pregnancy. This method shouldn't be used in place of other birth control methods. It's for emergencies only.
  • Copper IUD (Paragard). A copper IUD is implanted in the uterus to prevent pregnancy. Ideally, you would have the IUD implanted prior to intercourse, but it can prevent pregnancy if it's implanted within five days of unprotected intercourse.

If you're done having children

Maybe you've had a couple of children, or maybe you've decided that motherhood isn't for you. If that's the case, you have a couple of options available to you.

  • Partner vasectomy. We're all for your man shouldering some of the burden of birth control. In a straightforward procedure, your partner can have the tubes that carry semen to his penis blocked for permanent birth control.
  • Tubal ligation. During a tubal ligation, your doctor will make a small incision in your abdominal area to sever or block the fallopian tubes, which will permanently prevent pregnancy. This option requires a surgical procedure.
  • Essure or Adiana systems. Both of these systems permanently block the fallopian tubes like a tubal ligation, but they don't require a surgical procedure. If you elect to have the Essure or Adiana system, your doctor will insert a tiny blocking device through your vagina and cervix and up into the fallopian tubes to prevent future pregnancies.

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