Birth Control Advice : How to Start the Birth Control Pill
The Birth Control Pill: Which Is Right For You?
To choose the right birth control pill for your particular situation, you need to know what makes each type unique.
By Jane Parry
Medically Reviewed by Dr. Christine Jacobs
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Birth-control users just received some good news: Starting August 2012, health insurance plans will be required to cover a number of birth control methods and services, says the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (that means no co-pays!).
Among the covered services? The Pill. Currently, about 30 percent of American women using contraception choose the birth control pill, according to data from the National Women's Health Information Center. And for good reason: The birth control pill is one of the most effective methods of contraception that you can choose. Used properly, it is up to 99 percent effective and, unlike some other methods of birth control, its effect is reversible, allowing you to become pregnant when and if you wish to do so.
But there are a number of different Pills to choose from. Do you know which form of birth control is right for you?
Your Birth Control Pill Options
All birth control pills use hormones to interrupt the body's natural cycle of ovulation, but there are two distinct types of birth control pill: the combination pill and the progestin-only pill.
All combined birth control pills offer a similar degree of birth control, but there are other considerations to help decide, together with your doctor, which type and brand are right for you. It is helpful to review the pros and cons before making a decision.
Monthly Cycle Combination Birth Control Pill
The combination pill contains two female sex hormones, estrogen and progesterone. The different brands of the combined birth control pill have different proportions of the two hormones. Most combined pills are taken for a 21-day cycle followed by seven days pill-free or seven placebo (inactive) pills.
There are a number of positive and negative aspects to using a monthly combination pill.
Prosof a monthly cycle combination birth control pill:
- It is up to 99 percent effective
- The time of menstrual bleeding is highly predictable
- It's easily reversible: Ovulation starts again two weeks after coming off the pill
- It helps reduce the risk of ovarian, endometrial, and colorectal cancers.
- It may reduce the risk of pelvic inflammatory disease, benign ovarian cysts, and iron-deficiency anemia
- It is still effective even if not taken at the same time each day; a 12-hour window is typical
Consof monthly cycle combination birth control pill:
- It may increase your risk of heart disease, blood clots, and high blood pressure if you are over age 35 or if you smoke. In fact, in these circumstances the pill may raise the risk of cardiovascular disease so much that your doctor may recommend that you not take birth control pills at all.
- It may not be suitable if you have a history of blood clots or of breast, liver, or endometrial cancer
- About 30 percent of women have irregular, breakthrough bleeding in the first three months of taking the pill, or if pills are missed
- It may possibly increase your risk of cervical cancer
- It does not protect against sexually transmitted infections or HIV
- It may not be effective if you take certain antibiotics or if you vomit or have diarrhea
- It is not recommended for breastfeeding mothers, because it interferes with milk supply
Extended Cycle Birth Control Pills
There are also birth control pills that eliminate menstrual bleeding or reduce it from once a month to four times a year. This type of pill has the same pros and cons as a monthly cycle combination birth control pill, plus:
Proof the extended cycle birth control pill:
- Menstrual bleeding is eliminated or reduced to four times a year
Consof the extended cycle birth control pill:
- Increased risk of unscheduled spotting or bleeding
- May be more difficult to recognize if you are pregnant
The Progestin-Only Pill
As its name implies, the progestin-only, or mini-pill, does not contain estrogen. This pill is taken continuously and the program does not contain placebo pills.
Prosof the progestin-only pill:
- It is less effective than the combined pill
- It reduces menstrual flow
- It can protect against pelvic inflammatory disease
- It helps protect against ovarian and endometrial cancers
- Breastfeeding mothers can take it without disruption to their milk supply
- It's suitable for women over age 35 or who are at increased risk of blood clots
Consof the progestin-only pill:
- It provides no protection against sexually transmitted infections or HIV
- It must be taken at the same time each day and may not work if taken three hours late
- Some antibiotics can reduce its effectiveness
Finding the right birth control pill may take some trial-and-error, so you will need to consult closely with your doctor until you find the best birth control formula for you.
Video: IUD vs. Birth Control Pill: Know Your Options
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