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Birth control options and their side effects

April 15, 2019 • read

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Birth control options and their side effects

The use of birth control started rising in popularity during the late 1960s as campaigns and movements supporting contraception gained pace. Today, the majority of Canadians use birth control as a means of preventing unwanted pregnancies. But with so many types of birth control, there are still a lot of questions about the different methods available.

Several questions arise while choosing the “right” type of birth control. Some areas to consider include effectiveness of the method, duration of effect, any side effects of use and cost. Whether or not the method prevents STDs, which are on the rise, is also a crucial factor to consider. 

What is behavioural birth control?

Instead of using external agents to prevent pregnancy, this type of contraception involves changing your behaviour. With this method, you avoid pregnancy by either abstaining completely or withdrawing at the right time during intercourse. The fertility awareness-based method (FAM) involves tracking the woman’s ovulation cycle and only having sex during less fertile times of the month. Behavioural contraception involves a lot of self-control. And, unless you’re practicing abstinence, it often results in unwanted pregnancies. It also does not protect against STDs.

What is sterilization birth control?

This type of birth control uses surgery to prevent the egg and sperm from coming in contact. It is usually permanent, though in some cases, it can be reversed. It also happens to be the most expensive form of birth control, costing up to $1000. In women, this procedure is called a tubectomy — it seals the fallopian tubes to prevent the egg from reaching the uterus for implantation. The procedure in men is called a vasectomy and closes the tube that carries the sperm out of the body.  

What is barrier birth control?

This category involves the use of a barrier or membrane to block sperm from fertilizing an egg. Effectiveness can range from 80-88%, which is pretty high. It doesn’t contain hormones and other than a possible allergic reaction to the material of the barrier, has no side effects. One of the greatest benefits of this method is that it is the only method that also prevents STIs. Because of this, it’s often combined with other types of birth control to boost effectiveness while preventing STD’s — this is often called dual protection

There are many types of barrier birth control, but the most common include:

The diaphragm: a soft, flexible, dome-shaped silicon cup that is placed in the vagina before sex to prevent sperm from entering the cervix. Applying a little spermicide with the diaphragm maximizes its efficiency by killing any sperm present around the diaphragm. Note that if you’re using a diaphragm, it shouldn’t be removed until a few hours after intercourse.

The male condom: a latex or rubber membrane that covers the penis to prevent sperm from entering the female body.

The female condom: this method, aka the “femidom”, uses a membrane to line the vagina, preventing the entry of sperm.

What is hormonal birth control?

This is the most effective form of non-permanent birth control. It works by introducing hormones that prevent the ovary from releasing an egg, thickening the cervical mucus to lessen sperm motility and/or thinning the lining of the uterus to prevent implantation. This method is anywhere from 91-99% effective, but the hormones it introduces may cause side effects. These can include decreased libido, nausea, spotting and an increased risk of stroke, especially in women who smoke.

Hormonal contraceptives may also increase the risk of depression, with higher risks associated with non-oral contraceptives like the shot, the patch and the ring. This method also doesn’t prevent STD’s, so as we mentioned above, many people who use it also choose to use a condom in order to stay safe. We’ve broken down the most popular types below. 

The progestin pill: also known as the mini pill, it contains the hormone progestin. It can be taken at any time of day, even during your period. The advantages of the mini pill include regular and lighter periods with less cramping. The progestin pill can be taken even while a woman is breastfeeding, or if she has other medical conditions like high blood pressure or a history of blood clots. This makes it more suitable than the combination pill, for some women.

The combination pill: this contains estrogen as well as progestin. It must be taken at the same time each day — if not, it will become less effective. The advantages of taking this pill include regular and lighter periods with less cramping, reduced premenstrual symptoms and chance of iron deficiency. It also reduces the chances of getting ovarian cysts or ovarian and endometrial cancer. 

The birth control shot: injects the progestin hormone directly into the body. Although it works similarly to other hormonal contraceptives, it has a higher tendency to lead to irregular periods. It is also long-lasting and users can go 12 weeks between shots.

The patch: this method, applied to the skin, contains the same hormones as the combination pill. It is replaced every week for three weeks, allowing the hormones to be absorbed. No patch is worn for the fourth week (i.e. when you’re menstruating).

The vaginal ring: a polymeric ring inserted into the vagina, which releases a continuous dose of progestin and estrogen for three weeks. The following week, the ring isn’t worn. It has the same effects and advantages as the other hormonal methods and is good for those who have difficulty following daily routines.

What is intrauterine contraception?

This method is non-permanent and long-lasting, though it can be expensive if not covered under your insurance. Even if you do need to pay out of pocket, the long lasting effects may make it more affordable in the long run. It requires both surgical insertion and removal, but unlike a tubectomy or vasectomy, it’s fully reversible. Again, there are different types to choose from, the two major ones are:

The intrauterine device (IUD): a non-hormonal “T” shaped device made of copper that stays in the uterus and provides protection against pregnancies for between five to ten years. It can cause side-effects like cramping and does not stop menstruation.

The hormonal intrauterine system (IUS): a device similar to an IUD that slowly releases a hormone called levonorgestrel. In addition to being longer lasting than an IUD, it may also stop the menstrual cycle while implanted.

What is emergency contraception?

Known as “plan B” or the morning after pill, emergency contraception is used after unprotected sex or a failed birth control method. It contains the hormone levenorgestral and is effective only when taken until 72 hours after sex, with reduced efficacy as time increases. This horomone alters the uterine lining to prevent the fertilized egg from implanting. The morning after pill might disrupt the ovulation cycle and can cause some side effects like spotting.

Choosing the right type of birth control comes down to personal choice, and a physician’s medical advice. Whether you’re looking for some casual fun or are in a serious relationship, there is a birth control method specifically crafted for your safety and wellbeing.

Questions about birth control?

Speak with a Maple doctor
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