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How to Get Birth Control without a Family Doctor

March 19, 2024 • read

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How to Get Birth Control without a Family Doctor

We know how hard it can be to get birth control. We care about your reproductive health and we believe that birth control isn’t a nice-to-have, it’s a necessity. But, as much as Canadians enjoy reproductive freedom, access to family planning isn’t even across the country.

Depending on where you live, birth control can be hard to come by. For women without a family doctor, getting the contraception they need can be especially difficult. If you’re one of the many Canadians wondering how to get birth control without a family doctor, you’ve come to the right place.

Where can I get birth control if I don’t have a family doctor?

While condoms are readily available at your local pharmacy, you can’t get most other forms of birth control over-the-counter here in Canada. For contraceptives like the pill or the patch, you’ll need a prescription.

Getting this prescription can complicate access to crucial medication. For Canadians without a family doctor, it may involve hours of waiting at a walk-in clinic or the ER. Even if you have a family doctor, it can take several days — sometimes more — to get in to see them.

A significant wait for a medication you take regularly can be disruptive. However, since most birth control must be taken on a schedule to work optimally, timing is even more important. If you’ve run out of birth control and need a refill before you miss a dose, you can’t afford to wait.

The federal government recently committed to funding birth control options for all Canadians who need them. Once their program comes into effect, that means you won’t have to pay for prescription birth control. In the meantime, if the cost of your contraception is an issue, Planned Parenthood or your local sexual health centre may be a resource for lower-cost birth control options.

How virtual care can help you access birth control

Birth control is a regular need and being able to access a prescription for it without having to wait is crucial. Virtual care can make a big difference when it comes to accessing birth control.

With Maple, you can connect with Canadian-licensed physicians 24 hours a day, seven days a week via your phone, laptop, or tablet. No matter where you are, our doctors are available to discuss your family planning and sexual health needs, within minutes. And, any prescriptions they write can be sent to the pharmacy of your choice for ease and speedy access to your birth control.

Can I get a birth control prescription at a sexual health clinic?

If you have one in your community, family planning and sexual health clinics can be great resources. Many of these clinics hand out condoms and offer pregnancy testing and screenings for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). In many cases, these services are free and available without a health insurance card.

Generally, other forms of contraception such as the birth control pill and IUDs are also available at your local sexual health centre. However, like other clinics, you typically need an appointment to access services. For methods that require insertion, like an IUD, booking two separate appointments is often required — one to discuss the procedure and a second to insert the device.

Depending on how busy the centre is, this may take anywhere from a few days to months. If you don’t live close by, it can also involve substantial travel time.

Virtual care offers the same judgment-free, medically sound family planning and sexual health advice without the wait or travel. If you need a birth control refill or an IUD prescription, our physicians are a few clicks away. Best of all, we can help you see a doctor whenever you need care, no appointment necessary.

How do I know which method of birth control is right for me?

Deciding which method of birth control is best for you is a highly personal decision. A number of factors play a role, including lifestyle, health history, and age.

For example, if you take the pill, you can’t miss a dose and you have to take it at the same time each day for it to be effective. If your schedule is highly variable, this may make it difficult to take your birth control consistently. In this case, a method like the patch or the ring may suit you better.

Since contraception isn’t the only reason to take birth control, certain health issues you experience can also influence the method you choose. For example, the birth control pill may lessen perimenopause symptoms like hot flashes and mood swings. It can also help to regulate periods and decrease cramps, acne and excess hair growth, which can be helpful for individuals with Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).

Since each type of birth control comes with different benefits and risks, we want to make sure the one you take is the best fit for you. If you need help deciding which birth control method suits you best, connect with one of our physicians for an in-depth discussion of your options.

What are my prescription birth control options?

All forms of prescription birth control are effective at preventing pregnancy when used correctly. In many cases they can also have additional benefits, such as reducing period flow and the intensity of cramps. Some of your options include:

The pill

A contraceptive classic for decades, the pill or combination pill as it’s sometimes known, contains estrogen and progestin. These hormones work together to prevent pregnancy in a few different ways.

For starters, they stop your ovaries from releasing an egg each month. Additionally, they thicken your cervical mucus so it’s harder for sperm to reach an egg. And, finally, they thin the lining of your uterus, making it more difficult for a fertilized egg to implant. All of this means that the pill is 99.7% effective at preventing pregnancy when taken according to instructions.

The mini pill

This form of oral contraceptive contains the hormone progestin but not estrogen, making it a great alternative for those who shouldn’t take estrogen (more on that below). As a result, this medication thickens your cervical mucus so sperm can’t reach an egg to fertilize it as easily. In addition, it thins the lining of your uterus so it’s harder for a fertilized egg to implant there. It may also help in preventing ovulation.

The mini pill is also 99.7% effective at preventing pregnancy, but it’s very timing dependent and must be taken at the same time every day. 

The patch

The patch is a small, sticky square that you attach to your arm, bum, back, or abdomen so you can absorb the progestin and estrogen in it through your skin. You must change the patch once a week for three weeks leaving the fourth week of the month patch-free. This method of contraception uses the same hormones as the combination pill and is as effective when used correctly.

Contraceptive implant

This method uses etonogestrel to prevent your ovaries from releasing an egg and thickens your cervical mucus to make it harder for sperm to enter. Once it’s implanted under the skin of your arm, it can provide up to three years of contraception.

The vaginal contraceptive ring

The ring is made of a soft plastic ring containing the same hormones as the combination pill. It can be inserted into the vagina at home for three-weeks at a time, followed by a week without it. Like the pill, the vaginal contraceptive ring is 99.7% effective at preventing pregnancy when used correctly.

Hormonal intrauterine system 

This device uses the progestin hormone levonorgestrel to prevent unintended pregnancy. It must be placed into your uterus by a healthcare provider, where it can stay for up to five years.

The birth control shot

As its name suggests, this form of birth control must be injected every 12 weeks to maintain enough progestin in the body to prevent pregnancy.

Non-hormonal intrauterine devices

Women who prefer to use a non-hormonal form of birth control may consider using the copper IUD. Once implanted in your uterus, this method is 99% effective at preventing pregnancy for up to ten years.

The emergency contraception pill

While it’s a backup method and not a form of routine contraception, the emergency contraception pill (ECP) or the “morning after pill” as it’s sometimes known, can be used to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex. It’s available over the counter at the pharmacy without a prescription.

There are two kinds of ECP. One uses the drug levonorgestrel to prevent pregnancy. It’s effective if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex. The second form of ECP uses the drug ulipristal and can be taken up to five days or 120 hours after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy.

In both cases, the sooner you take the ECP, the more effective it is. Within 24 hours of unprotected sex, the levonorgestrel ECP is 95% effective at preventing pregnancy, while the ulipristal ECP stops it 77% of the time. 

Is birth control safe?

Hormonal birth control is both safe and effective, but it’s not for everyone. Because they contain estrogen, the combination pill, the patch, and the ring may slightly increase your risk of venous thromboembolism, otherwise known as blood clots.

This risk is greater for women over 35 who smoke. It’s also not the right choice if you have certain medical conditions including:

  • Hypertension
  • Migraines with aura (combination pill)
  • Breast cancer
  • Viral hepatitis
  • Personal history of venous thromboembolism

If you’re worried that you fall into one of these categories, estrogen-containing products aren’t your only option. Progestin-only contraception, like the mini pill, has a different safety profile, which may make it a more suitable alternative. Either way, our doctors can work with you to determine the personalized solution that suits you best.

We know how important birth control is. This is why we’re committed to reducing the barriers to caring, evidence-based sexual health and reproductive care. For birth control when you need it, our virtual doctors are here for you, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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