Choosing the Right Birth Control for You

Feb 2, 2021


Alto Pharmacy

birth control illustration
birth control illustration
birth control illustration

Birth control is essential healthcare, allowing you to prevent pregnancy and take charge of your reproductive health. There are many contraceptive methods to choose from. Learning more about the available options can help you, and in some cases, your partner, make the best decisions for your needs and reproductive goals.

Read on for an overview of some common birth control methods. Our list focuses on hormonal birth control, which contain synthetic versions of estrogen and progesterone. These two hormones play a significant role in reproduction.

There are other options for contraception that must be used every time you have sex, including condoms and diaphragms. When used correctly, condoms and diaphragms are 98% and 88% effective at preventing pregnancy, respectively.

Permanent birth control is also available in the form of surgical procedures (tubal ligation for women and a vasectomy for men). These procedures must be performed by a healthcare provider. Discuss your options for contraception with your provider.

In addition, there are two options for oral emergency contraception to be taken after unprotected sex: levonorgestrel (Plan B®, Mirena®, Kyleena®) and ulipristal (Ella®). Levonorgestrel is sometimes available without a prescription. Ulipristal is prescription-only.

Birth control pill

Like all forms of hormonal birth control, the pill stops ovulation, which is the release of a mature egg from the ovaries during each menstrual cycle. The hormones also thicken cervical mucus, an additional layer of pregnancy prevention that keeps sperm from reaching an egg, should one be released.

There are two types of birth control pills:

  • Combination pills, or combined oral contraceptives (COCs), contain both estrogen and progestin. (Progestin is a synthetic form of progesterone.) COCs are the more common of the two types.

  • Progestin-only pills (POPs) contain only progestin.

In both cases, the pills come in a pack and you take one every day.

Many individuals choose the pill for its affordability and effectiveness. However, it must be taken on time every day in order to prevent pregnancy. You may find it helpful to combine taking your birth control with another daily habit such as brushing your teeth, or to set a reminder on your phone. The Alto app has medication management reminders to help you continue with your treatment.

While the pill is 91% effective at preventing pregnancy when taken as prescribed, it does not offer protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). If you have an STI or are unsure about a sexual partner’s health history, use condoms every time you have sex to protect your health and your partner’s.

Birth control vaginal ring

The birth control ring, also referred to as the vaginal ring, consists of a small, flexible ring worn inside of your vagina. It releases hormones, which are absorbed through the vaginal lining, for ongoing pregnancy prevention. Like birth control pills, these hormones prevent ovulation and thicken cervical mucus.

There are two types of birth control rings. NuvaRing® lasts for up to five weeks. It is worn continuously and typically replaced about once a month. It may also be used to skip your period.

An Annovera® ring lasts for a year. You wear it in your vagina for 21 days, take it out for seven days, and then put it back in your vagina to restart the cycle.

A vaginal ring must be used correctly to offer full benefits. That includes replacing it when needed and, in the case of an Annovera ring, taking it out and putting it back in on time. To stay on schedule, set reminders or alarms on your phone, or keep track on a calendar. You can also check out Planned Parenthood’s free birth control reminder app, Spot On.

The birth control ring is prescription-only. It does not offer protection against STIs.

Birth control patch

The transdermal contraceptive patch releases estrogen and progestin through the skin and into your body to prevent pregnancy. There are two branded options available in the U.S.: Xulane® and Twirla®. Both patches may be worn on your belly, butt, or back. The Xulane patch can also be worn on your upper arm.

The birth control patch is worn for a total of 21 days. You will need to replace the patch during that time, wearing a new patch each week for three weeks. During the fourth week, you will not wear a patch so that menstrual bleeding may occur. The cycle then restarts.

A patch must be used correctly and on schedule to offer effective pregnancy prevention. Set reminders or alarms on your phone, keep track on a calendar, or use a birth control reminder app.

The birth control patch is prescription-only. It does not offer protection against STIs.

Birth control shot

The birth control shot, also referred to as the depo shot or Depo-Provera®, is an injection administered about every three months. It contains progestin and works similarly as the above forms of hormonal birth control to prevent pregnancy.

Many individuals choose the shot for the convenience of the injection schedule and privacy. In order to experience the benefits of the birth control shot, you must stay on track and get a new shot every 12-13 weeks. In most cases, a doctor or nurse will give you the shot. In some cases, you may be able to get a supply of shots from a health center to self-administer.

Use a birth control reminder app or a calendar to stay on track with your injections.

Long-term use of the Depo-Provera shot may increase an individual’s risk for significant and potentially irreversible bone mineral loss. Additionally, it has been associated with an increased risk of breast cancer and is not recommended for those with a known or suspected breast malignancy.

Longer-term birth control

There are two types of longer-term birth control: intrauterine devices (IUDs) and birth control implants. Both methods release hormones into your body to prevent pregnancy.

The implant (Nexplanon®) is a tiny, thin rod implanted into your arm that offers pregnancy prevention for up to five years. It must be implanted in a doctor’s office. If your family planning goals change, a doctor can easily remove the implant before it expires.

The IUD is a small device implanted into your uterus that prevents pregnancy. There are different types of IUDs that offer protection for varying amounts of time.

Hormonal IUDs release progestin to prevent pregnancy. There are four FDA-approved hormonal IUDs in the U.S.:

  • Mirena® - works up to seven years

  • Kyleena® - works up to five years

  • Liletta® - works up to seven years

  • Skyla® - works up to three years

Paragard® is a copper IUD that does not contain hormones. It prevents pregnancy for up to 12 years.

An IUD must be implanted by a healthcare professional. It is reversible and can be easily removed.

There are many factors to consider when choosing a birth control method. While many individuals find these forms of longer-term birth control more convenient, they are typically more expensive than other forms of contraception.

Your partner in care

Timing is essential with many forms of hormonal birth control. We make it easy to stick to the schedule, with fast, reliable delivery and medication management reminders in the app. In addition, our pharmacists are available until 9 pm PST (12 midnight EST) on weeknights to answer any questions you may have.

To learn more, reach out any time through secure in-app messaging or by phone at 1-800-874-5881.

This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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