Hormonal birth control (The Basics)

** The information provided on this website is not intended to replace medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always speak to a qualified health provider in person before you start any new treatment or if you have any questions regarding a medical condition.
For more information, feel free to book an appointment with us.

 

What is hormonal birth control? 

— Hormonal birth control is any pill, injection, device, or treatment that uses hormones to prevent pregnancy in women. There are a few different kinds of hormonal birth control. Some contain the hormones estrogen and progestin. Others contain only progestin.

All hormonal birth control methods are very effective. The methods differ in how easy they are to use and their side effects.

Method Using the method Some side effects and risks
Implantable rod

Hormones it contains: Progestin

Expected pregnancies per 100 women in first year of use: Less than 1

Must be inserted by a doctor.

Nothing to do or remember.

Lasts up to 3 years.

Most common side effects:

  • Bleeding between periods
  • Changes in periods

Other possible side effects:

  • Headache
  • Acne
  • Sore breasts
  • Weight gain
  • Mood changes
IUD with progestin

Hormones it contains: Progestin

Expected pregnancies per 100 women in first year of use: Less than 1

Must be inserted by a doctor.

Nothing to do or remember.

Lasts 3 to 5 years depending on type.

Most common side effects:

  • Bleeding between periods
  • Regular periods may stop

Other possible side effects:

  • Cramps

Potential but uncommon risks:

  • IUD can slip out
  • IUD can damage the uterus
  • Insertion of IUD can lead to a type of infection that can make it hard for a woman to get pregnant after the IUD is removed
Shot/injection

Hormones it contains: Progestin

Expected pregnancies per 100 women in first year of use: 6

Doctor or nurse must give you a shot every 3 months. Most common side effects:

  • Bleeding between periods
  • Regular periods may stop

Other possible side effects:

  • Temporary bone thinning
  • Weight gain
  • Mood changes
  • Hair loss or increased hair on face or body
  • Sore breasts
  • Headache
Progestin-only pill

Hormones it contains: Progestin

Expected pregnancies per 100 women in first year of use: 9

You must swallow a pill at the same time every day. Most common side effects:

  • Bleeding between periods (this is more common with progestin-only pills than with combined estrogen-progestin pills)

Other possible side effects:

  • Sore breasts
  • Acne
Combination estrogen-progestin pill

Hormones it contains: Progestin and estrogen

Expected pregnancies per 100 women in first year of use: 9

You must swallow a pill every day. Most common side effects:

  • Bleeding between periods
  • Decreased bleeding during period

Other possible side effects:

  • Nausea
  • Changes in mood

Rare but serious risks include:

  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Blood clots
  • High blood pressure
  • Liver tumors
  • Gallstones
  • Yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice)
Patch

Hormones it contains: Progestin and estrogen

Expected pregnancies per 100 women in first year of use: 9

You must wear a patch on your skin all the time for 3 weeks. Every week, you change the patch. During the 4th week, you go without a patch. Side effects and risks similar to those of combined estrogen-progestin pills, but the patch causes higher average levels of estrogen than most pills. This may increase the risk of blood clots.

Other possible side effects:

  • Skin irritation where patch is applied
Vaginal ring

Hormones it contains: Progestin and estrogen

Expected pregnancies per 100 women in first year of use: 9

You must put the ring into your vagina and leave it in for 3 weeks. During the 4th week, you go without a ring. Side effects and risks similar to those of combined estrogen-progestin pill. (Breast soreness and nausea may be less than with the pill.)

Other possible side effects:

  • Vaginal discharge or irritation
The methods listed here all require a prescription. This table applies to women without medical problems, such as a history of cancer, blood clots, or liver disease. If you have any medical problems, ask your doctor or nurse whether you should avoid any type of hormonal birth control. If you are breastfeeding, mention that to your doctor or nurse when you choose birth control.

 

Hormonal birth control is a safe and reliable way to prevent pregnancy for most women. But it does not protect women from infections that spread through sex (called “sexually transmitted infections” or “sexually transmitted diseases”).

How do I choose the right hormonal birth control for me? 

— Work with your doctor or nurse to choose the best option for you. As you think about your decision, think about how likely you are to use each method the right way. Can you remember to take a pill every day? Can you remember to change a patch once a week? Long-acting methods (IUD, implant) are the most convenient because they work for 3 to 5 years, depending on the method. The injection, which works for 3 months, is more convenient than the pill, patch, or ring. Also, ask your doctor how the method you are thinking about will affect your period.

Is hormonal birth control safe for all women? 

— No. Some women should not use estrogen-containing hormonal birth control. This includes women who:

Are age 35 or older and smoke cigarettes – These women are at increased risk for heart attacks and strokes.

Are pregnant

Have had blood clots or a stroke in the past

Are being treated for breast cancer, or have had breast cancer before

Have irregular or very heavy periods – Women with this problem should have it checked out before starting hormonal birth control.

Have some types of liver disease – Hormonal birth control can make some types of liver disease worse.

Have some types of heart disease

Get the type of migraine headaches that cause vision problems (flashing or zigzag lights)

Women who have high blood pressure can use hormonal birth control, but their blood pressure needs to be followed closely by a doctor.

Many women who can’t take estrogen-containing hormonal birth control can take other kinds of hormonal birth control that contain only progestin.

What if I take medicines besides birth control? 

— Some medicines can affect how well hormonal birth control works. These include:

Some medicines used to prevent seizures (called “anticonvulsants”)

Some antibiotics

St. John’s Wort (an herbal medicine for depression)

If you take any of these medicines, talk to your doctor about how to handle birth control. Also, if you already take hormonal birth control, mention it to any doctor or nurse who might be prescribing medicines for you.

What if I forget to use my hormonal birth control? 

— If you have sex and have forgotten to use your birth control, you can take a “morning after” pill to reduce the risk of pregnancy. Do this as soon as possible after sex.