What is hormonal contraception?
Hormonal contraception 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 contraception methods are very effective. The methods differ in how easy they are to use and their side effects.
Pills : Women who take contraceptive pills need to take a pill every day. Skipping pills can increase the chance of getting pregnant. Birth control pill packets usually include 4 to 7 days of hormone-free pills each month. It is during these hormone-free days that women get their period. Women who prefer not to get a period can skip the hormone-free pills and take a hormone pill every day instead. This is called continuous dosing. It can be done with the patch and the vaginal ring as well. Most birth control pills contain estrogen and progestin but there is one that contains only progestin.
Vaginal rings: A woman can put a bendable ring in her vagina that can stay in place for 3 weeks at a time. This ring (brand name: NuvaRing) releases hormones in the vagina. It should not be removed when the woman has sex. If it is removed or falls out, it can stay out for up to 3 hours. Normally women use the ring for 3 weeks and then go without a ring during week 4. Week 4 is when women have their period. Vaginal rings for contraception contain both estrogen and progestin.
Injections : Women who use hormone injections get a shot in the arm or butt every 3 months. Injections for contraception (brand name: Depo-Provera) contain only progestin.
Implants : A contraceptive implant is a tiny rod that releases hormones in the arm. It must be implanted by a doctor or nurse and can stay in the arm for up to 3 years. Implants for birth control (brand name: Implanon) contain only progestin.
Hormone-releasing IUD : IUD stands for "intrauterine device." This is a device that is placed inside the uterus to prevent pregnancy. Some IUDs work by releasing hormones into the body. One is called Mirena and they can stay in place for up to 5 years. The hormone-releasing IUDs contain only progestin.
Hormonal contraception 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 contraception for me?
Work with your doctor 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. See the table for a list of side effects and risks for each of the different forms.
Is hormonal contraception safe for all women?
No. Some women should not use estrogen-containing hormonal birth control. This includes women who:
What if I take medicines besides contraception?
Some medicines can affect how well hormonal contraception works. These include:
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.