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How to Choose the Right Birth Control Pills? 7 Key Considerations

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Birth control pills, commonly known as oral contraceptive pills, are medications taken by women to prevent pregnancy and provide birth control. They typically contain synthetic hormones, either a combination of estrogen and progesterone or progesterone alone. Birth control pills work to inhibit ovulation, thicken cervical mucus, or alter the uterine lining to prevent fertilisation and implantation.

Choosing the right oral contraceptives should align with individual health needs, lifestyle preferences, and potential side effects. This will help you make an informed decision to ensure effective pregnancy prevention while minimising any adverse effects on one’s health and well-being.

Let’s start with understanding birth control pills.

Understanding Birth Control Pills

Birth control pills are effective when correctly used. It has a success rate of over 97% with perfect use, meaning you will be taking birth control pills consistently at the same time every day without missing any doses. However, when there are occasional missed pills or inconsistent timing, contraceptive efficacy drops to less than 90%.

Birth control pills have two main types: combination birth control pills and progestin-only pills.

The combination birth control pill is a hormonal contraception that contains estrogen and progesterone. These hormonal contraceptives work by stopping ovulation and thickening the cervical mucus so that sperm will have difficulty passing through. Progestin-only pills, sometimes referred to as the “mini-pill,” thicken cervical mucus, thin the uterus lining, and also occasionally suppress ovulation.

Understanding Your Needs and Lifestyle

When selecting an oral contraceptive pill, it’s crucial to take into account individual needs and lifestyle factors. Every person is unique, and what works for one individual may not be the best choice for another. Here are some key factors to consider:

Factors to Consider

  • Menstrual Regularity: If you experience irregular periods, some birth control pills have the ability to regulate the menstrual cycle, reducing unpredictability and associated symptoms.

  • Desire for Future Pregnancy: Your plans for future pregnancies can influence the type of birth control pill suitable for you. If you desire longer term methods to prevent pregnancy, your doctor may recommend other birth control options for you.

  • Sexual Activity: The frequency of sexual activity can guide your choice of birth control. Some individuals may prefer an option that requires less frequent attention.

Benefits Beyond Pregnancy Prevention

Sick woman with hands on stomach suffering from intense pain

Beyond their primary purpose of preventing pregnancy, birth control pills offer several additional health benefits. One of the most appreciated is period regulation, helping to make menstrual cycles more predictable and often lighter, reducing the discomfort and inconvenience of heavy, irregular periods.

Additionally, some pills are known to improve acne by controlling hormones that contribute to skin issues. These birth control pills work by reducing certain hormones like testosterone which can be contributing to acne. There can also be potential mood benefits, as hormone levels stabilise, possibly reducing mood swings and other emotional fluctuations associated with menstruation or even improving premenstrual syndrome or premenstrual dysphoric disorder.

Birth control pills can also alleviate menstrual cramps and reduce the risk of anaemia by controlling menstrual blood loss. Furthermore, they are known to improve skin conditions like acne by regulating hormone levels. In some cases, oral contraceptive pills can manage polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis.

Sexual Health Considerations

While the birth control pill is effective at preventing pregnancy, it doesn’t offer protection against sexually transmitted diseases. To prevent sexually transmitted infections, condoms or other barrier method of birth control should be used in conjunction with the birth control pill to ensure comprehensive sexual health and safety.

7 Key Considerations for Choosing the Right Pill

Choosing the right birth control pill impacts your health and lifestyle. With various birth control options available, you should know the key factors to consider when making your choice. Here are seven key considerations to help guide you in making an informed decision:

1. Effectiveness

Effectiveness rates are crucial when choosing a birth control pill. Most birth control pills, when taken correctly, boast a 97% effectiveness rate. However, user adherence plays a vital role; missing doses can significantly reduce this effectiveness. Consistent daily intake is necessary to maintain high effectiveness.

2. Side Effects

Common side effects of taking birth control pills include nausea, headaches, tender breasts, and mood changes. Some women may also experience weight gain, spotting between periods, or changes in menstrual flow. These side effects often diminish after the first few months as your body adjusts to the hormones.

Woman drinking water after exercise

Managing Side Effects: To manage nausea, take your pill with food or at bedtime. Staying hydrated and taking mild pain relievers can help alleviate headaches. For mood changes, maintaining a healthy lifestyle can make a difference. If side effects persist, consult your healthcare provider, as they prescribe pills of different formulations.

3. Dosage and Convenience

Birth control pills come with various dosing schedules, including daily, extended-cycle, and continuous dosing. User preferences and lifestyle habits should be taken into account when choosing the most convenient schedule, ensuring better adherence and satisfaction.

4. Hormone Type

There are combination pills (estrogen and progestin) and progestin-only pills. The choice between these can affect side effects and suitability for different users. A combined oral contraceptive pill is more common and often regulates periods more reliably, while progestin-only pills are typically recommended for women who cannot take estrogen.

5. Period Regulation

Many users opt for birth control pills to regulate their menstrual cycles. These pills can help reduce menstrual cramps, make periods lighter and more predictable, and are sometimes used to manage polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or endometriosis.

6. Existing health conditions

Pre-existing health conditions can significantly impact the suitability of certain birth control pills. Conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, or a history of blood clots are not suitable to take the birth control pill. You will be recommended to have a thorough discussion with a healthcare provider to choose a safe and effective option.

7. Cost and insurance coverage

The financial aspect is also a critical consideration. The cost of birth control pills varies, and insurance coverage can affect availability and affordability. Users should investigate their insurance benefits and explore options for more cost-effective alternatives if needed.

Exploring Your Birth Control Pill Options

When you want to choose birth control pill, there are several options available, each with its unique features and benefits. Understanding the different types of oral contraceptives can help in making a decision that suits lifestyle and needs.

Oral contraceptives

1. Combination Birth Control Pills

A combination pill contains both estrogen and progestin. They prevent ovulation, thicken cervical mucus to block sperm, and thin the uterine lining to prevent implantation. The benefits of combined birth control pills include regulated menstrual cycles, reduced menstrual cramps, decreased acne, and lower risks of ovarian cysts.

Combined oral contraceptives may cause potential side effects, including nausea, breast tenderness, and an increased risk of blood clots.

2. Progestin-Only Pills (Minipills)

Progestin-only pills contain no estrogen and mainly function by thinning the uterus lining and thickening the cervical mucus. They may also sometimes suppress ovulation. These pills are an excellent option for those who may experience adverse effects from estrogen.

Advantages of a progestin-only pill include potentially fewer side effects and suitability for breastfeeding mothers. A strict dosing schedule is necessary, as missing a dose by even a few hours can reduce effectiveness.

3. Low-Dose Birth Control Pills

Low-dose pills aim to minimise hormone levels while maintaining efficacy. These pills generally contain lower amounts of estrogen, reducing the risk of estrogen-related side effects such as nausea and breast tenderness. They are a preferable option for individuals sensitive to hormones but may still come with the standard side effects associated with birth control pills.

4. Extended-cycle or Continuous Birth Control Pills

Extended-cycle pills allow for fewer menstrual periods, typically one every three months, by continuously taking active pills. This can significantly reduce symptoms associated with periods, such as cramps, bloating, and PMS. However, they can cause breakthrough bleeding, especially in the initial months.

5. Skip-Period Birth Control Pills

These pills are designed to eliminate or reduce the frequency of periods. They are taken continuously without the placebo week, resulting in fewer or no menstrual periods. Benefits include reduced premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms and menstrual migraines. Potential drawbacks include breakthrough bleeding and spotting.

6. Generic Birth Control Pills

Generic pills offer the same active ingredients as brand-name versions but at a lower cost. They provide an affordable option for those who need birth control but are budget-conscious. Always consult with your doctor to ensure the generic version is a suitable match for your specific health needs and circumstances.

Consider Your Lifestyle and Convenience

When selecting a birth control pill, it is crucial to consider various lifestyle factors such as travel frequency, forgetfulness, and personal routines.

For individuals who travel frequently, daily pills might prove inconvenient due to varying time zones and schedules. Furthermore, for those who struggle with the consistency required for daily birth control pill intake, alternative methods like the contraceptive patch or the vaginal ring could be beneficial as they require less frequent attention.

Regardless of individual preferences and lifestyle considerations, consulting with a healthcare provider is essential. A doctor’s evaluation and personalised recommendations based on medical history, lifestyle habits, and health needs ensure that your chosen contraceptive method is safe and effective.

Talking to Your DoctorMedium shot doctor and patient chatting

Discussing birth control options with a healthcare professional is crucial for making informed decisions about your reproductive health. A doctor can provide comprehensive information on the various types of contraception available, including their effectiveness, potential side effects, and suitability for your lifestyle and health needs. This personalised guidance helps ensure that you choose among birth control methods that best fit your individual circumstances and goals, thereby promoting better health outcomes and reducing the risk of unintended pregnancies.

Tips for a Productive Conversation with Your Doctor

  1. Be Prepared: Before your appointment, make a list of any questions or concerns you have about birth control. This can help ensure you don’t forget to address important topics.

  2. Honesty is Key: Share your medical history, lifestyle, and family planning goals openly with your doctor. This information helps them recommend the most appropriate options for you.

  3. Research Ahead of Time: Familiarise yourself with the basic types of birth control available. This can help you understand the options your doctor presents and facilitate a more informed discussion.

  4. Discuss Side Effects: Ask about the potential side effects and expectations with each option. Understanding the possible impacts can help you weigh the pros and cons effectively.

  5. Follow-Up: If you experience any issues or have questions after starting a new birth control method, don’t hesitate to schedule a follow-up appointment. Continuous communication with your healthcare provider is essential for optimal health management.

Conclusion

Choosing the right birth control pill is vital to ensure both efficacy and compatibility with your individual health needs and lifestyle. A suitable choice can reduce unwanted side effects, enhance convenience, and provide better overall satisfaction with the birth control method. Taking control of your reproductive health by researching options, consulting with healthcare professionals, and regularly reviewing your choice reflects a proactive approach to well-being.

Empower yourself with knowledge and take charge of your reproductive health journey today.

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AUTHOR

Dr Michelle Chia

Medical Director

After graduating from the National University of Singapore, Dr Michelle's journey allowed her to train in Women's Health and Aesthetic Medicine. Her experience has led her to be featured on multiple media platforms including Radio Stations and prominent Magazines like Her World, Women's Weekly and CLEO. Her work has also received recognition both locally and internationally in several Medical Conferences.

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