From condoms and diaphragms to IUDs and vaginal rings, there are numerous ways that women can prevent unwanted pregnancy. Birth control pills are an effective, convenient way to prevent pregnancy making them the preferred option for many women.
They are typically available in two categories: progestin-only pills and combination pills. Within these two categories, there are many different options on the market making it important to understand what sets them all apart.
Here is a closer look at the two main categories of birth control pills you will encounter.
Combination Birth Control Pills
Combination birth control pills are made with estrogen and progestin, which is a synthetic version of progesterone, a natural hormone found in the body. These two hormones can prevent pregnancy from occurring by impairing ovulation, thickening the cervical mucus to make it harder for sperm to pass through, and by thinning the lining of the uterus, which makes it more difficult for a fertilized egg to implant. This multi-pronged approach is a very effective way of preventing unwanted pregnancies.
Combination birth control pills are generally taken each day for three consecutive weeks, followed by a week during which placebo pills without hormones are taken or no pills are taken at all. Many women prefer to take placebo pills during the “off” week to maintain the routine of taking a pill each day. This makes them less likely to forget when it is time to take the active ones again.
However, some women choose to skip the placebo week altogether to avoid their period. This should only be done under the guidance of a gynecologist.
The Advantages Of Combination Birth Control Pills
Some of the unintended but appreciated side effects of these types of pills include their ability to improve hormonal acne in some women and lighten periods. Women who experience endometriosis often take them to reduce their symptoms. They have also been associated with reduced ovulation pain.
They offer women greater flexibility when it comes to the timing of taking their pill. Although taking it at the same time every day is recommended, it will still offer protection as long as it is taken daily.
The Drawbacks Of Combination Birth Control Pills
Unfortunately, for some women, these pills do have side effects, including nausea, breast tenderness, depression, spotting and bloating. They can also raise the risk of cardiovascular events and blood clots, which means that women with certain health conditions may not be able to use them.
Progestin-Only Birth Control Pills
While combination birth control pills contain both estrogen and progestin, the progestin-only variety does not use estrogen. These pills work in a similar manner, but the pregnancy protection they provide is primarily a result of the thickening action on cervical mucus, in addition to thinning the uterine lining to stop sperm from reaching the eggs. They are less effective for preventing ovulation.
The progestin-only pill must be taken at the same time each day and do not use a placebo week, which means that women take the hormones continuously. This often results in shorter periods or no periods at all.
The Advantages Of Progestin-Only Birth Control Pills
One of the main advantages of taking progestin-only birth control pills is the fact that they give women the option of skipping their periods altogether. They are also a good option for women who cannot take estrogen. For example, women who are over the age of 35 and smoke, as well as those with a higher risk of blood clots and cardiovascular disease, should not take estrogen and may therefore need progestin-only options instead.
The Drawbacks Of Progestin-Only Birth Control Pills
However there are a few drawbacks with this type of contraception. These pills may cause irregular periods and spotting, and they are also slightly less effective than the combination pill.
Because these pills must be taken at the same time each day, being three hours late or longer taking it, requires a backup method of contraception, such as condoms.
What About Low-Dose Birth Control?
Low-dose options are only available for the combination pill. These pills contain a lower dose of hormones that is still effective at stopping unwanted pregnancy but formulated to reduce some of the side effects that can be seen with higher-dose pills, such as nausea, vomiting, breast tenderness and headaches.
Reach Out to the Contraceptive Care Team at Raleigh Gynecology & Wellness
Choosing the right birth control method requires a professional assessment of your medical history and family planning goals. To find out more about the best options for you, schedule an appointment with the women’s healthcare team at Raleigh Gynecology & Wellness today.