Many women and their doctors don’t see eye-to-eye when it comes to discussing birth control options. That’s according to a new study from Dartmouth University. In the study of 417 women ages 14 to 45 and 188 health care providers, women’s No. 1 question was about the safety of the contraceptive method whereas providers were most concerned about how the method is used.
“Having a discussion that meets your needs is incredibly important,” says Julie Chor, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of obstetrics/gynecology at the University of Chicago. “If your method of birth control doesn’t fit with your lifestyle or causes unpleasant side effects, you may be less likely to stick with it, which can increase your risk of an unplanned pregnancy.”
Here, three must-ask questions that can help you find the form of contraception that works best for you.
1. “What Are the Potential Risks or Side Effects?”
“Certain medical conditions such as poorly controlled high blood pressure, medications you take, and behaviors such as smoking can impact how a birth control method works and can increase your risk of serious issues such as blood clots,” Chor says. Discuss the different contraceptive methods in the context of your own health, family health history, age, and habits. One of the most common side effects women experience with contraceptive methods are changes in bleeding patterns. For instance, you could experience irregular bleeding between periods when using the Depo-Provera shot or Mirena intrauterine device (IUD). After a year of use, many women stop getting their period altogether with those two methods, Chor says. “For some women, that’s a benefit, whereas for others, not getting a period doesn’t feel right.” Learning more about the risks and potential side effects can help narrow your selection to find the best method for you.
2. “How Does It Work?”
This covers two areas: How effective is it at preventing pregnancy and how is it used? “You may have read that birth control pills are 99 percent effective, but that’s when you’re using it in absolute perfect circumstances,” Chor says. “We know that women have complicated lives and it’s not uncommon to forget a pill or have more than a week between the end of a medicated pill and the start of the next pack.” With typical use—including inconsistent or incorrect use—the pill has a failure rate of about 9 percent. “Methods that require more effort such as the pill, patch, and ring are going to have a bigger difference between perfect and typical use compared to methods that require less effort such as an IUD or injection.” Talk to your doctor about how often you need to remember to take a form of contraception and then consider what you’re realistically willing or able to do.
3. “Are There Benefits Beyond Preventing Pregnancy?”
Thanks to the hormones in many contraceptives, they can do more than keep a bun out of the oven. Some methods may improve menstrual cramps, regulate cycles if you tend to be irregular, reduce acne, and more. If you have a particular issue—such as very heavy periods—this can help steer you toward a method that could lighten or even stop your flow. Some women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) experience facial hair growth that can improve with birth control pills. “As long as your doctor rules out a more serious condition that’s causing your symptoms, choosing the right contraceptive could reduce or resolve an issue you have,” Chor says.