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What is the Best Birth Control?

Exploring Birth Control Options

While pregnancy is a dream come true for women who are hoping to conceive, an unplanned pregnancy is usually more of an unpleasant surprise for those who are trying to avoid it. Fortunately, when used as directed, birth control makes it relatively easy to avoid an unplanned pregnancy. If you are trying to avoid pregnancy but aren’t sure which birth control method is right for you, take a moment to review some of the available options and the advantages and disadvantages associated with each.

The Combination Pill: Estrogen and Progestin

The combination pill is one of the most common oral contraceptives. It prevents pregnancy using a combination of the synthetic hormones estrogen and progestin. The hormones create internal conditions that serve as a barrier to pregnancy. First, they suppress ovulation by interrupting the hormonal signal that tells your ovaries to release an egg. Next, they thicken the cervical mucus to make it harder for sperm to move around. Finally, they thin the uterine lining to make implantation less likely. A wide variety of combination pills are on the market that vary by the type of progestin, the amount of estrogen and how the hormones are distributed throughout the month.

In addition to preventing pregnancy, combination pills can also reduce or eliminate menstrual cramps and lead to shorter and lighter periods. You can expect clearer skin when using the combination pill since it helps clear up acne, and it can also reduce your risk of certain cancers and help treat PCOS.

Some side effects of combination pills include spotting, breast tenderness, headaches, nausea, bloating and high blood pressure. The pills can also increase your risk of heart attacks and stroke along with other health conditions that could be serious. If you’re breastfeeding or a smoker over the age of 35 or have a history of certain health conditions, your doctor may recommend an alternate form of birth control.

Mini-Pill: an Estrogen-Free Option

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The mini-pill is an estrogen-free option that uses synthetic progestin to prevent pregnancy by thickening cervical mucus and thinning the uterine lining. The lack of estrogen in the mini-pill makes it unreliable in suppressing ovulation, but it still prevents pregnancy by making it harder for sperm to move or for an egg to implant. The mini-pill is a better birth control option for women who smoke heavily, are over 35, or have a history of health problems that estrogen could exacerbate.

In addition to preventing pregnancy, the mini-pill is sometimes used to treat certain types of skin inflammations that are linked to the menstrual cycle. Unlike the combination pill, though, it’s not good for reducing acne; in fact, acne is actually one of its possible side effects.

Some side effects of the mini-pill include irregular bleeding, breast tenderness, acne, depression, decreased libido, headaches, nausea, fatigue and increased risk of ovarian cysts. The mini-pill may not be right for you if you have a history of breast cancer, have had weight loss surgery, have a history of liver disease or take certain medications.

Birth Control Implant for Long-Term Protection

Unlike oral contraceptives that you need to take on a regular basis, birth control implants do not require maintenance and can last up to four years. An implant is a small rod that is inserted below the skin of your upper arm that releases progestin to prevent pregnancy in the same way as the mini-pill.

Considerations About STDs and Proper Use of Birth Control

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None of these birth control options protect against sexually transmitted diseases or infections, so it’s important to use latex condoms in conjunction with them to ensure complete protection. When used as directed, oral contraceptives such as the combination and the mini-pill are 99 percent effective at preventing pregnancy. Reduced efficacy of birth control pills is usually the result of human error when women forget to take their pills or use them inconsistently. A prescription is required for these birth control options, so check with your doctor to determine which one is right for you.