For some women, choosing the right method of birth control is a simple process, while for others, the decision might feel overwhelming. Either way, understanding the pluses and minuses of each option is key, and obstetrician-gynecologists from Yale Medicine Family Planning are experienced at helping women decide which kind of contraception makes the most sense for them.
Broadly speaking, birth control can be broken into three categories in terms of how well it prevents pregnancy. The most effective methods are male or female sterilization, intrauterine devices (IUDs, placed inside the uterus), and the arm implant. Medium protection comes from the hormonal pill, patch, ring, or injection. Methods like condoms, spermicide, withdrawal, and the rhythm method offer lower protection.
Aileen Gariepy, MD, MPH, has a chart in her office that she often uses to go over the different forms of contraception with her patients. “We know from large studies of women that the most important piece of information is how effective each type of birth control is,” she says. “And our patients are the best deciders about what to use, when to use it, and when to stop using it. Our counseling is patient-centered.”
Effectiveness is typically the first “lens” doctors and patients work through when discussing contraception, but it is not the only one, says Nancy L. Stanwood, MD, MPH, chief of Family Planning. Managing a health complaint, such as heavy periods, might be the leading concern for some women—and certain methods of birth control can help with that. “Birth control is not one-size-fits-all. We focus on what each patient wants and what is most important to her,” Dr. Stanwood explains. “We share our expertise to find the right match.”
When you are discussing birth control, your health care provider will also talk with you about prevention of sexually transmitted infections (STI), which condoms offer, convenience (IUDs and implants are “set it and forget it” for several years), side effects, and the cost and availability of each method. It is important to remember that for some methods reliability depends on proper use. For example, oral contraceptive pills need to be taken daily (and at the same time of day). “We walk patients through the pros and cons of all the types, helping them choose what is best for their lifestyle and health,” Dr. Gariepy says.