There is more buzz than ever about whether or not birth control is our best friend or worst enemy. Instead of taking advice from general blanket statements or a social media influencer with no credentials whatsoever, let’s take a step back to reevaluate. I am going to do my best with writing an unbiased, factual article about the pros & cons of birth control and whether or not it may be right for YOU. Remember, you are the ultimate decision-maker of and advocate for your own health and its fate.
The History of The Pill
The pill, also known as oral contraceptive, was released in May of 1950. When it was made available, it was illegal for physicians to prescribe it for pregnancy prevention and chalked it up to helping regulate menstruation and “cycle control”. Crazy right? Oh, and you also had to be married to avoid promiscuity. *smh* It wasn’t until the late 60s/early 70s that birth control (bc) was marketed and prescribed as a contraceptive.¹
The pill revolutionized how women perceived and approached sex, as they had more freedom to engage in intercourse with more reliable preventative measures. This isn’t to say that you can’t get pregnant while on the pill, because you can, but the chances are slim to none if you take it routinely. The pill is 99% effective in preventing pregnancies when taken everyday at the same time. This number drops to 91% when a pill or more is missed, resulting in 9 out of 100 women getting pregnant this way a year.²
How it Works
Birth control releases hormones into your bloodstream, ultimately preventing an egg from being released from your ovaries. This process is called ovulation, and it is essential for pregnancy to occur. This means your menstrual bleed on the pill is truly not a period because your body doesn’t experience ovulation. It is simply the shedding of your uterine wall lining due to a dip in hormones during your placebo week.³
The Pill’s Contents
So, there are a variety of brands with different levels of hormones present. The most common form contains both estrogen and progestin (hormones that are inversely correlated and counteract one another). Another form contains just progestin. This type of “mini” pill is for women who experience side effects with estrogen dosing.³
Other Forms of BC
- The pill. We’ve already discussed this common form of bc. You take the pill everyday, with one week being a set of placebo pills (they do not contain hormones) that call forth your “menstrual bleed” from a significant decrease in hormones.
- The shot. Administered by your doctor every 3 months, the shot (aka Depo-Provera) injects a front load of progestin.⁴ Women like receiving the shot every 3 months for convenience. A perk is that it does not contain estrogen. Two downsides of receiving the shot are an increased risk of osteoporosis due to lower bone density and infertility for up to 10 months after receiving your last injection.⁵
- The patch. The patch is worn for 21 days then taken off to trigger a “menstrual bleed”. It releases estrogen and progestin in small doses and is 91% effective in preventing pregnancy.⁶
- The ring. The Nuvaring is a flexible ring inserted in the vaginal canal. It stays there for 21 days, slowly releasing both estrogen and progestin. When you remove it at day 21, well you know by now- you initiate a bleed. The ring can fall out at different times, including sex, so you must be careful. It is 91% effective in preventing pregnancy when it is used correctly.⁷
- Condoms, diaphragms, sponges, and cervical caps. These options are all physically and hormone-free options for birth control. Most of us are familiar with condoms and the fact that they can tear. Diaphragms, sponges, and cervical caps are all used by females and inserted in the vaginal canal to block sperm from entering the fallopian tubes.
- Intrauterine Devices (IUDs). IUDs come in two forms: copper and hormonal. The hormonal version releases progestin and consists of the brands Mirena, Liletta, Skyla, and ParaGard. Both are inserted in the uterus through the cervix by a medical professional. Insertion complications can occur, including cramping, rejection (the IUD coming out), along with pain. However, women opt for this option because of its convenience, low maintenance, longevity (ranges from 3-10 years), effectiveness (99.8% effective!), and being able to have it while breastfeeding. The turn around for getting pregnant if one so wishes is fairly quick too.
- Natural Rhythmic Method. This method is tracking your cycle to determine when you are ovulating. A few days leading up to, during, and after ovulation are when you can get pregnant. A home fertility test can help affirm this.
- Sterilization. An extreme form of birth control is sterilization. This is when women get their fallopian tubes tied to prevent sperm from swimming upstream to fertilize an egg. For men, this means a vasectomy, a minor surgery that blocks sperm as well. Both procedures can be revisable, depending on the approach and method done, but it can be expensive, painful, and unreliable.⁸
The Pros of Hormonal Birth Control
- It can help regulate your period.
- It can alleviate cramping, PMS, PMDD, and other menstrual symptoms.
- It can clear up acne.
- It decreases your risk of developing uterine cancer.
- It helps manage endometriosis.
- It can reduce the risk of anemia.⁹
The Cons of Hormonal Birth Control
- You are not experiencing a true menstrual bleed. The hormones in birth control prevent ovulation, an entire phase of the menstrual cycle. Reference “Why You Shouldn’t Dread Your Period” post.
- It may cause amenorrhea, absence of a bleed altogether.
- It may cause hormonal imbalances.
- It increases your risk of blood clots.
- It increases risk of cardiovascular disease complications.¹⁰
According to Mayo Clinic, risk factors/contraindications for taking birth control include if you:
- “Are a smoker age 35 or older
- Have just given birth
- Have a blood-clotting disorder, uncontrolled high blood pressure, certain heart or blood vessel problems, breast cancer, certain liver problems, gallbladder disease, migraines with aura, lupus, prolonged diabetes or complications from diabetes”¹⁰
*I also feel obligated to note that birth control does not protect you against STDs.
So there you have it- a concise overview of all things birth control. We covered the pill’s history and makeup, your options of bc, and its pros and cons. I hope I delivered the unbiased facts for all of you women and did you justice in terms of feeling empowered and knowledgeable. My aim is to feed you science-base information so you can make the best decisions for you, your body, and your health. I am here as support along the way, and can offer my counseling services next spring to help you feel and function optimally. Be well! Xo Danielle
Disclaimer: The medical/health information is provided for general informational and educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional advice. Accordingly, before taking any actions based upon such information, we encourage you to consult with the appropriate professionals. We do not provide any kind of medical/health advice. THE USE OR RELIANCE OF ANY INFORMATION CONTAINED ON THIS SITE OR OUR MOBILE APPLICATION IS SOLELY AT YOUR OWN RISK.
1.Liao, P., & Dollin, J. (2012, December). Half a century of the oral contraceptive pill: Historical review and view to the future. Retrieved August 05, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3520685/
2. Parenthood, P. (n.d.). What is the Effectiveness of Birth Control Pills? Retrieved August 05, 2020, from https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/birth-control/birth-control-pill/how-effective-is-the-birth-control-pill
3. Birth control pills: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. (n.d.). Retrieved August 05, 2020, from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007460.htm
4. 18th, A. (n.d.). Birth-Control-Depo-Provera-vs-Patch Archives. Retrieved August 05, 2020, from https://www.cdlsusa.org/ask-the-expert/birth-control-depo-provera-vs-patch/
5. Holland, K. (1982, October 27). Birth Control Pill vs. Birth Control Shot: Pros and Cons. Retrieved August 06, 2020, from https://www.healthline.com/health/birth-control/birth-control-pill-vs-shot
6. Birth control patch. (2019, January 26). Retrieved August 05, 2020, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/birth-control-patch/about/pac-20384553
7. Team, T. (2068, May 30). Vaginal Ring for Birth Control. Retrieved August 06, 2020, from https://www.healthline.com/health/birth-control-vaginal-ring
8. What birth control method is right for you? (2019, February 14). Retrieved August 05, 2020, from https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/birth-control-methods
9. Osborn, C. (2037, June 25). Benefits of Birth Control: 10 Advantages Beyond Preventing Pregnancy. Retrieved August 06, 2020, from https://www.healthline.com/health/birth-control-benefits