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Today's Birth Control Options

With so many contraception options available, do you know which one to choose? Our guide can help.

The Pill

If you're good about remembering birth control on a daily basis, you might try birth control pills.
What it is: Either a combination of hormones -- estrogen and progestin -- or just progestin, taken by mouth.

How it works: Typically, you take active birth control pills (those containing the hormones) for three weeks each month, then inactive or dummy pills for one week, or the last week is a pill-free week. Like other hormonal methods, the pill stops ovulation, thickens cervical mucus, and thins the lining of the uterus to help block sperm.

Effective rate: 91%

Drawbacks: You must remember to take the pill every day at the same time of day for it to work effectively. "On average, more than 50% of women miss more than three pills a month," Nelson says. The pill does not protect against STDs.

Benefits: Oral contraceptives may reduce the risk of colorectal, ovarian, and endometrial cancers. Certain birth control pills can reduce menstrual cramps, making periods lighter and offering some protection against pelvic inflammatory disease, Whitaker says.

Side effects: The pill can cause headaches, nausea, breast tenderness, and spotting between periods.

The "Continuous" Pill

What it is: Like other birth control pills, this is a combination of estrogen and progestin that you take every day.

How it works: You take active pills (those containing the hormones) for three months continuously, then inactive pills for one week. You will have your period only four times a year. Continuous birth control pills work by suppressing ovulation, thickening cervical mucus, and thinning the lining of the uterus to help block sperm.

Effective rate: 91%

Drawbacks: You must remember to take the pill every day. It does not protect against STDs.

Benefits: You can control the number of periods you get per year, helpful if you have heavy or bothersome periods.

Side effects: They are the same as with traditional birth control pills.

Certain antibiotics, seizure medications, and HIV medications as well as the herb St. John's wort can make the pill less effective. Be sure to tell your doctor about all medications and supplements you're taking.

Helpful hints if you're on the pill:

Taking your pill at the same time each day makes it more effective by keeping the level of hormones consistent. It's particularly important to take the progestin-only pill at the same time every day -- or no more than three hours past your normal time. Pick a time you'll remember -- maybe just after brushing your teeth in the morning or immediately after dinner -- so it becomes part of your routine. Or you can set an alarm on your cell phone to make sure you take your pill on schedule. 

What do you do if you forget a pill? Take the pill as soon as you remember. If you've missed one combination hormone pill, take two the next day. If you've missed one progestin-only pill, take it as soon as you remember, and take the next one at your usual time.

If you forget to take the combination pill two days in a row, take two pills when you remember and two the next day. If you miss more than two pills, you will likely get your period. Remember to always use backup contraception when you forget a pill. Check with your doctor about the type of pill you're on and what procedure you should follow if you forget to take it.

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