Menu

Do You Know Your Long-Term Birth Control Options?

Medically Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on November 04, 2020

You don’t have to take a pill every day for birth control. There are long-term options that can last days, weeks, and even months. They are safe and effective for most healthy women.

The best birth control method for you depends on many things, including:

  • Your health
  • Possible side effects
  • How comfortable you are with each one.

Here’s a look at each method and how they work:

Intrauterine Devices (IUDs)

An IUD is a small T-shaped device that a doctor will place inside your uterus. It can stay there for 3 to 10 years, depending on the type of IUD it is. Intrauterine devices are more than 99% effective at preventing pregnancy. They are 20 times more effective than pills, patches, or rings.

Your doctor can remove the IUD if you want to get pregnant, or if you decide you don't want to use it anymore.

There are two types of IUDs to choose from.

Hormonal IUDs are plastic. They release a small amount of the hormone progestin every day. This thickens the mucus in your cervix. That blocks and traps sperm and keeps them from reaching and fertilizing eggs.

Progestin also thins the lining of your uterus, which makes it harder for a fertilized egg to implant. The hormones sometimes stop ovulation. That's when eggs leave your ovaries.

There are four brands of hormonal IUDs:

  • Mirena
  • Kyleena
  • Liletta
  • Skyla

They all use the drug levonorgestrel, which is a type of progestin. But each brand releases different dosages of the hormones. Mirena, which gives the highest dose, lasts for 6 years. Liletta lasts for 6 years, too. Kyleena lasts for 5 years, and Skyla lasts for 3 years.

Some women have spotting in between periods when they use hormonal IUDs. You could have lighter or missed periods, too.

Copper IUDs are also T-shaped, but they don’t have hormones. Because sperm don’t like copper, the IUD -- called ParaGard -- prevents sperm from reaching and fertilizing eggs. A copper IUD can stay in your uterus for up to 10 years.

Women who don’t want the side effects that can come with hormonal birth control may choose this method.

Some people who use this IUD might have heavier periods with more cramps.

Birth Control Implant

This is a thin, flexible rod that your doctor inserts under the skin of your upper arm. About the size of a matchstick, the implant releases the hormone progestin into your bloodstream.

It works for up to 3 years, but your doctor can remove it at any time if you want to get pregnant, or if you just don’t want to have it anymore.

Like IUDs, implants are also 20 times more effective than birth control pills, patches, or rings.

The most common side effect is irregular bleeding, which can include lighter or missed periods.

The Shot (Depo-Provera)

If you choose this method, your doctor will give you a shot every 3 months that includes the hormone progestin. Similar to the other methods, it works by making the mucus around the cervix thicker and preventing ovulation.

Only one in 100 women who get the shot as directed get pregnant. For those who don’t get the shot on time, six in 100 will get pregnant.

Some women who use this method notice:

  • Bleeding between periods
  • Weight gain
  • Mood changes

 

Combination Birth Control

Like birth control pills, the patch and the ring both use the hormones estrogen and progestin to prevent pregnancy. These hormones thicken the mucus in the cervix, thin the lining of the uterus, and help prevent ovulation.

The ring is a small, flexible plastic ring that goes into your vagina to release the hormones progestin and estrogen. You keep it in place for 3 weeks, then remove it for a week to have a period. If it accidentally falls out, just rinse it and put it back in.

You use the ring for 3 weeks, then stop for a week to have a period. When not used correctly, nine out of 100 women will become pregnant.

The patch is a small, thin sticker that you wear on your skin. You place it on your chest, your behind, your upper back or arm, or your stomach. You wear a new patch once a week for 3 weeks in a row, then usually take a week off to have a period. Just like the ring, if you don't use it correctly, there's about a 9% chance that you'll become pregnant.

It might make your skin itchy or cause:

  • Changes in your period
  • Sore breasts
  • Headaches

If you use the ring, there’s a chance you could have:

  • Period changes
  • Headaches
  • Sore breasts

 

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

University of Michigan Health: “What Patients Should Know About Long-Acting Reversible Contraception.”

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health: “Birth control methods.”

CDC: “Birth Control Methods.”

Tufts Medical Center: “IUDs, implants, and shots: What’s the best long-term birth control?”

The New England Journal of Medicine: “Effectiveness of Long-Acting Reversible Contraception.”

Planned Parenthood: “IUD,” “How effective is the birth control shot?”

American Sexual Health Association: “Understanding LARC.”

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Practice Bulletin: “Long-Acting Reversible Contraception: Implants and Intrauterine Devices.”

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: “Combined Hormonal Birth Control: Pill, Patch, and Ring.”

Mayo Clinic: “Vaginal Ring.”

© 2021 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.