What You Can Do to Prevent Pregnancy

You have many tools to prevent pregnancy. Birth control options are plentiful, but some work better than others. The key is to make sure you’re using them the right way.

Here’s what you can do.

Consider permanent birth control.

The most effective birth control is sterilization through vasectomy or tubal ligation. After that, you shouldn’t have to worry about getting pregnant ever again.

If you’re a woman, you can have tubal ligation. You might also hear this called having your tubes tied. The doctor closes your fallopian tubes so sperm and eggs can’t meet. It’s a same-day procedure at a hospital or outpatient center.

If you’re a man, you can have a vasectomy. In an outpatient procedure, your doctor cuts and seals the tubes that carry sperm so it can’t get into your semen. Both methods work almost 100% of the time.

Try long-acting reversible contraceptives.

If you aren’t ready to commit to permanent birth control, try a long-acting reversible contraceptive (LARC). They release a hormone called progestin over time. It thickens mucus in your cervix so sperm can’t get in, and it also stops ovulation. Options include:

  • Implants: The doctor puts this small rod under the skin of your arm. It lasts 3 years.
  • IUD: The doctor places this small, T-shaped device in your uterus. It can work for as few as 3 years or as many as 10 depending on which one you use.

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Put condoms on correctly.

Condoms protect you from both pregnancy and STDs. But if you don’t use them the right way, they don’t work as well.

To put a condom on correctly:

  • Open the package carefully.
  • Place the tip over your erect penis with the rolled rim outside.
  • Press gently to remove air at the tip
  • Roll it down until it covers your entire penis.

Take it off right away after sex. Hold the base of it before you take it off. Throw it in the garbage.

Choose the right condom.

If a condom is too small, it may break. If it’s too big, it could fall off.

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Use condoms correctly.

To avoid problems:

  • Keep condoms in a cool, dry place.
  • Throw them out when they expire.
  • Check for small tears or holes.
  • Don’t reuse them.
  • Choose latex, which is less likely to break.
  • Avoid pre-lubricated condoms, which expire faster.
  • With latex condoms, use water-based lubricants only. Avoid oil-based products like petroleum jelly, massage oils, and lotions, which can damage condoms.

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Don’t skip a dose of your birth control pill.

Birth control pills, or oral contraceptives, work if you take them at the same time every day. If you miss a dose, you’re more likely to get pregnant. The pill mixes progesterone and estrogen. Together these hormones thicken mucus in your cervix, stop ovulation, and change the lining of your uterus so you won’t get pregnant.

If you forget to take a pill, follow the directions on your prescription. It will tell you how to take a catch-up dose, depending on when and how many pills you missed. In the meantime, use backup birth control.

Trade your pills for shots, patches, or rings.

If you can’t get into the habit of taking a pill every day, try a short-acting hormonal method you don’t have to remember as often:

  • Shot. Your doctor gives you a shot of progestin you get in your arm or rear end every 3 months.
  • Patch. You wear a patch that puts progestin and estrogen into your bloodstream. You’ll put a new one on every week for 3 weeks. When you take the last one off at the start of the 4th week, you’ll have your period. You won’t wear a patch that week.
  • Ring: You put this ring into your vagina. It releases progestin and estrogen. You wear it for 3 weeks and take it out at the start of the 4th week. Like the patch, this is when you have your period.

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Know the dos and don’ts of your diaphragm.

If you use a diaphragm, make sure you use it correctly.

  • Apply spermicide first.
  • Avoid oil-based creams and jellies.
  • Check it often for holes, tears, and leaks.
  • After inserting it, check the placement.
    • If you can’t feel your cervix through the dome, it’s out of place. Take it out and insert it again.
    • If it’s above your pubic bone, redo it.
    • If it falls out when you cough, sit down, or walk, redo it.

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Keep emergency contraception on hand.

If you have a problem like your condom breaks, or if have unprotected sex, you can avoid pregnancy with an emergency contraceptive pill, also known as the morning after pill. It prevents or delays ovulation.

If you wait too long, it may not be work as well. You have to take it within 72 or 120 hours of having sex, depending on which pill you choose. The sooner you take it, the more likely it is to work.

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An IUD can also be used for emergency contraception up to 5 days after you have unprotected sex.

Track your ovulation.

Tracking your monthly fertility cycle could help you prevent pregnancy. If you find out which days you’re fertile with tools like your basal body temperature, cervical mucus, and a calendar, you can avoid having sex so you’re less likely to get pregnant.

But it isn’t so easy to get it right. Every woman’s cycle is different, and it takes time to understand it correctly. Natural family planning is the least effective method of birth control. Most doctors suggest you try another option.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on July 28, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

Office on Women’s Health: “Birth Control Methods.”

CDC: “Contraception.”

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: “Progestin-Only Hormonal Birth Control: Pill and Injection.”

UK National Health Service: “How can I avoid pregnancy?”

Mayo Clinic: “Male condoms.”

National Coalition for Sexual Health: “Birth control mistakes you never knew you were making.”

Mount Sinai: “Birth control options for women.”

MedLine Plus: “Estrogen and Progestin (Oral Contraceptives).”

American Academy of Family Physicians: “Birth Control: How to Use Your Diaphragm.”

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