Which contraception is suitable for me?
Written by Jessica Baker, MPharm, Locum Pharmacist.
→ There are many contraceptive options which effectively prevent pregnancy.
→ Barrier methods, such as condoms are highly effective and can be obtained from sexual
health clinics, GP surgeries and pharmacies.
→ If appropriate for you, hormonal contraception can be provided on the NHS. This includes the contraceptive pill, implant, patch and injection.
→ Fertility tracking apps are now available to provide a more natural approach to contraception
Contraception: What is it?
Contraception is the prevention of pregnancy and something thousands of women rely on daily to avoid an unwanted pregnancy.
But how do you know which method is best for you?
With over 15 methods of contraception readily available it can be overwhelming and often difficult to know which form will best suit you. Here we summarise the most popular, most effective and most current methods of contraception in order to make that decision easier.
Hormonal, Barrier or Alternative?
First up – hormonal contraception.
This type of contraception uses hormones identical or similar to the ones naturally occurring within your body. When given at higher concentrations throughout the month, they prevent egg release from the ovary. They also work by increasing cervical mucus production and thin the womb lining to reduce sperm entry, implantation and development into a fertilized egg. These processes all result in a reduction in the chance of conception and work to prevent pregnancy.
The contraceptive pill, injection, implant, patch and some types of intrauterine systems all use hormones to exert their effects, but what do they involve?
Although they have similar effects on the body these methods differ in the way they are administered and how long they last. Some may be better suited to your lifestyle than others.
Although all contraceptive pills contain hormones, there are several different types of pill to choose from. Some are taken each day throughout the month where others are taken for 21 consecutive days followed by a seven-day free pill period. They are classified as either a combined pill containing two hormones or as a progestogen-only pill. If suitable for you either can be purchased online to avoid waiting for an appointment.
The pill is the most widely used method of contraception and many women find it easy to fit it into their daily routine, similar to taking a vitamin. When taken consistently the pill can be 99% effective. A recent documentary by Dr Zoe Williams explores this method further and addresses the rumours that have been circulating for decades regarding its use.
The implant is a small plastic rod which is inserted under the skin of the upper arm. It slowly releases hormones into the bloodstream to provide effective contraception for up to 3 years. Non-invasive implantation can be carried out by a trained nurse, making it an accessible, long-lasting form of contraception.
A hormone is injected into the bloodstream to provide contraception for up to 12 weeks. This can be carried out in your local surgery giving 99% effective contraception when given every 3 months.
The contraceptive patch releases a hormone into the bloodstream over the course of a week to provide contraception. A single patch is applied to the skin, usually the upper arm, each week for three weeks followed by one patch-free week. The patch is sticky and therefore shouldn’t come off even when wet, for example when you bathe or swim.
Intrauterine Devices (IUDs)
More commonly known as ‘the coil’, these are plastic devices that are inserted into the uterus. They comprise of either a hormone or copper which are released to prevent pregnancy. IUDs can be in place for up to 10 years if they are copper, or up to 5 years if they contain hormones. They are a safe method of providing a longer lasting form of contraception.
However, contraception doesn’t have to involve medication.
Barrier methods, such as a male or female condom, physically prevent the sperm from reaching the egg. 98% effective in preventing pregnancy this method is also the only one effective against the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases. Condoms can be purchased in regular supermarkets or are provided free of charge from sexual health clinics, pharmacies and GP practices.
Sterilization may also be an option if planning a family is not on your agenda. This involves a surgical operation to block your fallopian tubes preventing egg release and any possibility of pregnancy. Your partner can also undergo a similar procedure – vasectomy – to prevent sperm release. Both female and male sterilization is permanent and cannot be reversed so you should think about this option carefully!
The newest type of contraception and gaining popularity are fertility tracking apps. The biggest – Natural Cycles – has recently gained approval to market itself as a contraceptive and has shown to be 93% effective. Although this method is accessible to the public it is not yet available on the NHS.
These apps work using a complex algorithm to track your menstrual cycle based on fluctuations in your day to day temperature. This data is then used to build a personal profile of your menstrual cycle, predicting when you will be most fertile and when contraception should be used. They can also be used to guide ovulation if you are planning to start a family.
In conclusion, contraception is not something to be concerned about. There are many options available for you to choose from that can easily fit into your daily lifestyle or routine. If you don’t feel like one is working for you, you can always try another. Stop by your local pharmacy or GP practise today to discuss these options further.
NHS. (2018). Your contraception guide. Available: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/contraception/. Last accessed 04/12/2018.
Dr Welsh, S. (2018). Can we rely on fertility tracking apps?. Available: https://thefoodmedic.co.uk/2018/06/can-we-rely-on-fertility-tracking-apps/. Last accessed 04/12/2018
The information contained in this article is not a substitute for personalised medical advice.
Should you have any concerns about your health please speak to your pharmacist or doctor.