Pregnancy

Birth Control Methods: What To Know Before Using Them

You’re done with the sleepless nights, the endless crying and the excess weight gained in all the wrong places. It’s time to bone up on birth control – what options are out there besides condoms and pills, and how these help you prevent unwanted pregnancies. 

Oral Contraceptive Pills

What is this: These are tablets that contain synthetic hormones. Manufactured by many brands, each comes with slight differences in the types and amounts of hormones. Contraceptive pills today contain slight doses of hormones to minimise side effects. 

Effectiveness: 99 per cent, if taken regularly and as instructed. 

Pros:

  • Safe, easy to use, and acceptable to most women.
  • Does not interfere with sexual intercourse
  • Regulates the menstrual cycle and may improve skin texture.

Cons:

  • Pill has to be taken at the same time daily.
  • May have temporary side effects, such as nausea, giddiness and headache. Spotting is common in the first few months but tends to improve with time. Weight gain is possible but not common with the newer formulas. Consult your gynaecologist if side effects persists.

Condoms

What is this: Condoms is a barrier method, made of latex or polyurethane and placed over a man’s erect penis before sex to help prevent pregnancy and spread of sexually transmitted diseases. It’s inexpensive and readily available at convenience stores, pharmacies and supermarkets.

Effectiveness: 18 per cent failure rate. This means that 18 out of 100 couples who use condoms become pregnant every year.

Pros: 

  • Affordable, widely available, and easy to use.
  • Hormone-free and doesn’t affect a woman’s fertility.
  • Safe to use even when woman is breast-feeding.
  • May help prevent premature ejaculation.

Cons:

  • May decrease sexual sensation.
  • Some people are allergic to latex.
  • Condoms can easily break or leak, so be careful not to poke a hole in the condom with your fingernails, teeth or other sharp objects.
  • Make sure to use a fresh condom at the start of each sexual intercourse, and avoid those in damaged packages or show obvious signs of deterioration like brittleness, stickiness or discolouration, regardless of their expiration date.

Diaphragm

What is this: A flexible cup-shaped rubber device that is placed in the vagina. It covers the woman’s cervix and prevents sperms from entertain the womb.

Effectiveness: Good protection if inserted correctly, with 85 per cent effectiveness when used with a spermicide.

Pros:

  • Safe to use and can be inserted two to three hours before sexual intercourse.
  • No physical side effects. 
  • Fertility returns immediately with discontinued use.

Cons:

  • May dislodge before or during intercourse. 
  • Must be left in place for eight hours after intercourse.
  • Some people may be allergic to the rubber diaphragm.

Contraceptive Injection

What is it: A long-acting reversible contraception that does not depend on you taking it daily. This injection has to be administered by a doctor every three months.

Effectiveness: Almost 100 per cent.

Pros:

  • It can be used if you are breastfeeding (though no contraception is required in the first 21 days after birth).
  • It does not interrupt sex.

Cons:

  • Women may have irregular menstrual cycles and may put on weight.
  • Although this method does not affect fertility, it may take six to 12 months before a woman can conceive after her last injection.

Ligation

What is this: An operation where the fallopian tubes are cut or tied so that the egg is unable to travel down the tubes to meet the sperm, hence preventing fertilisation. This is a permanent measure so you and your husband have to make sure you don’t want any more children. The operation is performed under general anaesthesia, where a small incision is made in the abdomen to reach in to tie, clip or tie and cut the fallopian tubes. 

Effectiveness: Very effective – failure rate is one in 200 women.

Pros:

  • Safe and simple operation.
  • No interference with normal bodily functions.
  • No hormonal side effects – woman retains her femininity and continues to menstruate and ovulate. 
  • Improves sex life as the fear of unwanted pregnancies is removed.
  • No ill effect on health.

Cons:

  • Some discomfort after operation.
  • It’s irreversible – couple must be sure they do not want any more children.

Intrauterine Device (IUD)

What is it: A small device that is inserted into the womb to prevent pregnancy. It is believed that the IUD prevents the fertilised egg from implanting itself to the wall of the womb. It can only be inserted by a gynaecologist during or immediately after menstruation.

Effectiveness: 98 per cent

Pros:

  • Safe, effective and readily reversible.
  • Long lasting and can be left inside the womb for two to five years, depending on the type used. 
  • Does not interfere with sexual intercourse.

Cons:

  • Some women may experience heavier periods and some vaginal discharge. These symptoms usually disappear two to three months after insertion. Having cramps immediately after insertion is also common.
  • There is an increased risk of infection, and hence, more suitable for women in a stable relationship.

Rhythm Method

Also known as the natural family planning, relies on the woman knowing the fertile and infertile times of her menstrual cycle. The woman estimates when her egg is going to be released and avoids sexual intercourse during these unsafe periods. It may take up to nine menstrual cycles to learn it.

Effectiveness: Unreliable. Best to use it with other contraceptive methods, such as a condom or diaphragm.

Pros:

  • Hormone-free and requires no devices or pills.
  • It can be used to plan a pregnancy, as well as prevent.

Cons:

  • It takes time to learn how to use it correctly and accuracy is important.
  • Woman need to keep daily recordings and observations of her vaginal discharge.
  • It’s not reliable as a woman’s ovulation can be affected by anxiety, stress or illness.

This article was originally published as “Beyond The Basics”, written by Raja Jumira (with additional reporting by Sylvia Ong) in the August issue of Singapore’s Child.