Theresa H. DNP, FNP-BC

Whether you’ve taken birth control for years or are just starting to explore your options, ultimately, it’s about finding a form of birth control that works best for you, your body and your lifestyle. We cover the information you need to make informed decisions.

Know the basics
What is birth control?

Plainly put, birth control is the method you use to prevent pregnancy. When most people think about birth control, the pill and other forms of hormonal birth control likely come to mind. The first birth control pill was approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) in 1960. Since that time, there have been a lot of advancements when it comes to the development of different types and forms of birth control.

Today, millions of women in the U.S. rely on hormonal birth control to prevent pregnancy and there are literally hundreds of brands of birth control pills. There are also alternatives to oral contraceptives, including the birth control patch and ring.

Pregnancy prevention
How effective is birth control?

While they vary in how you use them – the pill, patch and ring all work to prevent pregnancy by releasing hormones which stops ovulation. Because your ovaries don’t release an egg every month, sperm can’t find and fertilize an egg. Additionally, hormonal birth control causes cervical mucus to thicken and become sticky – which also effectively blocks sperm.

When used as directed, hormonal contraceptives like the pill, patch and ring are 91% effective at preventing pregnancy. It’s important to know, however, that some medications can interfere with hormonal contraceptives – making them less effective. If you’re currently taking any medications – or are prescribed medications in the future – make sure you know how they interact with your birth control. If you have concerns, use a backup method like condoms or a dental dam when you have sex.

In addition to preventing pregnancy, birth control has a lot of other benefits. In fact you may be prescribed birth control even if you’ve never had sex or aren’t currently sexually active. For example, you may be prescribed birth control if your period is super irregular or if you have really bad menstrual cramps.

Benefits of birth control

  • Helps calm hormonal acne

  • Makes periods lighter and more regular

  • Reduces painful menstrual cramps

  • Quiets period-related headaches

  • Evens out hormonal mood swings

Like all medications, birth control can have side effects. If you experience any issues, it’s important to keep in mind that most side effects go away within two to three months of starting or switching birth control.

Possible side effects of birth control

  • Nausea

  • Mild headaches

  • Tender or sore breasts

  • Spotting between periods

While excellent at protecting against unwanted pregnancies, hormonal birth control doesn’t protect against sexually transmitted infections or diseases (STIs and STDs). The most effective way to protect yourself against STIs/STDs is to use a barrier method like condoms or a dental dam.

Birth control types
Which birth control is right for you?

Your body and hormones are unique to you. And just because your sister or friend prefer a certain brand of birth control pill, that doesn’t mean it’s the right fit for your body or lifestyle. With so many options out there, it can be confusing to know what type of birth control you should choose.

Let’s take a deeper dive into what the pill, patch and ring are, how you use them and why you may prefer one over the other.

Birth control pill

Commonly referred to as simply “the pill,” the birth control pill is the most widely used form of hormonal birth control among women in the U.S. There are hundreds of different brands of birth control pills available including Junel FE and Vienva. Regardless of the brand you choose, all birth control pills must be taken daily and – to be most effective – should be taken at approximately the same time each day.

Some women experience side effects like nausea and breast tenderness when they start using a hormonal birth control method like the pill. In most cases, these types of symptoms generally subside within a couple of months. If symptoms are really bothersome or don’t improve after a couple cycles, you can switch to a different brand of pill or type of birth control that may work better with your body’s chemistry.

Don’t want to take medication every day – or have trouble remembering to do so? You may want to consider using the birth control ring or patch.

Birth control ring

The birth control ring is a small flexible device that’s inserted into the vagina. Once in place, the ring releases hormones that prevent ovulation. Currently, two brands of the ring are approved by the FDA – NuvaRing and Annovera. The main difference between the two brands is that you insert a new ring every month with NuvaRing, whereas you use the same Annovera ring for 12 months. A major benefit of the ring is that it can remain in place for three weeks. This makes the ring a good option for women who want a highly reliable form of birth control but don’t want to think about it every day.

Considering a prescription for the ring? To protect against pregnancy, it’s important to closely follow instructions for when to insert a new ring (NuvaRing) or reinsert your existing ring (Annovera).

Birth control patch

The transdermal contraceptive patch is a small adhesive bandage that you wear on your back, stomach, upper arm or buttocks. There are currently two brands of FDA-approved birth control patches – Xulane and Twirla. Both types of patches work by releasing hormones that prevent ovulation.

Simply apply a new patch every week on the same day, at the same time. It’s also important to check your patch daily to make sure that all corners are sticking well. If a patch starts to peel off, apply a new patch right away.

When considering your birth control options, make sure to provide your practitioner with a thorough rundown of your health history. Like all medications, there may be some forms of birth control that work better than others. This is especially true if you smoke or have a higher body mass index (BMI). A healthcare practitioner will review your personal health history and help you decide if the pill, patch or ring is right for your birth control needs.

Online prescriptions
How can you get a prescription for the pill, patch or ring online?

Many people are surprised to learn that you can get birth control online. That’s right. You don’t need to go into a clinic to get a birth control prescription. Currently, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that most women get a pap smear to screen for cervical cancer every three to five years. However, it’s important to make sure you’re still keeping up with other annual check-ins with your provider.

Today it’s easy to get a birth control prescription online for the pill, patch or ring. If you already take birth control – it’s simple to refill your prescription online. If you’re new to birth control or want to switch to a new type or brand of birth control, you can also do that online. A board-certified practitioner at Virtuwell will review your health history and prescribe the type of birth control that fits your needs. Plus, if you have questions or experience side effects, follow-up care and prescription adjustments are free.

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Common Questions
Birth control FAQs

For many people, birth control can help alleviate painful menstrual cramps. In fact, the pill, patch and ring all help reduce many of the symptoms commonly associated with premenstrual syndrome (PMS) including headaches, mood swings and cramps.

If you tend to break out around your period, there’s a good chance that birth control will help calm your acne-prone skin. Currently, there are three brands of birth control pills that are FDA-approved for the treatment of acne. Like all birth control pills, these medications work by regulating your hormones which in turn controls how much oil or sebum your skin produces. 

When taken or used continuously, hormonal birth control is a safe and effective way to skip a monthly period provided your body has adjusted to a new hormonal regimen. If you have a prescription for the birth control pill, patch or ring, make sure to follow the directions on how to skip a period or consult with your healthcare practitioner.

Everyone’s body is unique and may react differently to medications. While it’s not common for people who take the pill or use the patch or ring to gain weight, it could happen. If you notice that you gain weight while using one form of birth control, talk to your practitioner about your concerns. You can always switch to a different brand or type of birth control.  

The birth control that’s best for you, is the one that works – for your body and lifestyle. If you have trouble remembering to take medication daily, then the pill probably isn’t the best contraceptive option for you. If you have a higher BMI, you may not be a good candidate for the patch. If you want a way to protect against pregnancy for several years, a long-acting reversible contraception like an IUD may be your best option. When it comes to choosing the best birth control – the answer is different for everyone.  

Having trouble figuring out which type or brand of birth control is best for your needs? A licensed practitioner can provide the information and guidance you need to make informed contraceptive choices. 

Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), health insurance companies are required to cover many FDA-approved birth control brands. However, it’s important to know that not all types or brands of birth control are covered by every insurance provider. Additionally, some employers are exempt from covering birth control.  

When considering your birth control options, make sure to check with your insurance provider to determine if the pill, ring or patch you use is covered. If necessary, your practitioner can make adjustments and prescribe a type or brand of birth control that your insurance covers.