Making Decisions About Switching Birth Control Methods
Over time, your birth control might not fit into your lifestyle anymore, or for any number of reasons, you make be looking to change it. It’s normal and completely safe to switch birth control methods, as long as you talk to your doctor first. Learning about different types of birth control and how to safely switch can help you find the best method for you.
Why You May Want to Switch Birth Control Methods
It might be a good time to consider a new form of birth control if:
You forget to take your pill. If you forget to take their pill at the same time every day, it can put you at a higher risk for pregnancy. If setting alarms or creating reminders still hasn’t helped you stay consistent with the pill, you may want to look into different methods.
Some other methods to consider include barrier methods like condoms, internal condoms, cervical caps, the sponge, or the diaphragm. While you’ll still need to remember to use these before having sex, you won’t need to remember to take a pill every day.
You could switch to the implant (which can be effective for up to 4 years), the IUD (which can last from 5-10 years), the patch (you’ll only have to swap it out once a week), or the ring (which can be effective for 3 weeks at a time).
You dislike the side effects. You may have some side effects when you start a new form of birth control. Give your body a few months to adjust to the new method and then see if the side effects go away. Talk to your doctor if you’re unsure of what’s normal or not.
If you decide the side effects of your current birth control don’t work for you, it’s time to look into other methods. Cybill Esguerra, MD, an assistant professor of gynecology and obstetrics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, finds that having adverse side effects is the most common reason for switching birth control.
There are various types of unpleasant side effects that can happen due to birth control. But just because one form of hormonal birth control didn’t work for you doesn’t mean another type won’t. But if you prefer to use a non-hormonal form of contraception instead, you can explore the different types of barrier methods as well.
You dislike having an abnormal period. One specific side effect from birth control is having changes in your period. You might have spotting, notice changes in your cycles, or stop your period altogether when using birth control. A copper IUD (Paragard) could make your period heavier, while hormonal IUDs (Kyleena, Liletta, Mirena, and Skyla) could stop your period or make it lighter.
Missed periods due to birth control could cause you to fear that you’re pregnant. Or you may simply be sick of having irregular cycles. No matter what the reason is, it might be a good idea to look into how other forms of birth control could affect your period. That way, you can seek new options that may work for you.
You’re worried about protection. You may feel that your current type of birth control isn’t protecting you from pregnancy as well as you want it to be. If you feel nervous each time you have sex or have a lot of anxiety if your period is irregular, you should do some research about birth control effectiveness. Look into how effective your type of contraception is and see if there are ways you can boost its success (like using a condom as well as taking the birth control pill, for example).
But if you still find that your current method isn’t what you want, talk to your doctor about the effectiveness of other methods.
If you’re concerned about staying protected from sexually transmitted infections (STIs), use condoms or internal condoms instead of, or in addition to, your current birth control method. These two types of condoms are the only forms of birth control that can prevent STIs.
How to Safely Switch Birth Control Methods
If you decide that you want to switch birth control methods, it’s important to do it the right way to ensure you’re protected against pregnancy.
You should go straight from one birth control method to the next, without taking any breaks. If you’re on birth control pills, you don’t need to finish your current pack before you start a new birth control method in order to be protected. But Esguerra recommends that people finish their original birth control pack before swapping to “make the transition as seamless as possible” in terms of side effects.
After you switch methods, you might notice some changes in your period. But this is normal and isn’t something to be concerned about.
Depending on which birth control method you are on and which type you switch to, you may need to overlap them. This means that you’ll have to start your new birth control before you stop the old birth control method. Each type requires a different overlap time, and some don’t require one at all. Ask your doctor if you’ll need to overlap based on your current and new contraceptive.
If you don’t want to overlap your birth controls, you can use a backup method. This means either using a condom or spermicide during the time that you’d otherwise be overlapping your birth control methods.
Backup methods can provide you extra safety when switching birth control methods. “Generally, anytime you start a new method, you want to use a backup method for one week,” Esguerra says.
Side Effects of Switching Birth Control Methods
When you switch to a new type of birth control, it’s common to have irregular bleeding for a couple of months. If you get an IUD, you may also have some discomfort or cramping after insertion. But both side effects should get better with time.
Depending on which method you switch to, hormonal birth control methods might also cause unwanted side effects. But these should go away within 3-5 months of continued use of your new method. You might notice:
- Acne (more common in progestin-only methods, less common in combined pills and Nuvaring)
- Amenorrhea, or loss of your period (more common in Depo-Provera, Implanon, Mirena, continuous-cycle combined pills, Nuvaring, less common in combined pills or progestin-only pills)
- Breast tenderness (more common in Ortho Evra, less common in combined pills or Nuvaring)
- Low sex drive
- Depressed mood (more common in Depo-Provera, less common in Nuvaring)
- Headache (common in all hormonal methods)
- Unwanted hair growth (more common in progestin-only methods, less common in combined pills)
- More vaginal discharge (more common in Nuvaring, less common in all other methods)
- Nausea (more common in Ortho Evra, less common in Nuvaring)
- Oily skin (more common in progestin-only methods, less common in combined pills)
- Weight gain (more common in Depo-Provera, less common in combined hormonal methods, Mirena, or progestin-only pills)
To ease any pain during your transition period, Esguerra suggests taking over-the-counter pain medications like ibuprofen or naproxen or using warm compresses. But if the pain seems to get worse, especially after an IUD insertion, it’s best to reach out to your doctor as soon as possible. This way they can make sure nothing else is wrong.
Esguerra encourages people to be advocates for their body and ask questions when it comes to switching birth control methods.
“I think women should feel very empowered to make an appointment just for a contraceptive consultation,” she says. “They shouldn’t feel like they need to know what they want before making an appointment with their gynecologist.”
As always, it’s best to talk to your doctor about your contraception wants and needs. They’ll be able to guide you to finding the best birth control for your body.