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Why is family planning important?

There are many birth control methods and techniques available today. No one method is best for everyone at every stage of life. You can choose a birth control method to match your personal needs. Thinking about what method will be best for you, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • How does this method work?
  • How effective is this method at preventing pregnancy?
  • How do I use it?
  • Where can I get it?
  • Can I afford it?
  • Will my partner like this method and help me use it?
  • Will I experience any side effects?
  • What are its advantages and disadvantages?
  • How long do I plan to use birth control?

You can use this website to find information to help you start thinking about your choices. You won’t find all the answers to your questions here. Before you decide on a birth control method, talk with your health care provider or visit your local family planning clinic or public health center.

Brief synopsis of birth control methods

ABSTINENCE

Abstinence means not having sex. At any point in your life you may decide not to have sex. Not having sex at all is the only 100% effective way to avoid pregnancy. If you change your mind, you must choose another birth control method to keep from getting pregnant. The decision to have sex is your personal decision and responsibility each and every time.

COMBINED HORMONAL METHODS
Birth control methods containing both estrogen and progesterone are called combined hormonal contraceptives. They come in many brands, doses, and forms. However, they all act in the same way to prevent pregnancy. They work primarily by preventing the release of an egg from the woman’s ovary. They also help the opening to the womb stay closed up tight.

All combined hormonal methods are very effective when used correctly. They are also very safe to use for most women and serious side effects are rare. A prescription from a health care provider is needed to obtain combined hormonal contraceptives.

Examples of the different kinds of combined hormonal birth control methods are:
Birth control pills, the “Patch”, the vaginal ring, the 1-month “shot”.

PROGESTERONE-ONLY CONTRACEPTIVES
Birth control methods containing one hormone – progesterone – come in many brands, doses and forms. All progesterone-only contraceptives work the same way to prevent pregnancy. They work primarily by preventing the release of an egg from the woman’s ovary. They also make the entrance to the womb stay closed up tight.

All the progesterone-only contraceptive methods are very effective when used correctly. They are very safe to use for most women and serious side effects are very rare. A prescription from your health care provider is needed for these methods.

Examples of progesterone-only contraceptives are:
The 3-month “shot”, “mini-pills”.

BARRIER METHODS
Barrier contraceptive methods all work by blocking the entrance to the womb so an egg cannot unite with a sperm. All barrier methods work well if used correctly and consistently but the user must take the initiative to use the method each time she or he has sex.

Barrier methods are extremely safe for the user, having few or no serious side effects. Two barrier methods that women can wear internally require a prescription to obtain. These are the diaphragm and the cervical cap.

Most barrier methods are available for purchase without a prescription at a drugstore, market, or health clinic. These include: male condom, female condom, spermicidal foam or film, spermicidal gel or cream.

INTRAUTERINE CONTRACEPTION
Intrauterine contraception is usually called the “IUD”, or sometimes “IUS”. An IUD is a small plastic device that is placed into a woman’s uterus by a trained health care provider. When it is in place, the IUD works by stopping the sperm from reaching an egg. One type of IUD has some copper on it that kills sperm. An IUS has progesterone that is slowly released to stop the release of an egg and block up the opening of the womb.

IUDs are extremely effective birth control methods. The IUD also offers long term protection (5-10 years) once it is inserted. For many women it is a safe, very easy and effective method of birth control. However, since it will be in place for at least 5 years, it is important to carefully evaluate your health and pregnancy plans in order to get the most out of the IUD method.

STERILIZATION
Sterilization is a surgical method of birth control and it is permanent. Part of the reproductive system is blocked by the surgical method. If either the man or the woman is sterilized, the sperm and the egg can’t unite. The sterilization for a man is called a vasectomy. The sterilization for a woman is called a tubal ligation, or “having your tubes tied”.

Sterilization is very effective and more importantly, is considered permanent. You will want to be absolutely sure you don’t ever want to have a child, or any more children, before you take this step.

Sterilization of men is most often done in a clinic and only takes about an hour. For women, sterilization is done in the hospital, usually in one day.

EMERGENCY CONTRACEPTIVE PILLS
Emergency contraceptive pills (ECPs) are a relatively new method and they are in a class by themselves. ECPs are simply regular birth control pills used in a special dose and way. ECPs work by delaying the release of the woman’s egg. They also cause changes in the thickness of the womb’s lining and they help block the opening to the womb. ECP may prevent pregnancy but it will NOT stop or harm an established pregnancy. ECP does not cause abortion. It is an entirely different drug than the so-called “abortion pill”.

ECPs can reduce the chances of pregnancy by 75 to 88% if taken within 72 hours (3 days) after unprotected sex. Emergency contraception is not a replacement for the birth control methods discussed above. If a couple’s resolve to abstain from sex fails, if a condom breaks, or if a woman is raped, ECPs can be used to reduce the chances of a pregnancy. All of the other methods of birth control are more effective than ECPs for regular use.

ECPs require a prescription from a health care provider. In some communities, a pharmacist can provide them with directions from a health care provider.