Other forms of hormonal contraception besides "the pill"

Most people think of birth control pills when they think of hormonal contraceptives, but did you know that they come in many forms?

Birth control patch: The birth control patch is a convenient alternative to the birth control pill. It is applied directly to the skin and is changed once per week; it delivers the 2 hormones that are in regular birth control pills through the skin. They contain both estrogen and progesterone.

Contraceptive rings: Contraceptive rings are made of flexible plastic materials. They are inserted into the top of the vagina and held in place by the muscles there. A ring releases a low dose of hormones over a 3-week period and gives a high degree of contraceptive protection. After the 3 weeks, the ring is taken out. A new ring is then inserted a week later. They contain both estrogen and progesterone.

Injection: A hormonal injection of progesterone only is also available. It is given once every 3 months and may be more appropriate for certain women than combination hormonal products (e.g. women who are breast-feeding, who cannot tolerate estrogen, etc.). Many women stop having their periods while on this medication and it may take a while for them to come back. Therefore, it may not be the best choice for women who are planning to get pregnant in the near future.

Intrauterine system: Another hormonal option besides the pill is the intrauterine system. These can last 3 to 5 years, are very effective at preventing pregnancies, and are a good choice for women who are not planning to get pregnant in the near future and have difficulty using other forms of contraception correctly. Some women may also stop having their periods while on this medication.

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