I’ve Used the Same Birth Control for Years. Should I Switch It Up?
Dr. Ahmad has seen many of her own patients take oral contraceptive pills for several years simply because that’s what was recommended and available to them when they first needed birth control. “They just decided to stick with them because it was what their friends were doing and they didn’t consider anything else,” Dr. Ahmad says. “Over time, as they learned about other options, [some of] which don’t require them to take a pill every day, many of them switched.”
Your birth control has failed.
A good indication that you need a new birth control method: Your current one has failed you. As in, you were using it and still got pregnant. In some cases, the failure may be due to the inability to take it as recommended; in other cases, failure may occur despite perfect or near-perfect use, Dr. Ahmad says.
Quick reminder—no birth control is 100% effective. For instance, if the pill is used perfectly, it’s 99% effective, but the realistic rate (with “typical use,” or the way that the majority of people actually use it, which can include occasionally missing doses) is more like 91%, according to Planned Parenthood. If you get pregnant while on birth control, have a discussion with your doctor to figure out why it was that the method failed so you can pick a method that’s a better fit for you.
Are there any risks of switching birth control methods?
In most cases, switching from one birth control method to another doesn’t come with any serious risks. Just make sure your doctor has all your up-to-date health details so that you’re not switching to a method you have a contraindication for.
Some side effects, like irregular menstruation, are normal when you switch the kind of birth control you’re taking. They’re simply a case of your body adjusting to the new method, which can take up to six to eight weeks, Samantha M. Dunham, MD, clinical associate professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at NYU Langone Health, tells SELF. If you’re still having side effects after a couple of months, talk to your doc.
“The biggest downside of switching too often is that different types of birth control have different mechanisms of action and when switching, there may be a period of time that the new method is ineffective,” says Dr. Ahmad. Some forms of birth control work immediately, like the copper IUD, which can even work as an emergency contraceptive if inserted within five days after unprotected sex. Others take longer to become effective, including the pill, ring, implant, and hormonal IUD, depending on when in your cycle you start taking them.
While your body adjusts to a new contraceptive and you adjust to a new routine, use a reliable backup method, such as condoms, to prevent pregnancy, says Dr. Baick. She adds that, depending on your current birth control method and the type you want to switch to, you may need to start using your new birth control before you stop using the old one. The overlap time depends on the particular type of methods in play—your doctor can tell you exactly what you need to do.
What to do if you decide to switch birth control methods
Before switching your birth control, the most important thing is to meet with your doctor to go over your options. “Make sure your physician has your updated medical history and understands what your preferences are in terms of frequency of use, hormones versus no hormones, and permanent versus reversible/temporary,” says Dr. Ahmad. “With that information, you and your provider can identify the best type of birth control for your specific needs and goals.”
There’s likely no harm in testing out a new-to-you method to see if it works better for you and your current priorities, says Dr. Dunham. “The best method for you is the one you’re happy using and will use regularly.” If you want to do some research ahead of your appointment with your doctor, Dr. Dunham recommends checking out Bedsider, an online birth control support network intended to help prevent unplanned pregnancies.
Finally, keep up with your yearly annual exams to ensure that you’re still using the method that’s best for you, despite any life or health changes that pop up. Just like any other aspect of your overall health, your birth control is worthy of your attention. Even if checking in just confirms that you’re on the right track, that’s great to know too.