Despite the fact that 47.8% of women in India use some form of birth control, there is still quite a bit that the average woman doesn’t know about her birth control.
To make matters worse, with all of the conjecture that gets thrown around about it, finding the right type of birth control can be a tricky process and a bit confusing. Thus explaining why, more than half of India’s population in its reproductive age (15-49 years) doesn’t use a modern method of contraception to prevent unwanted pregnancies or spaced births.
However, first of all, it’s important to understand what exactly birth control means.
“It’s a method of contraceptive that prevents a woman from getting pregnant, but how each method works, as well as the side effects, pros, and cons for each differ,” Dr Namita Gupta, gynaecologist, Pearl Healthcare, Mumbai says.
The misinformation floating around about birth control is staggering. Part of that can be blamed on a lack of readily available information. So, on World Contraception Day (September 26), we went to the experts to clear up the confusion. Read on to learn the different options available to you, the pros and cons of each and the truth about some of the common misconceptions surrounding birth control.
“Finding the right birth control is such an individual experience, it comes down to trial and error. What one woman responds to well may not be the right fit for another,” Kolkata-based gynaecologist Dr Ratnabali Ghosh says.
Ahead, a look at different types of birth controls and how they work:
One of the most common methods of birth control, this is a hormonal approach that uses estrogen and progestin (female sex hormones) to arrest ovulation.
“It prevents the body from ovulating by creating an environment that is similar to pregnancy. When a woman is pregnant, she doesn’t ovulate, so mimicking that environment means that women on the pill cannot get pregnant,” Dr Ghosh says.
Unfortunately, that means a lot of the side effects women on the pill experience are similar to pregnancy side effects: Water retention, breast tenderness, headaches, bloating, nausea, and breakthrough bleeding.
“The severity of these effects depends on the dosage, the way the hormones are administered, and a woman’s individual response to hormones. Pros of the pill include reliable cycle control and the fact that it’s a proven method that’s been tried and tested. But, since the pill needs to be taken daily, even missing a single day can mean you’re at risk for pregnancy,” Dr Ghosh says.
This involves inserting a hormone-filled ring into the vagina, where the hormones are absorbed directly into the bloodstream.
“When you take a pill, it has to be absorbed by your intestinal tract, through the liver and into the body. This can cause fluctuations in hormones, which can be uncomfortable for some women and can be responsible for those aforementioned side effects. The ring functions more locally, so you have a lesser chance of suffering from these side effects,” Dr Ghosh says.
While many women are happy with this method because it cuts down on the common side effects the pill can cause, Dr Ghosh does mention that many women may not be comfortable with this method since it involves insertion into the body.
A birth control shot is another method of birth control that lowers the risks of side effects. The shot is estrogen-free, while most other hormonal methods of birth control contain progestin and estrogen. According to Dr Gupta, many women are sensitive to estrogen, which is the culprit behind many of the unpleasant side effects of hormonal birth control.
“The injection lasts for a couple of months, making it a good option for people who don’t want to deal with the hassle of daily or monthly birth control. Unfortunately though, if your body has a bad reaction to the hormones — which can happen for some women — it’s not quite so easy to get off of it,” Dr Gupta says.
It is a non-hormonal, T-shaped device that is inserted into the uterus and can prevent pregnancy for up to 12 years. There are two types of IUDs (Intra-uterine devices): a copper option and a progesterone option.
“IUDs have a thin fishing line that sticks out of the cervix (lower end of the uterus). The string is there so we can retrieve the IUD when it is done,” Dr Gupta says.
But people are hesitant to trust them, even though they are one of the most effective methods of birth control available.
“The downside of this method is that if your body reacts negatively to the device or it migrates into your uterus, you have to have it surgically removed. Otherwise, it is easily removed by your doctor in an outpatient procedure,” Dr Gupta says.