Over time, your contraception may no longer fit into your lifestyle, or for a number of reasons, you are looking to change it. It is normal and totally safe to change your method of birth control, as long as you talk to your doctor first. Learning about the different types of contraceptives and how to safely switch to a contraceptive can help you find the best method for you.
Why you might want to change your birth control method
Now 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 each day, it may put you at a higher risk of pregnancy. If setting alarms or setting reminders still hasn’t helped you stay consistent with the pill, you might want to look at different methods.
Other methods to consider include barrier methods such as condoms, internal condoms, cervical caps, sponge, or diaphragm. While you should always remember to use them before having sex, you won’t need to remember to take a pill every day.
You can switch to implant (which can be effective for up to 4 years), IUD (which can last 5-10 years), patch (you will only have to change it once a week) or the ring (which can be effective for 3 weeks at a time).
You don’t like the side effects. You can have 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 are not sure what is normal and what is not.
If you decide that the side effects of your current contraception aren’t working for you, it’s time to consider other methods. Cybill Esguerra, MD, assistant professor of gynecology and obstetrics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, finds that unwanted side effects are the most common reason for switching birth control methods.
“It’s either unexpected bleeding or pain. For example, in the case of an IUD, ”she says. “Other topics covered include weight gain, skin changes, or mood changes.”
There are different types of nasty side effects that can occur due to birth control. But just because one form of hormonal birth control hasn’t worked for you doesn’t mean another type won’t. But if you’d rather use a non-hormonal form of birth control instead, you can explore the different types of barrier methods as well.
You don’t like having abnormal periods. A specific side effect of birth control is a change in your period. You may have spottings, notice changes in your cycles, or stop your period altogether while using contraception. A copper IUD (Paragard) might make your period more heavier, while hormonal IUDs (Kyleena, Liletta, Mirena, and Skyla) might stop or make your period lighter.
Missed period due to birth control can make you fear you are pregnant. Or you may just be fed up with having irregular cycles. Whatever the reason, it may be a good idea to consider how other forms of birth control might affect your period. This way, you can research new options that might be right for you.
You worry about protection. You may think that your current type of birth control is not protecting you from pregnancy as well as you want it to. If you get nervous every time you have sex, or have a lot of anxiety if your period is irregular, you should research the effectiveness of birth control. Look at how effective your type of contraception is and see if there are ways to improve its success (such as using a condom or taking the birth control pill, for example).
But if you still find that your current method is not what you want, talk to your doctor about the effectiveness of the other methods.
If you want to stay protected against sexually transmitted infections (STIs), use condoms or internal condoms instead of or in addition to your current method of contraception. These two types of condoms are the only forms of birth control that can prevent STIs.
How to Safely Change Your Birth Control Method
If you decide that you want to change your birth control method, it’s important to do it the right way to make sure you’re protected against pregnancy.
You should switch directly from one method of contraception to the next, without taking a break. If you are taking birth control pills, you do not need to finish your current pack before starting a new method of birth control in order to be protected. But Esguerra recommends that people finish their original contraceptive pack before switching to “make the transition as seamless as possible” in terms of side effects.
After changing your method, you may notice changes in your period. But this is normal and there is nothing to worry about.
Depending on the birth control method you are using and the type you are switching to, you may need to overlap them. This means that you will need to start your new birth control before stopping the old method of birth control. Each type requires a different overlap time, and some do not require it at all. Ask your doctor if you need to overlap based on your current contraceptive and your 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 period when you would otherwise overlap with your birth control methods.
Backup methods can give you extra security when changing birth control method. “Typically, every time you start a new method, you want to use a backup method for a week,” Esguerra explains.
Side effects of changing birth control methods
When you switch to a new type of birth control, it’s common to have irregular bleeding for a few months. If you receive an IUD, you may also feel discomfort or cramping after insertion. But both side effects should improve over time.
Depending on which method you switch to, hormonal birth control methods can also cause unwanted side effects. But these should go away within 3 to 5 months of continued use of your new method. You may notice:
- Acne (more common in progestin-only methods, less common in combination pills and Nuvaring)
- Amenorrhea or loss of your period (more common in Depo-Provera, Implanon, Mirena, continuous cycle combination pills, Nuvaring, less common in combination pills or progestin-only pills)
- Breast tenderness (more common in Ortho Evra, less common in combination pills or Nuvaring)
- Low libido
- 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 combination pills)
- More vaginal discharge (more frequent in Nuvaring, less frequent in all other methods)
- Nausea (more frequent in Ortho Evra, less frequent in Nuvaring)
- Oily skin (more common in progestin-only methods, less common in combination pills)
- Weight gain (more common in Depo-Provera, less common in combined hormonal methods, Mirena or progestin-only pills)
To relieve any pain during your transition period, Esguerra suggests taking over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or naproxen or using warm compresses. But if the pain seems to get worse, especially after inserting an IUD, it’s best to contact your doctor as soon as possible. That way, they can make sure nothing else is wrong.
Esguerra encourages people to stand up for their bodies and to ask questions when it comes to changing their birth control method.
“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 they make an appointment with their gynecologist.”
As always, it’s best to talk to your doctor about your birth control wants and needs. They can guide you in finding the best birth control for your body.