There are more options for birth control available to women than ever before in American history — which leaves us grateful, yes — but also confused at times. Your sister swears by the Depa-Provera shot, while your bestie practically begs you to give the Paragard IUD a chance, then you see a news special on television about how fatal the Pill can be. It's easy to get swayed, which is why you should book an appointment with your OBGYN immediately; they'll be able to offer you their expertise, as well as give you a platform to chat about your concerns, leaving you less stressed and closer to making a decision about how to protect yourself from unwanted pregnancy.
But there are quite a few rookie mistakes you can make when it comes to sitting down with a gynecologist, and they could stall you in your determined process to find the perfect birth control. You might strut in with your head held high, only to crumble under the pressure (am I the only one who gets nervous on that examination table?!) and forget to extract the most important information from the seasoned professional sitting across from you. It's worth it to take your time, plan ahead, and set specific intentions so you leave the clinic happy about your body and your periods.
Here are 10 tips for talking to your OBGYN about birth control.
1. Do Your Research Before You Walk In
Know what's out there prior to waltzing into the exam room. We've got access to a tremendous amount of information available for free and at our fingertips, and if you don't know the full list of birth control options out there, you might only hear about the most popular ones from your OBGYN. Doctors appreciate it when you come to see them after doing a little homework, as long as you're still open to their suggestions.
Read up on the risks and rewards of them all, from diaphragms to the Pill, and maybe choose a couple of options that seem like they could be the best fit for you. That way, it will be a dialogue, rather than a one-sided conversation where you're merely at the receiving end of pink pamphlets and brochures. You can kick off by saying, "I did some research on the Pill and I'd like to consider it because..."
2. Prepare Some Questions
Way too many of us get stage fright when our feet are in the stirrups and the gyno walks in. Buck up, though, because we need to get as much information out of these specialists as we can; our lives depend on it. Compile a list of inquiries about anything and everything — hell, even tote in a pen and paper to the appointment so you can jot down notes.
Ask any of the following: "How will this method of birth control method change in the future if I want to get pregnant? Which side effects are normal and which are warnings signs? What is it like having the IUD inserted?" These are just a few starters; snoop around online to see what else you want the answers to.
3. Tell Them Everything About Your Cycle
All the factors about your period could be relevant to your OBGYN, from how severe your cramps are to how bad your mood swings get. It helps to walk into your appointment with a journal — or at least some notes — about what happens every month; that way, you won't leave out any important details. Once they know everything there is to know about your period, it will be much easier to diagnose the most effective form of contraception for you.
If every cycle brings around the-sky-is-falling-down kind of pain, for example, you might want to consider the Mirena IUD, which has a low level of prosgesteron and no estrogen. Women on team IUD report having light, easy-to-handle periods a few months after they have the device inserted, with little to no cramping.
4. Stand Your Ground
Your OBGYN is a trained professional, yes, but you know your body better than anyone, and, more importantly, you have the final say in what you want to put in it. A scary statistic you need to know is that 70 percent of all obstetricians have been sued due to malpractice. There are a great deal of women out there who wish they had just followed their own instinct — we can learn a lot from these incidents.
Is your doctor pushing one method of contraception on you that you're not comfortable with? No matter what kind of medical jargon they throw at you, listen to your gut, especially if you don't really want to get an IUD inserted, or aren't comfortable with the idea of hormonal birth control. You're allowed to disagree; start by saying, "I appreciate your input, but I personally prefer..."
5. Talk About When Your First Period Was
You'd be surprised at how much you can learn about yourself and overall health just from recalling which age you first got your period. Dr. Taraneh Shirazian, gynecologist at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York tells Prevention that women who got periods at an earlier age are more likely to be predisposed to some diseases. For example, those who started menstruating at 10 or earlier (or 17 or later, for that matter) had the highest risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, or stroke — which certainly matters when you're considering birth control options that might also raise those risks.
Bring it up with your doc, who can not only discuss what the implications are for your entire life, but might be able to tailor a birth control method for you that will prevent these issues from becoming more dangerous in the future.
6. Discuss Hormonal Vs. Non-Hormonal Options
This distinction is crucial when deciding on contraception, but sometimes doctors are in such a rush they don't take the time to explain it in an accessible way. Don't let them end the meeting before you get to the bottom of each option, because each one has risks that may apply to you and your medical history. Have your OBGYN open up your file and go over all the past issues you've had, from heavy menstrual bleeding to irregular periods.
Say there's a history of ovarian cancer in the women of your family; it might be a good idea to consider a hormonal version of birth control to lower your risk of contracting it. If you have had trouble remembering to take the Pill regularly in the past and you know you want long-term protection without hormones, bring up the Paragard IUD. If, at any point, you don't understand how the two contrast one another, speak up and ask for clarification.
7. Be Honest About Your Lifestyle
Now's not the time to be modest. Don't lie on your paperwork about how many cocktails you usually have at the end of every work week or how much you've smoked in the past. Even the embarrassing tidbits about yourself can help you and your OBYGN decide which birth control is best for your body. All those little things you don't think are relevant deserve some space, too. Chime in with, "I travel once a month for work," or "I'm not sleeping well these days."
Sometimes there are little connections between our periods and everyday occurrences that we don't see, but a medical professional might. It's better to lay it all out on the table. If, for some bizarre reason, you feel judged by the doctor, listen to your instincts and find another one whose primary concern is your wellbeing.
8. Bring Up Your Family's Medical History
Has anyone in your family suffered heart disease, blood clots, or obesity? Tell the doc all about it. Some of the perilous side effects that are attached to certain birth controls aren't even brought up because the OBGYN may not think they're relevant — that is, if they don't know what's happening in your genes.
If you aren't sure of the risks you might be carting around in your DNA, request to have some blood work done, even if you have to be sent to a hematologist to get tested. It's way better to be safe than sorry, because you don't want to end up in the hospital with a pulmonary embolism (PE) due to the fact that you were unaware of your genetic predisposition to blood clots.
9. Insist On Hammering Out The Details
Even if you're sure-footed in your decision about saying yes to a certain option, make sure you get all your ducks in a row before you hightail out of there. We often forget to chat about prevention and care, such as how often you should come in for check-ups or screenings, whether you need to get tested for human papillomavirus (HPV), and how to ward off urinary tract infections (UTIs).
All these things are tied up in your menstrual health, as well as what contraception you elect for yourself. Create a game plan with your OBGYN in case you stumble upon a yeast infection or you experience breakthrough bleeding. It's always a good idea to ask for their direct office phone number; they should be happy to hand it over should you need to reach them with an urgent question.
10. Don't Forget About STDs
At the moment, condoms are the only birth control method out there that can ward off unwanted pregnancy as well as protect against most nasty sexual transmitted diseases (STDs). But there is some movement around an intravaginal ring that might be able to perform the same double duty. It's being researched currently, so you can't ask for it yet, but you should still bring up the issue of STDs with your doc.
There used to be a rumor floating around that some forms of contraception, such as the IUD, make you more susceptible to catching a STD, but we've learned that's not actually the case. Run through the information with your OBGYN anyway, and ask, "What's the best way to prevent STDs with the birth control I'm taking?" Chances are, the answer is condoms — but if you're in a monogamous relationship, you might want to ask how often you should get tested anyway, just to be safe.
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