5 Signs Your Birth Control Isn't As Effective As It Could Be

If you're already using birth control, then you're (sadly) already ahead of much of the pack in terms of avoiding an unwanted pregnancy. But you should still be on the lookout for signs that your birth control isn't as effective as it could be. Whether it's because you've chosen a method that isn't optimal for you in some way, because of lack of knowledge, or because of simple user error, you could still end up pregnant — and many birth control users do.

The gap between "perfect use" and "typical use" of birth control is a large one — just take a look at these charts from The New York Times to see how birth control failures add up over a period of years. And unfortunately, even just having a birth control method and going through the motions may be giving you a false sense of security, even if you're doing it wrong. The whole point of birth control, after all, is to control if and when you get pregnant, not to still leave things largely up to luck. So maybe it's time give yourself, your birth control method, and your usage habits a good long look to make sure that your birth control is doing all for you that it can.

1. You're Spotting

Light spotting (of blood) is sometimes the side effect of starting the pill or switching formulas, and at those times is annoying but harmless. However, spotting can also be a sign that your body isn't getting the concentration of hormones that it needs to prevent ovulation (for instance, due to something else you're taking that interferes with the pill). If you use hormonal contraception exactly as directed and still spot frequently, it's time to talk to your doctor.

2. You're Full-Figured

Although the average weight of American women has been going up, unfortunately little is known about how a higher body weight affects hormonal birth control methods. Preliminary evidence suggests that a higher weight may be associated with more pregnancies in women who were taking hormonal contraceptives and/or more pregnancies in women who used emergency contraception (like Plan B). You may want to choose a non-low-dose pill and take it especially strictly on time to be sure it's working maximally well for your body type and size.

3. You're Off Schedule

Maybe it's the end of the month but you still have a few random pills rattling around in the pack. Maybe you just realized you have no idea how long that ring has been in there. Even IUDs can lose effectiveness after a certain number of years! If you're off schedule in any way, then proceed to bed at your own risk. Try setting Google calendar alerts for your birth control-related events; it's well worth the trouble.

4. You Just Started

On the other hand, if you just started a new method of birth control, be sure you know how long it takes for that method to go fully into effect. Doctors' advice about starting the pill varies, in my experience — some of them say seven days, but others recommend a more conservative month. If you're responsible enough to be starting in the first place, surely you're responsible enough to wait a little longer or use a backup method.

5. You're Pregnant

This should be obvious, but if you've gotten pregnant on a method of birth control before, then it's definitely time to re-evaluate your plan and to figure out what might have gone wrong so it can be avoided in the future. About half of American women receiving abortions have had one before, so if you have something to learn you're certainly not alone.

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