13 Things To Ask Your Doctor About Your Birth Control
Starting or changing birth control can be intimidating to consider. If you've never been on birth control before, it can be scary to think about how your body might change once you start using it. If you've already tried a certain birth control method but want to change it, you might be concerned about how your body might react to the change. And while all of these concerns can be addressed by having a detailed discussion with your OB/GYN, sometimes the most intimidating aspect of starting or changing your birth control method can be not knowing what to ask your doctor about birth control.
"There’s no one-size-fits-all birth control method, which is why questions are so critical," Dr. Savita Ginde, VP of medical affairs at Stride Community Health Center and the former chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, tells Bustle. "The best form of birth control for you is the one that you will use routinely and regularly. I also suggest finding a doctor who makes having ongoing discussions easy and convenient, and comfortable. A good patient comes in with a host of questions, but keeps the conversation going — that’s how we partner for optimal health."
Here are 13 questions to ask your doctor about birth control.
1. What Type Of Birth Control Is Best For Me?
One of the main questions people have when they're considering taking or changing birth control is about which options would be best for them. For example, birth control pills contain estrogen and progestin and they differ based on different amounts of doses of each. Doctors usually prescribe specific pills to different people based on how much of each hormone they feel their body needs.
"There are a wide range of birth control pills available for people to choose from, including those with a combination of hormones and those that are progestin-only," Dr. Anna Targonskaya, MD, OB/GYN and medical consultant at Flo Health, tells Bustle. "Each patient is different, so it’s important to speak to your doctor about which is right for you." And if you're looking for more options than the pill it's important to consider what else is out there. Dr. Lakeisha Richardson, board-certified OB/GYN and advocate for women's health, tells Bustle, "Some options use a combination of hormones to prevent pregnancy, such as the birth control pill, arm implant, birth control shot and patch. There are also non-hormonal methods available — these include spermicide, condoms and the copper IUD."
2. Will The Medications I'm Already Taking React Badly With The Birth Control?
If you're already taking other medications for any medical conditions you have, you may be worried about the way they might react with your birth control if they are pills or involve hormones. "It is very critical that you tell your doctor about all medications that you’re taking so that they can prescribe the best birth control pill for you," Targonskaya says. "There are some medications that can interfere with the effectiveness of birth control pills (e.g., some HIV medications, antibiotics, anti-seizure medications, antifungal medications and some herbal treatments, among others), so your doctor will be able to adjust your prescription accordingly based on other medications you take."
It's also important to disclose if you have any medical conditions that might react with your form of birth control. "This is important because some medical conditions don’t react well to synthetic hormones, migraines are an example," Richardson says. "And hormone birth control may not mix well with certain seizure and blood pressure medications. Be certain to review your complete medical history and all the medications you currently take, even supplements, to ensure harmony."
3. What Side Effects Can I Expect?
Like almost all other medication or procedures, birth controls like the pill or hormonal IUDs can have side effects, and it's important to be aware of any potential effects any new medication might have on your body.
"While birth control pills are generally safe for most people, they do come with some side effects ranging from spotting and headaches to nausea or breast tenderness," Targonskaya says. "Of course, every person may react differently to the hormones in birth control pills, so you should speak to your doctor and educate yourself on what you might experience, especially when starting a new prescription."
Dr. Ginde explains that other, non-oral forms can cause side effects as well. "The Copper IUD as an example can cause heavy periods initially — this is something you’ll want to prepare for," she says. If you find that after starting your birth control you experience side effects that you aren't comfortable with, you can talk to your doctor about switching to another method that might react better with your body.
4. If I'm Using Birth Control For Sex, Should I Be Using Something Else Too?
While some people use certain methods of birth control to regulate their periods, clear up their acne, or manage hormonal issues like polycystic ovary syndrome that they might have, birth control is primarily used in the U.S. to avoid getting pregnant while being sexually active.
"Birth control pills, when taken correctly, are highly effective at preventing unwanted pregnancies," Targonskaya says. "However, they do not protect against sexually transmitted diseases or sexually transmitted infections, so talk to your doctor about protecting yourself using non-hormonal birth control methods such as condoms." The same can be said of other birth control methods like the IUD, implant, or vaginal ring. While all of these methods are effective at preventing pregnancy, they are not effective at preventing STIs and should be accompanied by a condom or dental dam.
5. Will I Get My Period While On Birth Control?
If you're thinking of using a birth control method to control or regulate your period, you might want to ask your doctor how exactly you can use your contraception to do so. "Birth control pills can be taken in a monthly fashion that allows for a period every month," Dr. Ginde says. "There is also a way to take birth control pills in a manner that allows you to skip periods. Talk to your health care provider if you are interested in skipping your period for any number of months."
Dr. Ginde explains that sometimes your period will be affected by some birth control methods whether or not you purposefully manipulate it. "Most people who choose the implant or the hormonal IUD, for instance, will usually get to a point, about 6 months after the implant or IUD is placed, where they will have very light or no periods at all. This can be freeing for some people and a source of anxiety for others." This is something you might want to consider before choosing a birth control method.
6. How Involved Do I Have To Be With My Birth Control?
If you're concerned about how often you have to worry about your birth control method, it's important you bring up those concerns to your doctor before choosing a method. "Your involvement with your birth control extends from having to take a pill every day to changing a patch every week, a ring every month, remembering to get a shot every three months, extending into forms of birth control such as an implant or IUD that once placed can do its job for up to several years at a time, without much if any involvement from you, unless you have an issue or when it is time for its removal." Dr. Ginde says. When choosing a method, you should be honest with yourself about how much effort you're willing to put into your birth control method. If you cannot fully commit to taking something every day, the birth control pill, for example, might not be right for you.
7. How Effective Is My Birth Control?
If you're starting birth control, you're going to want to know just how effective it is. And while you can research success rates online, you can talk to your doctor about the effectiveness in-depth. "The effectiveness of birth control varies by method and it’s important to speak with your doctor about all of your options before making a decision," Richardson says. "Compliance is critical as birth control pills need to be taken every day at the same time in order to be effective. Your chance of getting pregnant depends on how well you follow the directions for taking your birth control pills. Additionally, some medications may interact with birth control and can lower its effectiveness; be prepared for your visit with a healthcare professional by bringing a list of medications and supplements you take."
8. When Will My Birth Control Start Being Effective?
If you're considering birth control mainly for its contraceptive abilities, you might be especially concerned about when your birth control will begin being effective and when you can have sex. "Forms that work based on hormones become effective based on when you start in connection with your monthly cycle," Dr. Ginde says. "Others become effective immediately. Be certain to ask about timing for the method you choose." Even if you aren't too concerned about birth control for pregnancy-prevention methods, you can ask your doctor about when your birth control will start being effective in regulating your period or when you can expect your hormonal issues to balance.
9. How Does My Birth Control Work?
It's important to understand how your birth control works because it's something you're planning to put in or attach to your body. "You’ll want to have a clear understanding of the process by which the various forms of birth control prevent pregnancy," Ginde says. "This will help you ensure it’s working, you’re using it correctly, and when to be concerned about failures. Knowing how it works will also help you understand if it’s a fit for your lifestyle and personal medical history." It can also be helpful to go into your appointment having done some research on your birth control so that if you run into some confusion about how it works, you can get clarification from your doctor.
10. Will My Birth Control Help With Anything Else Besides Avoiding Pregnancy?
As mentioned, birth control is used for many reasons aside from pregnancy prevention. If you're interested in finding out how your birth control might benefit you, you can ask your doctor to break down any possible benefits. "Hormone delivering birth control can help with painful periods, acne and more — another example of why you want to be complete with your health history discussion, you may find a solution that helps with more than just birth control," Ginde says.
11. What Happens If I Make A Mistake Or Miss A Day?
Whether that's missing a day for your pill or forgetting when to put your patch on or take it off, it's important to ask your doctor what the results of messing up might be, especially if you're using birth control to avoid pregnancy. "Mistakes happen, you’ll want to know what your options are for emergency contraception," Ginde says. "For people who have a hard time with synthetic hormones, the morning after pill isn’t a fit. Have this discussion early so you can plan accordingly."
By being prepared and asking this question beforehand, you'll feel less stressed or panicked if you ever do make a mistake. And if you find yourself making mistakes with your birth control method often, you might want to ask your doctor for a different method that might be better for you.
12. What's My Easiest Option?
If you're someone who wants the least hassle out of your birth control method, this might be one of the questions you want to ask. "People who want a simple and easy option typically like the pill the best, since it gives them the most control," Dr. Stephanie McClellan, CMO of Tia, tells Bustle. "They can stop and start whenever they please. The trick to figuring out the best option for you, is finding the right balance between progesterone and estrogen — which your doctor can help you with."
13. If I Ever Want To Get Pregnant In The Future, What Should I Do?
If you think that you might want to have children in the future, you might want to ask your doctor about what that process might look like and what your options are. "It is important to discuss your plans for pregnancy in the future with your OB/GYN, if any," Richardson says. "Although everyone’s timetable is slightly different, it may be possible to get pregnant as soon as you stop taking the pill. Women should consider a visit with their healthcare provider for a pre-pregnancy checkup before they stop taking birth control pills." Other methods, like the IUD, only affect your fertility for a month after stopping, while injections can affect it for up to 10 months. If you have a pregnancy plan for the future, it's important to consider these timings so you can plan ahead.
Whatever your concerns or questions about birth control may be, it's important to have open conversation with your doctor so that you can find the method best for you.