Today, the 26th of September, marks World Contraception Day. The day was launched in 2007 to celebrate the right to choose whether, when and how many children to have; and the wellbeing and autonomy of women. There are many different types of contraceptives available today, so it can be confusing when it comes to choosing the safest birth control to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
Kalekye health rounds up the four most common, accessible and effective forms of planned contraception to allow you to weigh up your options about them.
Birth control pills
The pill contains the hormones estrogen and/or progesterone, which stop the ovaries from releasing eggs thus preventing pregnancy, thicken the cervical mucus, and stop sperm from reaching the egg. One pill must be taken at the same time every day.There are different brands of pills that come in two forms; progesterone only and estrogen-progesterone or combination pills. They are considered to be the safest, affordable and effective if taken on time.
Advantages: The pill is 91% effective if taken as directed and besides being easy to use, they can be taken over a long period of time. This form of contraception can also help clear hormone-related acne and reduce the severity of menstrual cramps and heavy periods. It doesn’t interrupt sexual activity.
Drawbacks: The condom can tear during intercourse. Research has shown that its effectiveness has been lowered because women often forget to take it regularly. Side effects include headaches, nausea, weight gain, breast tenderness and changes in menstrual cycle. The pill does not protect against HIV/AIDS and other STIs.
The injectable contraceptives have the hormone progestin and are given via a shot in the arm every two to three months. This hormone stops the uterus from releasing eggs and thickens the mucus at the cervix.
Advantages: It is 94% effective and doesn’t require daily or weekly attention. This method lasts for a relatively long time.
Drawbacks: This form of contraception requires keeping track of the number of months used, it takes between one and three weeks after the first shot for the injectable to properly protect from pregnancy. Therefore the user needs another form of birth control to use in this period, such as a condom. This method is only effective if a woman returns to a health facility every three months to receive a repeat injection. Side effects include headaches, mood swings, weight gain, and abdominal discomfort. It may take up to a year for users menstrual cycle and fertility to return to normal after stopping the injection besides disrupted periods. Users should not count on it to protect themselves against HIV/AIDS and other STDs.
Intra-uterine device (IUD)
It is a flexible T-shaped device inserted into a woman’s uterus. There are two types of IUDs, one made from copper and another which releases low levels of the hormone progestin, which thickens the mucus of the cervix and thins the lining of the uterus, making it difficult for sperm to move freely and reach the egg. It is placed inside the womb by a healthcare provider.
Advantages: It is 99% effective.The copper device can protect a woman from pregnancy for up to 12 years; the hormone versions last between three and five years, depending on the brand. The IUD can be removed any time and doesn’t interrupt spontaneous sex. It can lighten heavy periods and make them less painful. It is recommended for users who want long-acting reversible contraception and wish to avoid daily, weekly or monthly routines. It can be used when breastfeeding and fertility returns to its previous level once the IUD is removed.
Drawbacks: It has to be inserted and removed by a qualified health professional. Irregular bleeding and spotting is common in the first six months. The hormonal versions should not be used by women with liver disease or breast cancer. It doesn’t protect against HIV/AIDS and other STIs and even poses s small risk of infection at insertion and removal. The side effects include headaches, tenderness, cramps and/or irregular bleeding, and acne.
A condom is a sheath made from latex (rubber) or polyurethane and tactylon (types of plastic) which covers the erect penis during sex. Research however has shown that male condoms offer more protection, both against pregnancy and STDs, than female condoms. Condoms made of lambskin or other animal membranes do not protect against STDs, but they can still prevent pregnancy. Only synthetic condoms, latex or plastic, prevent the spread of STDs.
Advantages: When used correctly they are 98% effective. Condoms provide protection from both pregnancies and STDs. They are easy to use, are portable, can be used on demand, are hormone free, not affected by other medicines and can be used even when the woman is breastfeeding.
Drawbacks: The condoms can come off or tear during sex which increases the risk of pregnancy. Oil-based substances, often used for lubrication, like moisturising cream or vaseline, lower the efficacy of latex condoms. Some people are allergic to latex, which is the most common type of male condom available.
Last but not least is the cheapest method of contraception called abstinence. Its free and 100% effective.