The first question that most couples have to face a little while after marriage is ‘Are we ready for a baby?’ While some couples may easily resolve this question with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’, others may have a hard time in making a decision. In case a couple decides to prolong their plans for a baby, it is best to go for contraceptive methods until the couple believes that the time is right. Birth control methods are based on different concepts of preventing pregnancy. In addition to preventing pregnancy, some contraceptive methods also offer protection from sexually transmitted diseases like AIDS, syphilis and herpes.
Now let us take a look into some popular methods of birth control.
Natural Family Planning
This is one of the oldest methods of birth control. Natural planning involves abstaining from intercourse during a woman’s fertile days — that is from the 12th to the 20th day of her menstrual cycle; day 1 being the first day of period. This method that requires rigid adherence to the plan from both partners is best adopted only by women with regular menstrual cycles. Withdrawal is another natural method in which the man withdraws just before ejaculation. However, this can be risky as the fluid that leaks before ejaculation also contains sperms.
Barrier methods include the use of contraceptive devices like condom, diaphragm, cervical cap and vaginal sponge. These devices are often used along with chemical barriers like jellies, foams or creams to block sperm from reaching the uterus. Single-use, male condoms are very affordable and available from all drug stores. Cervical cap or diaphragm can be inserted into a woman’s body with the assistance of a medical professional. The use of contraceptive sponge, cervical cap or diaphragm may sometimes trigger urinary tract infections in women. Sometimes, women may also experience allergic reactions while using these methods.
Oral contraception refers to women taking birth control pills containing progestin and estrogen that prevents ovulation to aid contraception. Contraceptive pills containing only progestin work by blocking the implantation of fertilized egg on the wall of the uterus.
The same principle is used in methods like hormone injections that can prevent pregnancy for up to 3 months. However, since regular use of hormone shots are known to reduce bone density, health experts advise women against taking these shots continuously for more than 2 years.
Another method that works on the same principle is the hormonal birth control patch. This patch which is applied to the outer arm, upper torso, abdomen or buttocks gradually releases hormones into the bloodstream to prevent pregnancy. Then there are the Intra Uterine Devices (IUD) — small structures that are inserted into the woman’s uterus by a healthcare professional. Although the working principle of IUD and birth control pills are the same, doctors recommend IUD only for women who have already had a baby.
Next is the vaginal contraceptive ring — a narrow, flexible ring that a woman can insert into the vagina on her own. The ring that releases hormones to prevent pregnancy has to be changed every 3 weeks.
This is the only permanent method of birth control. In women, sterilization is done through tubal ligation — a process that blocks the fallopian tubes in such a way that the eggs are no longer able to reach the uterus. In men, it is called vasectomy — a procedure that blocks off the vas deferens so that sperm cannot pass through.