There are many types of female contraception available in Australia, and finding out what works best for you can be quite a process. Every women is different, and while the pill may be suitable for some, it isn’t necessarily for everybody.
Contraception is a big topic, and is something you should consider talking to your gynaecologist about, particularly if you are having trouble finding a method that you are happy with.
You should also talk openly with your partner about the different options available, as well as carefully considering your lifestyle, the possible side effects of each method, and how each method might meet your needs.
It might be a process of weighing up the pros and cons of each method, or even a case of trial and error before you find the most suitable method. Here is a guide to female contraception to help you on your way. If you would like to book an appointment to discuss contraception further, please don’t hesitate to give us a call.
While it is not a form a female contraception, is it important to consider condoms first, as they are one of the only forms of contraception that protects against both pregnancy and STIs. This may be the most suitable method for you if you have multiple sexual partners. Condoms are easy to access, and can be bought from supermarkets or pharmacies. They are very effective against preventing pregnancy and STIs if worn correctly.
‘The Pill’, is a term used to describe two main types of oral contraceptive pills: the combined pill and the mini-pill (or progestogen-only pill). These are types of hormonal contraceptives.
The Combined Pill
The combined pill contains two hormones, oestrogen and progesterone, which stop the ovaries from releasing an egg each month. They also make the fluid at the opening to the uterus thicker, stopping sperm from getting through. You will still bleed when you take the pill, though perhaps not as much.
There are combined pills available which can help you not to have a period each month. This is perfectly safe, and may prove a particularly helpful method of you have problems with period pain or heavy bleeding.
There are many types of combined pills containing different doses and hormones. Side effects, if present, may vary between women, ranging from abnormal periods and anxiety to nausea, sore breasts and weight gain.
When taken properly, it is very effective at preventing pregnancy. The pill can may also be used to treat premenstrual syndrome, endometriosis and bad acne.
The Mini Pill, or Progestogen-only Pill
The mini pill contains only one hormone: progesterone. It works by making the mucus at the entrance to the uterus thicker so that sperm cannot pass through to fertilise the egg. Without the oestrogen, it does not stop ovulation. It is suitable for women who suffered from side effects when taking the combined pill or cannot take oestrogen for health reasons.
It is also very effective at preventing pregnancy, although must be taken more stringently: once a day at the same time. Possible side effects are similar to the combined pill – abnormal periods, nausea, and mood swings.
The mini pill is especially suitable for breast feeding mothers.
Emergency Pill – The ‘Morning-After Pill’
The ‘morning-after pill’ can be taken if you had sex without using contraception, or if there were issues with your usual contraceptive method, such as a broken condom or missed pill. Hence it is known as the emergency pill.
The morning-after pill is probably not a great choice for regular contraception, because of its higher failure rate, and the fact that it will trigger a short period.
The morning-after pill is available from chemists without prescription. It is usually a single pill containing the hormone progestogen. It must be taken within 72 hours after intercourse and works best if taken as soon as possible. It is not as effective as using a condom or contraception pill.
The vaginal ring contains the same two hormones that are in the combined pill – oestrogen and progesterone – and works in a similar way. A ring is put into the vagina and stays in place for three weeks, passing the hormones from the vagina into the bloodstream. After three weeks the ring is taken out and a new ring is put in one week later. This allows time for you to have your regular monthly period.
Like the combined pill it is very effective at preventing pregnancy, and saves the hassle of having to take the pill everyday. It is easy to insert and may be a suitable alternative to the pill, though side effects may be similar.
Contraceptive Intrauterine Devices (IUDs)
An IUD is a small contraceptive device that is placed in the uterus by a doctor. It is made from plastic, and contains copper or hormones, and can last up to 5 years depending on the type, though it can be taken out if you want to get pregnant or if you are having issues. It is very effective at preventing pregnancy and is a good long-term approach.
The IUD works by disrupting sperm movement and survival in the uterus so that they cannot reach the egg to fertilise it. The hormonal IUD slowly releases hormones that can make the mucus in the cervix thicker, stopping sperm from getting through. It may stop periods altogether and can have similar hormonal side effects to the pill. The copper IUD does not cause these side effects, though it can make periods heavier.
Diaphragms and Female Condoms
A diaphragm is a small soft silicone cap worn inside the vagina to cover the entrance to the uterus, blocking sperm from entering. If used the right way it is an effective contraceptive method.
A female condom is an alternative to the male condom. It is very similar – a polyurethane pouch with a flexible ring at each end that sits in the vagina, stopping sperm from getting into the uterus. It is a one-size-fits-all method, suitable for all women of all ages. As well as preventing pregnancy, it can also be effective for preventing STIs.
Permanent Methods – Surgical Sterilisation
There are certain operations that offer permanent contraception. You may be familiar with the male sterilisation method, vasectomy, which permanently stops sperm from reaching the penis. The female method involves blocking the fallopian tubes, stopping an egg from moving into the uterus to be fertilised. This is often referred to as getting your ‘tubes tied’.
If the pill is unsuitable, hormonal contraception for women is also available as an implant. This utilises a small plastic rod, which is inserted underneath the skin on the inside of the upper arm and slowly releases progestogen. The effect is similar to that of taking the mini-pill.
The implants lasts for three years and is a very effective form of contraception. However, there may be side effects, such as abnormal periods, nausea, and mood changes.
The contraceptive injection is an injection of long-acting hormones, known as DMPA (or Depo Provera or Depo Ralovera). It is given every 12 weeks, and has a similar effect to the pill. However, it can be used when breastfeeding.
If you have any questions about female contraception, or would like to book an appointment, please don’t hesitate to call.
Dr Bevan Brown is one of the most trusted gynaecologists and obstetricians in the Hills District of Sydney. We will strive to give you guidance and compassionate care in every way possible.