When you asked your doctor about birth control options, your discussion likely focused on keeping you from getting pregnant. There are lots of options, and your provider probably explained the differences between them and how each one works. You left your appointment knowing you’ve made an informed decision.
Are you sure you’ve talked about everything, though? Doctor visits are short, and it’s hard to discuss it all. You may need more details about how to obtain and use your birth control optimally. Here are seven things you probably didn’t talk about with your physician.
1. It Could Be Free
Adding an extra expense to your monthly budget could make you worry about counting your pennies. Fortunately, paying for your birth control doesn’t have to stress you out. You probably won’t have to fork over anything — or much — at all.
All insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act completely cover birth control. You don’t even have a co-pay. If you have a different kind of insurance, though, don’t worry! You can still find free or low-cost birth control pills through online resources or family planning clinics.
2. Protection Isn’t Immediate
Once you pop that first birth control pill, nothing magical happens. In most cases, you’ll still need to wait at least a few days before you have full pregnancy prevention. The lag time until maximum protection depends on where you are in your cycle when you start taking the meds.
If you’re taking combination pills (with both estrogen and progestin), it depends on your start date. Within five days of your period, you’ll get immediate protection. A mid-cycle start takes seven to 14 days to fully ramp up. Mini-pills (progestin only) work a little faster. They’re at full force within 48 hours no matter when you take your first dose.
Two points to remember — pill protection isn’t permanent. If you skip a day, your fertility bounces right back, and you could get pregnant. Also, use a condom every time you have sex if preventing a sexually transmitted infection (STI) is a concern. It’s the only birth control method that offers that kind of protection.
3. Negative Side Effects Are Common
When you start hormonal birth control for the first time, you could feel side effects that closely mimic your period. Nausea, headache, breast tenderness, and bloating are common. Most unwanted side effects are minor and only last a few months. If you can hold on and push through them, you’ll feel like your normal self again soon.
Some birth control pills may make you put on a few pounds. If this happens to you, talk with your doctor to see whether there’s another option you can use.
4. Spotting Can Happen
When we’re talking about your period, any bleeding at the wrong time can be scary. It’s very common right after you start the pill, though. So if you have irregular bleeding or intermittent spotting, don’t panic. All it means is your body is getting adjusted to the new medication. Your period is just trying to find its new rhythm.
Keep in mind, spotting also means your period might not show up “on time” for the first month. Instead of starting on the first day of inactive pills, you could start later in the week. Eventually, everything will fall in line. Contact your doctor, though, if you begin to bleed heavily at the wrong time.
5. Temperature Matters
If you’re too hot or too cold, it turns out your birth control pills are, too. Being exposed to temperatures above 86˚ or below 59˚ can kill the active ingredients in your medication. After a while, those critical components no longer work. When that happens, you don’t have pregnancy prevention protection.
Preserve your pills by storing them in a safe place. The bathroom might seem like a logical spot, but it’s a bad idea. Temperatures fluctuate too much in there. Instead, keep your pills on your bedside table or in your dresser drawer.
6. Other Medications Can Interfere
Just as with your other medications, birth control pills can interact with different things you’re taking. That includes prescriptions and herbal supplements. In some cases, these other substances can stop your pills from working correctly, putting you at risk for pregnancy.
Let’s quickly put your mind at ease about antibiotics, though, because they’re common. Despite the myth, most are safe to take with birth control. Two exceptions are Rifampicin and Rifabutin, which are used to treat, among other things, tuberculosis and meningitis. If you’re taking an anti-fungal, anti-seizure, or anti-HIV medication, however, your pills might be less effective.
Many women take St. John’s wort to ease symptoms of depression. Be aware that it speeds up your body’s metabolism of estrogen and progestin, potentially weakening your birth control.
7. Expiration Dates and Product Integrity Are Critical
Birth control isn’t food, so you’re probably less likely to think about whether yours has expired. You should definitely pay attention, though. Once the expiration date passes, the ingredients in your birth control start to break down and offer less protection.
Check the dates on your birth control pills and condoms. Expired condoms could have tiny rips or tears, meaning they’re useless for effectively preventing both pregnancy and STIs. The birth control patch should also be flush with your skin. If you see any peeling or rips, it might not be offering the expected level of protection.
Using birth control to prevent pregnancy can certainly put your mind at ease. There’s a lot more to how it works and the best ways to use it, however. It’s important for you to know the details. Remember these points no matter what type of birth control you use, and contact your doctor if you have questions.
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