Birth control - slow release methods
Certain birth control methods contain man-made forms of hormones that are normally made in a woman's ovaries. These hormones are called estrogen and progestin.
- Both estrogen and progestin prevent a woman's ovaries from releasing an egg during her menstrual cycle (called ovulation). They do this by changing the levels of the natural hormones the body makes.
- Progestins also help prevent sperm from entering the uterus by making the mucus around a woman's cervix thick and sticky.
Birth control pills are one way of receiving these hormones. However, you must remember to take the pills every day.
Other methods to prevent pregnancy use the same hormones, but these hormones are released slowly over time.
A progestin implant (Nexplanon) is a small rod that is implanted under the skin, usually on the upper arm. The rod releases a small amount of the hormone progestin into the bloodstream.
It takes about a minute to insert the rod, which is done using a local numbing medicine in a doctor's office. It can stay in place for 3 years, but it can be removed at any time. Removal usually only takes a few minutes.
After the implant has been inserted:
- You may have some bruising around the site for a week or more.
- You should be protected from getting pregnant within 1 week.
- You can use these implants while breast-feeding.
Progestin implants work better than birth control pills to prevent pregnancy. In any 1 year, only 1 out of 100 women who uses these implants is likely to get pregnant.
Your regular menstrual cycles should return within 3 or 4 weeks after these implants are removed.
Injections or shots that contain the hormone progestin also work to prevent pregnancy. A single shot works for up to 90 days. These injections are given into the muscles of the upper arm or buttocks.
Side effects that may occur include:
- Changes in menstrual cycles or extra bleeding or spotting. Around half of women who use these injections have no menstrual cycles
- Breast tenderness, weight gain, headaches, or depression
Progestin injections work better than birth control pills to prevent pregnancy. In any 1 year, only 1 out of 100 women who uses progestin injections is likely to get pregnant.
Sometimes the effects of these hormone shots last longer than 90 days. If you are planning to become pregnant in the near future, you might want to consider a different birth control method.
The skin patch (Ortho Evra) is placed on your shoulder, buttocks, or another area of your body.
- A new patch is applied once a week for 3 weeks. Then you go 1 week without a patch.
- Estrogen levels are higher with the patch than with birth control pills.
The patch slowly releases both estrogen and progestin into your blood. Your health care provider will prescribe this method for you.
The patch works better than birth control pills to prevent pregnancy. In any 1 year, only 1 out of 100 women who uses the patch is likely to get pregnant.
The skin patch contains estrogen. As a result, there is a rare risk of high blood pressure, blood clots, heart attack, and stroke. Smoking increases these risks even more.
The vaginal ring (NuvaRing) is a flexible ring about 2 inches wide that is placed into the vagina. It releases the hormones progestin and estrogen.
- You will insert the ring yourself. It will stay in the vagina for 3 weeks. At the end of the third week, you will take the ring out for 1 week. Do not remove the ring until the end of the 3 weeks.
Side effects with the ring may include:
- Nausea and breast tenderness, which are less severe than with birth control pills or patches
- Vaginal discharge or vaginitis
- Breakthrough bleeding and spotting (may occur more often than with birth control pills)
The vaginal ring contains estrogen. As a result, there is a rare risk of high blood pressure, blood clots, heart attack, and stroke. Smoking increases these risks even more.
The vaginal ring slowly releases both estrogen and progestin into your blood. Your health care provider will prescribe this method for you.
The vaginal ring works better than birth control pills to prevent pregnancy. In any 1 year, only 1 out of 100 women who uses the vaginal ring is likely to get pregnant.
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Spencer AL, Bonnema R, McNamara MC. Helping women choose appropriate hormonal contraception: update on risks, benefits, and indications. Am J Med. 2009;122:497-506.
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Susan Storck, MD, FACOG, Chief, Eastside Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Bellevue, Washington; Clinical Teaching Faculty, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.