Although many women enjoy using birth control pills, one thing that has always been unpopular about them is the fact that you need to remember to take a pill everyday. In response to the complaints of many women, two variations on the pill have emerged over the last few years. Just as effective as the pill, the contraceptive patch and vaginal birth control ring are proving to be popular birth control options among women.
This contraceptive is a simple square shaped patch that sticks to the skin and releases a steady stream of estrogen and progesterone into your system. Like the birth control pill, the increase in hormones helps to prevent pregnancy.
Of the many contraceptive methods that are now available to a couple, birth control patches are one of the easiest to use and only require you to change the patch once a week. Currently, the only patch on the market is the Ortho Evra birth control patch.
Birth Control Ring
Another alternative for the pill is a contraceptive ring, also known by its brand name Nuva Ring, is a thin, transparent, flexible ring that is inserted inside the vagina once a month. Like the patch, the ring also releases estrogen and progesterone into the blood stream and provides protection against unwanted pregnancy.
How do They Work?
Both the patch and the ring release hormones into the blood stream and act in three ways to prevent pregnancy:
- Ovulation is inhibited, resulting in no egg being released from the ovaries for fertilization
- Cervical mucus is thickened making it difficult for sperm to travel through the cervix and fertilise an egg if one is released
- May also alter the lining of the uterus so that a fertilised egg cannot implant into the uterine wall
Who Can Use Them?
Not everyone is suited to these methods of birth control. Some health conditions that may prevent you from using the birth control patch or the ring are:
- Being over 35 years of age and a smoker
- History of heart ailments in the family
- Have high blood pressure
- Have an abnormal growth or cancer
- Have liver diseases
- Have had blood clots
- Get particular types of migraines or headaches
- Have uncontrolled diabetes
- Complain of unusual vaginal bleeding
- Suspect pregnancy
- Have hepatitis or jaundice
- Require bed rest after a surgery
- Allergic to materials used in the patch or the ring
Additionally, the contraceptive patch releases a particular quantity of hormone to the body. Women who weigh more than 90kg may not be provided with sufficient amounts of hormone to prevent pregnancy and should consider an alternate birth control. It is also not advisable for women that are breastfeeding to use a birth control ring.
Speak with your doctor to determine if either of these contraceptives is right for you.
Using the Ring
The contraceptive ring is usually inserted on the first day of your menstrual cycle or the first Sunday after the first day of your period. To insert the ring, hold it between your thumb and index finger and insert it carefully inside your vagina.
There is no particular position that the ring has to be placed, so you can adjust it to the position you find most comfortable. Once it has been properly inserted, you should not be able to feel it.
Unlike many other birth control methods, a contraceptive ring has to be inserted just once a month. It stays in your vagina for three weeks before you need to remove it. During the fourth week, you go ring-free and get your period during this time.
At the end of the fourth week, you insert another ring and begin the cycle again. If the birth control ring remains in the vagina for an extra week – for a total of four weeks – it will need to be removed and may only be inserted seven days after removal.
If your ring-free period lasts longer than a week, it will be necessary to use another form of birth control, such as a female condom, until a new ring has been used for seven days continuously. Speak to your health care provider about specific details concerning your case.
The birth control ring does not interfere with your periods, exercise, swimming or intercourse. However, if for some reason it slips out, be sure to first rinse it with cold water before reinserting within 3 hours. Further delay in reinserting may lessen its effect; as a precautionary measure you may need to use another form of contraception.
First time users of the ring will need to wait 7 days after insertion before the ring is effective. During this time, either abstain from intercourse or use another type of effective birth control.
Using the Patch
Like the ring, the patch too is applied on the first day of your cycle or the first Sunday after the first day of your period. The four particular areas where you can apply the patch are the abdomen, buttocks, upper arm or upper torso. This contraceptive has to be changed every week. You should apply it on the same day every week on a different area from the previous week.
A patch is a totally comfortable way of contraception and does not get harmed in any way by water, sweat or exercise. On the fourth week, a patch is not worn as you will get your periods around that time. However, apply a new patch immediately on the start of the next week.
As compared to a contraceptive pill, a patch is much easier to use but do be careful to not trim it or cut it before applying. Also if your skin is cut or appears red at a place, do not put the patch there. It is also best to avoid make up at the area where you are applying it as that may interfere with the hormonal secretion.
If you forget to apply a new patch on the right day or if it falls, inform your doctor and take his advise. It will be helpful to avoid intercourse or use any other type of birth control on these days.
The contraceptive patch and ring have been found to be as effective as the oral contraceptive pill. The success rate is thought to be between 95% and 99%, depending upon device usage. Once the contraception is stopped permanently, full fertility usually returns within a few months.
If you delay in applying the patch or the ring, lose it or forget using it on a particular day when required, the chances of conception naturally increase. The effectiveness of a patch or a ring is also lessened when taken with certain drugs, like antibiotic, anti seizure, and migraine medicine.
As with all hormonal contraceptives, there are minor birth control side effects associated with these two methods including:
- Breast tenderness
- Mood swings
- Irregular bleeding
- Weight gain
- High blood pressure
- Dizziness or headaches
- Blood clots
Additionally, with a ring some women may complain of vaginal irritation and vaginal discharge. A patch too may cause skin irritations, increased menstrual cramps and eye problems in a few cases.
Occasionally, complications can occur with the use of either of these birth control options.
These may include:
- Blood clots (affecting the legs, lungs, heart or brain)
- Stroke or heart attack
- Liver Tumors(rare)
- Gallstones (rare)
- Jaundice (rare)
- Possibly increase your risk of cervical cancer
Because these are both new forms of birth control, long-term effects have not been thoroughly researched yet. Unfortunately, some studies have found that using the patch can increase your risk of blood clots. In the USA, the Food and Drug Administration has issued a warning that Ortho Evra displays on all its packets to alert women to this increased risk.
Some of the benefits of using a Nuva Ring or a birth control patch include:
- Easy to use
- Only need to think about it once a week or month
- Does interfere with intercourse
- Decreases PMS symptoms
- Decreases your risk of endometrial and ovarian cancers
- Offers some protection against pelvic inflammatory disease and ectopic pregnancy
Despite its advantageous, there are some drawbacks to using these methods:
- Both do not protect from STDs
- Can only be used with a doctor’s prescription
- Higher risk of stroke or heart attack
Before prescribing these contraceptives, a doctor generally needs to know about your health, family medical history and perform a check up including blood pressure and pelvic examination. Once you have a prescription, you can obtain the ring or patch at the chemists or through a family clinic. The monthly cost is roughly about the same as the birth control pill.