If you want to avoid getting pregnant, then you DO need to use a method of contraception but it doesn’t have to be a ‘hassle’.
There are many different methods to choose from with varying levels of reliability, ease of use, convenience etc. Some of these are ‘long-acting methods’ e.g. IUDs and implants, which are fitted by a doctor and then there is little more for you to do for months or even years. Other methods, such as natural family planning are hormone free, have no side effects and can have the benefit of helping you learn more about your body and your personal menstrual cycle.
The key is to find a method that best suits your needs at this point in your life.
Throughout your reproductive life what you require from a method of contraception will change, as your body, your lifestyle and your life stage change. If you find that your current method is no longer ideal because, for instance, you are suffering from unwanted symptoms related to your contraception, it is difficult / inconvenient to use, it is no longer reliable enough, it doesn’t protect you from sexually transmitted diseases, it doesn’t suit your partner etc. then it may be time to consider changing. No method is perfect, so you may find after further investigation that in fact there is no better method for you at the moment, but there are many different types of contraception, so it is definitely worth looking into the choices you have.
The definition of ‘natural family planning’ (NFP) is a method of avoiding conception by which sexual intercourse is restricted to the times of a woman’s menstrual cycle when ovulation is least likely to occur. An easy to use natural method of contraception is the Persona Contraception Monitor – click here to find more information on this method.
Other common ways NFP is practised involve using a combination of 2 or more of the following:
a. Calendar (rhythm)
b. changes in cervical mucus
c. changes in the cervix
d. changes in basal body temperature (BBT)
See our Contraception section for more information.
Contraception is defined as "the deliberate use of artificial methods or other techniques to prevent pregnancy as a consequence of sexual intercourse."
The word comes from "contra" = against, and a shortened form of "
The best method for you will depend on what's important to you and also on your medical history and state of health. For instance, do you want to have children in the future, what is your age, do you need protection from STIs, are you suffering from any symptoms caused by your current method e.g. PMS, heavy bleeding, how reliable do you want the method to be, do you smoke etc.?
It is a good idea to ask your doctor about all the things that you should consider and what methods are suitable for you to choose from.
Your doctor will be in the best position to have all the necessary information about your medical history and state of health and to narrow down the choices for you. Then, if you have a partner it’s a good idea to discuss this with him as the best method is likely to be the one that suits you both.
If I am thinking about starting a family in the next 6-12 months, when should I stop using contraception?
This will depend on the method of contraception you are using.
If you are using a natural method e.g. Persona Contraception Monitor or Sensiplan, where basal body temperature and intimate symptoms are used to identify the fertile phase, or a barrier method of contraception; your natural menstrual cycle is not affected by these and therefore you can start trying to get pregnant immediately when you stop using the method.
If you have been using a hormonal method, sometimes ovulation (releasing an egg) can be delayed or irregular for a number of months so your normal, natural menstrual cycle can take some time to re-establish itself.
If you use the contraceptive injection, your periods and fertility may take longer to return to normal than after other methods of contraception.
Many women worry that some methods of contraception, such as the pill, contraceptive injection or IUD, will make it difficult to get pregnant when they stop using them, but there is no evidence that these methods of contraception cause infertility.
Also, don’t worry if you get pregnant very soon after stopping hormonal contraception, this will not harm the baby.
The definition of emergency contraception is a method of contraception that the woman uses after intercourse but that takes effect before the stage of implantation (when the fertilised egg embeds itself in the lining of the womb). The earlier you use these methods, ideally within the first 24 hours after unprotected sex, the more effective they are at preventing pregnancy.
There are broadly two methods that can be used, either pills or an intrauterine device (IUD).
The pills should be started within 72 hrs of the earliest act of unprotected intercourse. How they act depends on when during the cycle they are taken. They may prevent or postpone ovulation, the cervical mucus may become hostile to sperm or a fertilised egg and they may block implantation. The emergency pills are not intended to be used as a routine method of contraception.
An IUD must be inserted no more than 5 days after unprotected intercourse or no more than 5 days from the earliest calculated day of ovulation. This acts by blocking implantation and possibly even fertilisation if it is inserted early in the cycle.
A contraceptive implant is a hormone (progestogen) contained in a slow release carrier (a kind of small plastic rod). The rod(s) are inserted under the skin of your arm and stay there for a number of years, slowly releasing a constant dose of the hormone. See our comparison table for the advantages and disadvantages of this method.
There is no ‘best’ pill for everyone. They vary according to the type of hormones and the dosage of hormones they contain, your doctor will be able to recommend the one that he thinks will suit you best based on what he knows about your age and medical history. There may be a bit of trial and error before you find the one that is best for you personally, so it’s a good idea to make a daily note of any symptoms you have when you start taking a new pill and then review this information with your doctor after a few months.
Despite the fact that a woman's fertility (and therefore her ability to get pregnant) starts to decline from when she is in her early 30s, we often hear about women who have become pregnant unexpectedly in their late 40’s or even early 50’s.
So, late pregnancy can and does happen and it’s important to think about contraception even after the menopause.
The recommended advice in the UK is:
It is also important to continue to protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) by using condoms in new sexual relationships.
- women who reach the menopause at 50 or over should use contraception for 12 months after their last period
- women who are under 50 when they have their menopause should continue to use contraception for two years after their last period
- if a woman started taking HRT (hormone replacement therapy) before her last period, she should continue using contraception until the age of 53 to be on the safe side. Please remember that HRT is not a contraceptive!
Contraception may not be the first thing on your mind when you have just given birth, but if you don’t want to get pregnant again immediately it is important that you begin using a method quickly.
The time for women to become fertile again varies, but you will need contraception from 21 days after your baby is born, so you should discuss this with your doctor and decide which method is best for you.
Your periods will probably start again about 4-10 weeks after your baby's birth if you are bottle-feeding, or combining breast and bottle. If you are breast-feeding then your periods may not start until much later and maybe not even until after you have stopped breast-feeding.
When you breast-feed, a hormone called prolactin is produced by your body, which stimulates the production of milk. Prolactin also blocks the release of the hormones which cause ovulation which means that you are less likely to become pregnant whilst you are breast-feeding.
You can use breast-feeding (the lactation amenorrhoea method) for contraception if you are:
- Fully breast-feeding (your baby is not having any solids or any other liquid), or you are nearly fully breast-feeding (you are mainly breast-feeding and only giving your baby other liquids very infrequently), AND
- Not having periods, AND
- Six months or less since having your baby.
2 women in every 100 using this method will become pregnant within the six months and as soon as you stop fully (or nearly fully) breast-feeding, you can get pregnant. You may want to consider using some contraception in addition to breast-feeding to reduce your risk of an unplanned pregnancy - there are methods that will not affect your ability to produce milk.