From first-time users to moms getting back into birth control, make sure these topics get covered.
Illustration by Tyler Hoehne
It seems like every couple years a new contraceptive for women comes on the market. Decades after the FDA approved “the pill” as birth control, women have seen their options expand into shots, patches, implants, sponges, etc … each with their own benefits, drawbacks, and side effects.
Healthcare providers know different options work better for particular patients. Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Adolescence published a new policy on teens and contraceptives. The Academy urges that pediatricians learn the recommendations for “special populations” such as young women with disabilities, HIV, or a high body mass index. Most notably, the updated policy recommends long-term contraceptives, like implants and IUDs, for teens.
The problem? Teens and adults alike don’t know enough about the wide variety of contraceptives available to them and oftentimes don’t ask their doctors important questions, which could lead to contraception failure. Make sure that your doctor goes through every single option available to you. You deserve it.
Here are eight key questions for patients to ask their doctors when seeking new contraceptives:
1. I have ______ pre-existing condition/am pre-disposed for _____. Which is the best form of birth control for me?
Who should ask: new patients, students seeking contraceptives from their university’s healthcare providers (who are likely not familiar with the patient’s medical background), women living abroad, and anyone whose contraceptive provider is not their general practitioner.
Why: Though some forms of contraception aggravate an illness or condition, some may alleviate your symptoms or prevent future illness.
Tips: If you have anemia, acne, a history of ovarian cancer in your family, severe menstrual cramps, hirsutism, or aggressive PMS, you should especially communicate this information and ask about the pill’s protection against these conditions.
2. What is the effectiveness of ___?
Who should ask: everyone.
Why: Contraceptives have different success rates. For example, hormonal methods are more effective than barrier methods and behavioral methods are less effective than those. Make sure you know the risks.
3. What are the side effects of ___?
Who should ask: everyone.
Why: You need to know.
4. What are the explicit instructions for how to use this form of birth control?
Who should ask: first-time contraceptive users and forgetful patients.
Why: Most contraceptive failure is due to incorrect or inconsistent application. For instance, taking the pill at the same time every single day is crucial.
Tips: Ask when your chosen birth control option will go into effect. Results are not always immediate and you’ll want to have a back-up plan when they’re not.
5. I have a _____ lifestyle. Does this affect my options?
Who should ask: frankly, most people.
Why: Sex habits, smoking, plans to have children eventually (or never), privacy issues, personal finances: These are all things you should discuss with your healthcare practitioner when choosing contraception.
Tips: Don’t be discouraged by financial stress. You may qualify for free birth control.
6. Will my other medications interfere with my chosen contraceptive?
Who should ask: anyone who takes daily or frequent medicine, including psychiatric prescriptions and over-the-counter things like acetaminophen.
Why: You’ll want to know if your other medications will interfere with the contraceptive’s effects, or vice versa.
Tips: A particular antibiotic (rifampim) is known to make the pill less effective, and some medications are rendered weak or overly powerful when taken in conjunction with certain contraceptives.
7. Do I need the full-dose pill or can I opt for the low-dose alternative?
Who should ask: people sensitive to or wary of hormonal birth control.
Why: Taking full-strength birth control pills may cause some pretty uncomfortable side effects ranging from vomiting to weight gain to depression. Some options now contain fewer hormones, causing fewer side effects while still providing a safe, functional form of contraception.
8. What do you recommend for somebody my age?
Who should ask: almost anyone old enough (or young enough) to want birth control.
Why: Depending on your age and lifestyle, your doctor will have different recommendations for you.
Don’t be afraid to do your own research either. Scientific journals, health professional organizations, and nonprofits like the AAP, The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Our Bodies Ourselves, Bedsider, Planned Parenthood, and the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals are all legitimate sources of information.
If money is an issue, call your health insurance provider ahead of time and ask about each option’s out-of-pocket cost. Check out Bedsider’s contraception method guide for a general idea of what each option costs.