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Birth Control Effectiveness

Most Popular Form of Contraception Isn’t the Most Effective
by Mommy MD Guide Rallie McAllister, MD, MPH

More women in the United States  rely on birth control pills to prevent pregnancy than any other method, but the Pill isn’t the most effective means of contraception—not by a long shot. Birth control pills are subject to user error; you have to remember to take them every day in order for them to work as intended.

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis recently conducted a study* to evaluate birth control methods and found dramatic differences in their effectiveness. The scientists found that women who relied on birth control pills, the patch, or vaginal ring were 20 times more likely to have an unintended pregnancy than those who used longer-acting forms of contraception, such as an intrauterine device (IUD) or birth control implant.

Birth-control pills and other short-term contraceptive methods, such as the contraceptive patch or ring, were especially unreliable among younger women. In women younger than 21 using birth control pills, the contraceptive patch or ring, the risk of unplanned pregnancy was almost double the chance of pregnancy among older women using the same contraceptive methods. The researchers concluded that increased use of longer acting contraceptive methods in teens and young adult women would likely prevent a substantially larger percentage of unplanned pregnancies.

The study lends support to the notion that when it comes to preventing pregnancy, long-acting, reversible contraceptive methods in women are far superior to the birth control pill, patch, and ring. Unlike the Pill, IUDs and birth control implants are more reliable because there’s less chance of user error. Once they’re put in place, women don’t have to remember to do anything on a daily basis to prevent becoming pregnant.

Unintended pregnancy is common in the United States; About half of all pregnancies each year are unplanned. Previous research demonstrates that about half of unplanned pregnancies result from contraceptive failure.

IUDs are inserted into the uterus by a physician or another healthcare professional. The hormonal IUD can be left in place for five years, while the copper IUD can be left in place for as long as a decade. Birth control implants, which are inserted under the skin of the upper arm, are effective for three years. IUDs and implants have very low failure rates—less than 1 percent. But while these methods are more effective and more user friendly than other contraceptive methods, they’re much more expensive on the front end—typically around $500 or more.

That might seem like a lot to pay for contraception, but for women who are serious about avoiding an unintended pregnancy, it might be an excellent investment.

*Washington University in St. Louis (2012, May 23). IUDs, implants most effective birth control, study suggests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 13, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2012/05/120523200255.htm

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