What it is: When it comes to hormonal birth control, the only difference is in the delivery system: The pill is swallowed, the patch is applied to the skin, and the ring is inserted into the vagina.
How it works: Prevents ovulation and thickens the cervical mucus to keep sperm out.
Effectiveness: Between 92 and 99.7%.
Convenience: The pill is taken daily; the patch is stuck on the buttocks, upper arms, lower abdomen or upper body once a week; and the ring is inserted for three weeks.
Best for: Non-smoking women under age 35, within certain health parameters.
Side effects: Irregular bleeding, breast tenderness, headaches and nausea for a few months in some women.
Price tag: About $30 a month.
Good to know: It can take six months for you to begin ovulating and regain fertility once you’ve stopped using the pill, patch or ring.
More on the pill
Celebrating 51 years combating conception, the pill is one of the world’s most prescribed medications. “The pill has come a long way,” says Dara Maker, a family physician at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto. “The hormone dose has decreased by almost 50 percent, so there are fewer side effects.” Most women still worry about weight gain and mood swings, but you shouldn’t feel any different on the pill than you did off it, she says. Sometimes it just takes a little trial and error to find the pill that’s right for you.
Plus, the pill comes with extra perks. For one thing, you can manipulate your periods if you don’t like menstruating every month, says Roey Malleson, a clinical associate professor of family practice at the University of British Columbia. And the pill can help clear up acne, lighten your periods and protect you from cancer. “One year on the pill gives you 15 years worth of protection from endometrial and cervical cancers, reducing your risk by 50 percent, and decreases your risk of ovarian cancer by 80 percent,” she says. “It actually protects your fertility by reducing the risk of serious infections.”
On the downside, the pill does increase your risk of blood clots and shouldn’t be taken by women who have had a stroke, estrogen-dependent cancer (breast or ovarian), active liver disease, high blood pressure, or who are over 35 and smoke.
Dara Maker, family physician at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto
Roey Malleson, clinical associate professor of family practice at University of British Columbia
Ronald Weiss, assistant professor of medicine at University of Ottawa