Women's health

How to make sure you have access to birth control during COVID-19 closures

Jokes aside about a “coronavirus baby-boom,” many women are wondering how to access their usual methods of birth control during coronavirus.

If there’s a “coronavirus baby-boom” nine months from now, the joke goes, it’ll be first-born children and not second or third babies. In fact, if you’re already juggling your kids, your job and homeschooling right now, expanding your family is probably not at the top of your to-do list. This means many moms are wondering how to ensure continued access to their usual methods of contraception during the pandemic. Often, the main reason we visit our doctors is to discuss family planning, get a pelvic exam, or ask for a birth control prescription renewal. But what happens when we’re staying home as much as possible, and trying to minimize visits to clinics and doctor’s offices?  Can you still go to the doctor to get a prescription for birth control during coronavirus? What if your IUD is about to expire and you’re due for a new one?

We asked Dustin Costescu, an OB/GYN and associate professor in family planning and sexual medicine at McMaster University Medical Centre in Hamilton, to break it down by birth control method. He theorizes that the two biggest drivers of unintended pregnancy during the pandemic likely are lack of access to birth control caused by the lockdown, and a possible increase in sex among people living together—and the likelihood is higher with at-risk populations. Here’s the information you need to make the best decisions about birth control during coronavirus.

Can I get an IUD replaced during coronavirus?

The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada says that access to intrauterine devices (IUDS) should be maintained during the pandemic, whether it’s your first IUD or a replacement IUD, but as of press time, medical clinics and offices were still limiting appointments, so it remains a grey zone. About 80 percent of “high-volume IUD clinics” in Canada are still offering IUDs during the outbreak, says Costescu. Start by calling your primary care provider or local sexual health clinic to see if they’re booking appointments. If they are, you should be good to make an appointment after some initial telephone counselling. If not, they can refer you to a different OB/GYN who is seeing patients in person. It may be more difficult to get an existing IUD replaced, but research has shown they can often be safely worn longer than their approved time periods, so ask your doctor if you can keep yours in a bit longer.

How can I get a birth control pill prescription during the pandemic?

Phone calls and virtual consults with your regular doctor are the best ways to renew your birth control prescription while still avoiding hospitals and doctors’ offices. (You can also ask to start a new oral contraceptive or get a prescription for the NuvaRing or for the Ortho Evra skin patch, both combined contraceptives that deliver the same hormones in a non-pill form. You can insert the NuvaRing or apply the skin patch yourself.) If you don’t feel comfortable going into a pharmacy, consider switching your prescription to a pharmacy with a drive-through option. In some provinces, you may only be able to fill one month’s worth of medications at a time. 

Can I have a vasectomy or tubal ligation?

Unfortunately, both vasectomies and tubal ligation (also known as having your tubes tied) are considered elective surgeries and have been, in many locations, put on hold during the coronavirus outbreak. Vasectomies may be offered sooner, says Costescu, because they can be done with only local anaesthesia, whereas tubal ligations require full anaesthesia and intubation (which has a greater risk of spreading COVID-19 droplets in the air).

Are condoms still available?

Condoms are still a great option. In late March and early April, at the beginning of the pandemic, there were some reports of a global condom shortage after one of the largest condom factories in the world had to slow production. But you should be able to easily order condoms online or buy them at Canadian drug stores now.