Whether you’re starting to use birth control for the first time or just want to switch up your method, the best place to look for answers for any questions you might have is at your gynecologist’s office. There are a lot of options—and lots of misinformation—floating around, so seeking the advice of a trusted healthcare professional is your surest bet.
Here, Dr. Alyssa Dweck, an author and gynecologist with over 20 years experience, lays out the helpful questions you should ask your doc about birth control.
1. How do I find best choice for me?
There’s no one-size-fits-all birth control method that’s “best” for every single person. Instead, Dr. Dweck explains, it’s about finding the option that most closely matches what you’re looking for. Since birth control is used for way more than just contraception, many women come to their doctor’s office looking to treat issues that range from acne to irregular periods.
For example, if you have severe menstrual cramping, you’d likely be prescribed a combination oral contraceptive pill that contains estrogen and progesterone. Ditto if you’re looking to clear up your skin. But if you’re seeking contraception and you’re prone to certain types of migraines, you’d want to avoid estrogen and try a progesterone-only pill or a non-hormonal IUD. Hate needles? Dr. Dweck notes that the depo shot probably isn’t for you.
The bottom line is there are tons of different birth control choices, and your doctor can help you find the one that’s best for both your health goals and lifestyle.
2. How soon after starting birth control can I use it as my primary method of contraception?
This is a crucial question to bring up because the answer varies depending on the type of birth control you’re using. Both pills and IUDs, Dr. Dweck explains, begin their effectiveness based on when during your cycle you started taking them or had it inserted.
According to Planned Parenthood, if you start a combination pill within five days of the first day of your period, you’re protected immediately. Nice, right? Otherwise, wait a week and then you’re good to go. On progesterone-only pills, you’ll be protected after 48 hours regardless of when you start.
And while a copper IUD is effective once it’s inserted, a hormonal IUD is only effective immediately if you inserted it within the first seven days of your period. If that’s not the case, you’ll need to wait another seven days. Knowing the ins and outs of the method you’re using is key if you’re just beginning birth control.
3. What do I need to know about taking birth control with antibiotics?
The good news is: not much! You’ve probably heard that some antibiotics can mess with birth control pills’ effectiveness, but this is rarely the case.
“Most antibiotics don’t have an effect,” Dr. Dweck explains. The rare exception is rifampin, an antibiotic used to fight tuberculosis. If you’re prescribed that medication, you should use a backup method of contraception.
Bedsider.org, a website run by the folks at Power to Decide, the campaign to prevent unplanned pregnancy, also notes that if you’re on antibiotics that are causing you nausea and diarrhea and you’re concerned you might not be absorbing your pill, it’s worth calling your doctor to discuss your options. Most of the time, however, you and your pills will be just fine antibiotics-wise.
4. When do I need to stop using birth control if I’m trying to get pregnant?
Dr. Dweck notes, “There’s no harm in stopping the pill, and then trying to get pregnant in the next five minutes.” And while five minutes might sound a little too soon for some, it’s great news for those who started birth control at a young age and wondered about fertility later down the line. As Dr. Dweck explains, birth control isn’t going to influence your fertility after you stop taking it.
However, it’s worth noting that if you started taking birth control because your cycle was irregular, things will likely return to how it was pre-BC once you’ve stopped, something that could affect your plans to conceive (it’s tricky if you can’t figure out when you’re ovulating).
5. Will birth control protect against STIs?
Across the board, absolutely not: Nothing except a barrier method like a condom or a dental dam or abstinence lowers the risk of STIs. And sure, it might seem obvious, but your doctor will assure you there are no dumb questions when it comes to your health.
From wanting to reduce pimples, ease cramp pain, or lighten up your period, there are so many reasons to consider birth control. Don’t let unanswered questions hold you back from getting the healthcare you deserve.