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Progestin-Only Birth Control Methods


Updated May 27, 2014

Some women may wish to use hormonal contraception but may not be able to choose a method due to estrogen intolerance. Progestin birth control options provide a hormonal alternative; these methods tend to be safer for women who:

  • Are over the age of 35 and smoke
  • Have a history of blood clots
  • Have high blood pressure
Progestin-only birth control can also be used by:
  • Breastfeeding mothers: (who have been breastfeeding for at least a month) this hormone will not negatively affect milk production or harm a baby during nursing.
  • Non-breastfeeding women who have just given birth
  • Women who can't use combined pills due to estrogen-related side effects like headaches, severe nausea, or high blood pressure.
  • Obese and overweight women
  • Nulliparous women: those who have never given birth
  • Teenagers: though Depo Provera is not advised for teens because it has a black box warning about possible bone loss.

All of these progestin birth control options require a doctor's visit because they cannot be bought over the counter (you need a prescription or to have the doctor insert the contraceptive). Typically, hormonal birth control options tend to be more effective and require some degree of medical supervision. These methods are also reversible, so a woman can become pregnant after stopping them. That being said, it may take up to a year (or more) to regain fertility after stopping the use of Depo Provera. If you are using this method, the manufacturer suggests that you stop its use at least one year before you want to start trying to conceive.

1. Depo Provera

Progestin Birth Control
Stephen Chernin Collection/Getty Images News
The Depo Provera injection is a reversible method of prescription birth control. This birth control shot slowly releases the progestin medroxyprogesterone acetate and protects against pregnancy for a period of 11 to 14 weeks. Women using this method must receive 4 injections each year.

2. Mirena IUD

Photo © 2007 Dawn Stacey licensed to About.com, Inc
The Mirena IUD is a small, T-shaped, flexible device. It continuously releases a small amount of progestin over a 5 year period. Due to the progestin, it is a little more effective than the ParaGard IUD. The Mirena IUD is inserted into the uterus by a doctor and has strings that hang down through the cervix into the vagina. The strings can allow for you to check that the IUD is still in place, and the doctor can use the strings to remove the IUD. Mirena can also be removed at any time before the 5-year limit has been reached.

3. Implanon

Photo Courtesy of Organon USA Inc.
Implanon is also known as the contraceptive implant. It consists of a thin, flexible plastic implant about the size of a matchstick. Implanon is inserted under the skin in the arm. This method continually releases a low dose of the progestin, etonogestrel and protects against pregnancy for up to 3 years. Insertion requires a local anesthetic and only takes a few minutes. Implants should be removed when they are no longer effective or can be removed anytime before the 3 year timeframe is over.

4. Progestin-Only Birth Control Pills (The Mini-Pill)

Photo © GSM
Progestin-only pills are a type of oral contraceptive that contains only progestin (no estrogen). They are also known as the Mini-Pill and POPs (Progestin-Only Pills). Progestin birth control pills are only come in 28-day packs, so you have to take one of these pills every day for each 4-week cycle. All 28 pills are considered active (contain progestin) -- there are no placebo pills.

5. Nexplanon

Photo Courtesy of Merck
Nexplanon is the newer version of Implanon. This is also a progestin-only birth control implant that contains 68 mg of the progestin, etonogestrel. Nexplanon works the same way as Implanon and also lasts for up to 3 years. The main differences are that Nexplanon is radiopaque (it can be seen in an x-ray to verify placement), and it has a newer, preloaded applicator designed to reduce the risk of insertion errors.

6. Noristerat Injection

Noristerat Injection Photo Courtesy of K. Donohue
The noristerat injection is a reversible method of prescription birth control. It is not available in the United States but is common in the United Kingdom, Europe, Africa, and Central America. This contraceptive injection contains the synthetic progestin norethisterone enantate. The noristerat injection is a contraceptive that is given into the muscle of the buttock. It continuously releases its progestin into the bloodstream over a period of eight weeks, thereby providing pregnancy protection for up to two months.

It is important to keep in mind that although progestin-only birth control methods may be safer for some women, they can still have side effects. If you are considering one of these methods, make sure to talk to your doctor to determine if you are the right candidate and so that you can learn, beforehand, about any potential side effects that are linked to progestin-only birth control.

What Has Worked For You?

Have you found success with any of these methods? Please share your stories or questions by posting a message in our Contraception Forum!

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