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Is Your Birth Control Working?

Knowing How to Have Birth Control Success

By

Updated June 24, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

So, let me ask, is your birth control working? This may seem like a silly question, but the key to birth control success is making sure your birth control is as effective as possible. Here, I have compiled some of the most common questions that I am emailed about ensuring birth control success. As I am asked more questions about making sure your birth control is working, I will include them on this page, so make sure to visit again. If you have a question about birth control success/effectiveness or how to properly use a particular contraceptive method, please feel free to email me -- it is my mission to make sure that you have all the reliable birth control information that you need, so you can be as successful as possible.

Here Are Answers to Some of Your Questions:

1. Help! My NuvaRing Fell Out - What Do I Do?

Photo Courtesy of Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

Women constantly email me questions about the NuvaRing. It seems the most common one is about what you should do if your NuvaRing has fallen out.

First . . . don't panic. There are a couple of reasons why it could fall out. In this situation, the amount of time that has passed since your NuvaRing came out will determine your next course of action.

  • Guess what? You can also use your NuvaRing to skip a period. See how.

2. OMG: How To Make Sense of Contraceptive Failure Rates?

Photo © 2012 Dawn Stacey

I hear you! Understanding how to evaluate the effectiveness of your birth control method can be confusing. And not being able to accurately interpret this information can make choosing between methods almost impossible! It seems confusion stems from the fact that this information can be presented in different ways… from failure rates to effectiveness rates. Plus, you need to be aware of typical use rates as compared to perfect use. Not to mention actually knowing what these rates mean – do they refer to the number of couples who use a particular method or the number of times one couple engages in sex? Gee, no wonder so many of you are confused!

Well, if you have looked at charts, reviewed rates and still have no idea how to make sense of it all, help is here. Find out why perfect use rates tend to be higher than typical use as well as what these numbers actually mean.

3. Can't Feel My IUD Strings - Should I Be Worried?

Photo © 2012 Dawn Stacey

Many women love their IUDs because they are virtually maintenance free! Once inserted, all you need to do is check for your IUD strings repeatedly during the first few weeks and once between each period – just to double-check that your IUD hasn’t moved. Even though this sounds simple enough, I can’t begin to tell you how many questions I receive about IUD strings!

I cannot stress to you the importance of checking for your IUD strings. If you cannot feel your strings (or if they are not visible), there is the possibility that your IUD may have slipped out, or isn’t where it is supposed to be. This means that it is no longer effective, and you could be at risk for getting pregnant. Though the most common reason why you may not feel your IUD strings is because they may be tucked up into the cervical canal, it is still a good idea to know what steps you should take if you can’t seem to locate your IUD strings.

4. Is It True That My Actions May Be the Cause of My Birth Control Not Working?

Photo © 2012 Dawn Stacey

We may not want to admit it, OR we may simply not realize what is happening, yet you could very well be acting in ways that can lower the chances of your birth control working. Let's face it, must of us choose to use contraception to avoid getting pregnant. However, you may be sabotaging your birth control success without even being aware of what you are doing.

Something as simple as believing into any misconception, for example.. that using 2 condoms are better than one, may lead you to behave in ways that are more prone to birth control failure. Do you rely on your partner to carry condoms? Hmm... you may be self-sabotaging again. Perhaps you are holding on to beliefs that certain birth control methods won’t work for you, but have you REALLY done your research to find out about all of the great alternatives that are now available to women? If you are relying on wrong information, this can negatively influence the way you currently use birth control and may turn you off from exploring new contraceptive options... with the end result of possibly putting lowering the chances of your birth control working. You should no longer be unaware of how you could be potentially lowering the effectiveness of your birth control -- there are certain steps that you can take to help lower your chances of getting pregnant and increase the likelihood of your birth control working.

5. Once My Diaphragm Has Been Fitted, I'm Good to Go (Right)?

Photo Courtesy of Michael Matisse/Photodisc/Getty Images

Diaphragms have actually been around since the 1830s and are thought to be the first major advancement for women who sought personal control over unintended pregnancy. Diaphragm use is still a popular, non-hormonal, contraceptive choice for many women due to improvements and advances in design and effectiveness.

So, congratulations.... you have been fitted for your first diaphragm, have practiced how to use it and have an ample supply of spermicidal cream/jelly to use with your diaphragm. Now what? Go out and enjoy your sex life! BUT, I must add one bit of important information here -– as much as you may love your new diaphragm, you should plan to part with it in about 2 years (but you can replace it at that time). In addition to this time frame, there are certain signs to look for to determine if maybe it’s time for a new diaphragm (as well as common indicators of diaphragm aging that mean nothing... so you need to know the difference). Also, you may want to be refitted for a new diaphragm if there have been changes to your uterus, like having a baby, a miscarriage, a significant change in weight, etc.

6. Just Realized That I Forgot to Change My Patch... Am I in Trouble?

Photo © 2011 Dawn Stacey

It seems that many women are drawn to the patch because it only needs to be re-applied once each week, so you don’t have to remember to use it everyday. This type of delivery system does improve compliance and increases the chances of your birth control working.

So, in reality, you know that you need to replace your patch on the same day each week. But what happens when you look at your calendar and realize that your patch should have been changed a week ago? Where you are in your patch cycle combined with the day you discover this mishap will determine the best course of action to help avoid failure and continue to allow your birth control to work.

Another similar question that I often receive has to do with the patch falling off. Again, the best course of action when this happens depends on how long the patch has been partially or totally detached. If you find yourself in either of these situations, remain calm... a solution awaits you.

7. Does It Really Matter if I’ve Put On Some Weight?

Photo © 2011 Dawn Stacey

Over the past 20 years, obesity rates have been on the rise, and obesity is a major public health concern worldwide. What you may not realize is that being overweight may cause your hormonal birth control to be less effective. You are considered to be overweight if your BMI (body mass index) is 25 to 29.9; if your BMI is 30 or higher, you are considered to be obese.

Although there is only a limited amount of research examining birth control effectiveness and safety in overweight and obese women, there does appear to be an association between obesity and hormonal contraceptive failure -- mainly due to the way an overweight woman’s body may absorb, circulate, metabolize, and eliminate this type of birth control. So, if you have realized that you have put on a lot of weight (perhaps at least two dress sizes), it may be a good idea to talk to your doctor just to make sure that your current birth control method is still the safest and most effective option for you.

When all is said and done, it doesn't matter how effective a birth control method is if you are not using it consistently or in the correct way. In addition to the questions you all have asked, it may be helpful to know that certain actions can lower your chances of getting pregnant. Yes, there are steps that you can either follow (or not follow) that can increase the likelihood that your contraception works:

Sometimes, having success may even require you to think outside the box. Given that so many of us now rely on our cell phones and iPads, these can be excellent resources for gaining birth control information, reminding us to use contraception, or simply even showing us how to use it properly:

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