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Are You Risking Pregnancy When You Switch Birth Control Methods? [Body Blog]


Did you know that almost half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended? Sure, you’ve seen Teen Mom, you know that there are plenty of accidents out there. But half? That’s a lot. So what’s going on?

For starters, about 2 in 5 sexually active women in the U.S. aren’t using any form of contraception. Yikes! I don’t think I have to tell you that leads to pregnancy. But still, if 3 out of 5 women are using contraception, it doesn’t make sense that there are so many unintended pregnancies. What gives?

New research suggests that it might be because women aren’t being careful enough when they switch forms of birth control. It turns out that women encounter problems with their birth control methods pretty frequently – issues like side effects, difficulty contacting doctors, not knowing all the options, and life changes like a new relationship. And women switch methods often. A study from the Battelle Centers for Public Health Research and Evaluation found that 40 percent of married women and 61 percent of unmarried women had switched birth control methods during a two year period.

Switching contraceptive methods can lead to a gap in coverage, where you might think you’re safe, but really you’re not. So what’s a girl to do if she isn’t looking to join the cast of an MTV reality show? Here are a few tips.

1. Talk to your doctor. Yes, this one seems obvious. But it’s easy to go into the doctor’s office and let everything go in one ear and out the other. Prepare a list of questions you might have about you preferred method – pill, ring, condom, IUD, etc, and if you need, take notes!

2. Make sure you overlap methods. If you’re switching from one birth control pill to another, don’t stop taking the first pill and wait until you get your period to start the new pill. Switch right from one pill to the other, without missing a single day. If you’re switching off the pill to a new method, like a patch, you’ll need about a two day overlap before you stop taking the pill. Copper IUDs require no overlap, but if you get a hormonal IUD, you need to overlap by seven days. Same thing if you’re switching off an IUD to a pill, patch, or ring – you need to use the new method for seven days before the IUD is taken out.

3. Condoms, condoms, condoms. Or if you want to go old school, use a diaphragm. If you’re switching up your contraceptive routine, it’s always best to add the protection of a barrier method.

All this information is spelled out here, in a chart from the Reproductive Health Access Project. Check it out, and plan ahead!

Garnet is a student at Columbia University in New York City. She is “that person” who starts dancing at a party when everyone else is standing around, and if there were a Facebook stalking Olympics, she would be a gold medalist. She also loves cheesy 90s music, and almost died of happiness when Vanilla Ice retweeted her. Once. Follow her on Twitter @garnethenderson.

Dancer, choreographer, personal trainer, and freelance writer based in New York City. More here.