02/26/2015 10:21 EST | Updated 04/28/2015 05:59 EDT

Is It Time To Break Up With Your Birth Control Pill?

condom and birth control pills.....
condom and birth control pills.....

Five questions to ask yourself so you don't settle for Mr. Wrong when it comes to your birth control:

On the heels of Valentine's Day, the topic of relationships and sex will be at the forefront of most women's minds. For most of us, sex is also equated to birth control. But how often do we really stop to think about the kind we're using or what alternative options are available?

If you're like many women, chances are you're in auto-pilot mode and you've used the same birth control since you first started having sex. In my practice, I regularly encounter this complacency -- we settle for what is familiar instead of considering other choices. The challenge with complacency though, it doesn't just lead to missed opportunities, but rather can lead to some alarming trends. Consider this: 50 per cent of all pregnancies in North America are unintended. In Canada, one quarter of unintended pregnancies end in abortion. Those numbers are even higher in women under the age of 30, with nearly 70 per cent of abortions in this age group.

These statistics are unsettling and even more tragically, preventable. Unfortunately, a major contributor to these numbers is the fact that many women are not using their birth control pill properly. In fact, in Canada, one third of pill users are missing an average of 2.6 pills per cycle. That means if you're one of those women who regularly forgets your pill, you could end up getting pregnant before you're ready.

A modern woman leads a busy life that may not be conducive to taking a pill every day. Where does birth control fit into this picture? To shift this pattern, I talk to a lot of my younger patients about a birth control "revamp" or "break up" -- what worked in the past may not be the best fit now. Women need to consider their lifestyle and if a daily routine is effective for them.

Here are five questions to ask yourself to determine which birth control option is right for you:

1) Do you want to have children or have more children?

If you know you don't want kids for the next 3-5 years, or at all, a long-term birth control can be great. The ability to simplify birth control is really appealing to busy women on the go and it eliminates the element of human error. If kids are a priority in the near future, make sure your birth control is easily reversible and won't affect your fertility.

2) Is your daily routine steady or does it change frequently?

The pill is highly effective but only if you remember to take it regularly. If you tend to forget and miss pills often or even if you find it a hassle to stick with a daily routine, you might want to consider another method like a long-acting reversible contraception.

3) Are you a smoker? Do you have an elevated risk of blood clots?

Estrogen-based birth control methods -- like most birth control pills or patches -- can increase the risk of blood clots in smokers and in some other cases as well.

4) Do you need protection from sexually transmitted diseases?

Using a condom is the only way to prevent disease but they're also a less effective form of birth control. If this is something you're worried about, consider using condoms in combination with another birth control method to make sure you don't get pregnant.

5) How prepared are you if your birth control fails?

This is probably the most daunting question for women of all ages to answer, and even more so for my younger patients. The reality is that other than abstinence, no method of birth control is 100 per cent effective -- and let's face it, abstinence isn't very realistic for many of us! We must therefore be prepared to address something goes wrong. If the idea of having a baby right now truly terrifies you, you might want to consider an option that has a very low failure rate, like an IUS (intra-uterine system), which is 99.8 per cent effective.

At the end of the day, the relationship we have with our birth control is often one of our longest -- and most intimate. So, don't settle: take the time to question your choices. Find a method that you can commit to using consistently (and correctly) so that you're as protected as possible, as the consequences can last a lifetime. Also remember that STD protection needs to be considered, use a condom in addition to birth control accordingly.

Dr. Palmay was recently featured as a spokesperson in the national campaign Break Up and Move, designed to inspire and empower millennial women to participate in a conversation about "breaking up" with the things in their lives that are no longer working for them.


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