Frequently asked questions
Most hormonal contraception is very good at making periods lighter.
Women’s hormones naturally go up and down. The hormonal methods of contraception work by levelling the ups and downs, and by stopping an egg being released (ovulation). The hormones in contraception are very similar to women’s natural hormones, but the levels are steady instead of up and down. The steady level of hormones usually means that period bleeding is lighter, and also less painful.
The implant, pills, patches, and the ring are all ‘low dose’ methods. The lowest hormone level of all the methods is the IUS (hormonal coil) which is released into the womb slowly over 5 years.
There’s no need to have a period every month – on the pill, patch or ring it’s easy to control when a period comes, by taking the method continuously without a break. A period will come when you stop the method (for a week).
You can decide when a bleed will happen, and can also take the pill, patch or ring continuously to temporarily stop your periods.
It’s safe to use two or three pill packets back to back to delay a period, going straight from one packet on to the next with no break (or changing the patch once a week with no break, or using the vaginal ring continuously).
Hormonal contraception makes it possible to have no periods at all.
Some methods are quite likely to stop periods so there is no bleeding at all, or only occasional light bleeding. The best method to stop periods is the [Injection]. Most women (seven out of ten) will have no periods after a year of using the injection. The implant can also cause a pause in periods – periods will stop for about one in five women, and more than half have bleeding which is light and less frequent. Implant.
It is safe, and there is no harm to future fertility in having a break from periods. When there is no period, the lining of the womb stays thin - blood doesn’t build up inside the body. There are some benefits to stopping periods - less bleeding helps to save iron (many women are anaemic because of their periods). Once the contraception is stopped, the body returns to it's normal cycle. Periods.
Having no periods on contraception is a temporary effect which is completely reversible, and makes no difference to future fertility - having no bleeding does not affect the chance of getting pregnant in future. All of the methods are very quickly reversible (except the injection - it can take a few months to get periods back again).
Premenstrual tension is shortened to PMT. It's also known as PMS (premenstrual syndrome).
Women’s hormones naturally go up and down. There’s a lot more progesterone in the week before a period, and that can cause pre-menstrual symptoms like bad moods and hunger. Hormonal contraception works by levelling out hormones, and so can be ideal for reducing PMT/PMS.
Some women get mood changes when they are not on hormonal contraception, and some women get mood changes when they are on hormonal contraception. Often swapping to a different method solves the problem (e.g. choosing a different brand of pill)
These can help with PMT:
The injection is the most invisible – there might be a tiny plaster put over the injection place (usually on the bum), but that’s all.
The implant is on the inside of the arm, just under the skin – sometimes there is a small scar where it’s gone in, and you can sometimes see the outline of it in women who are skinny. In women with darker skin, a visible line can develop where the implant is resting. Since it’s on the inside of the arm, the implant is discreet.
Coils are put into the womb, so cannot be seen. Occasionally a male partner can feel the string of a coil, and if this happens, it can be cut short so he doesn’t feel it.
Hormonal contraception is very good at reducing period pain. Lots of women find that their periods are much less painful when they are using hormonal contraception.
Hormonal contraception works by levelling the normal ups and downs of women’s hormones, and by stopping an egg being released (ovulation). If there is no ovulation, there is no pain.
Nearly half of all pregnancies are unplanned (45%) – but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are unwanted.
- If an unplanned pregnancy would be a big concern, the implant, the injection, the IUS and the IUD are the best at preventing pregnancies. Because they are long acting, you don't need to remember to use them every day
- As long as they're taken correctly, the combined pill, the patch, the contraceptive ring, and the mini pill are also great at preventing pregnancies
- If a woman wants to delay getting pregnant, but wants to get pregnant within a few months, the combined pill, the patch, the contracepive ring, and the progestogen only pill might be suitable as they come out of the body's system very soon after they are stopped, meaning that levels of fertility return to normal very quickly and might help with planning or delaying getting pregnant
- If pregnancy could be a happy accident, condoms, the diaphragm, fertility awareness and withdrawal are generally less effective methods of contraception, and so could be suitable
- Currently, contraceptive options for men are limited to condoms, withdrawal, or sterilisation (which is permanent). An unplanned pregnancy can cause stress for both women and men, and using contraception such as condoms is a way for men to have control over when they become a father. Men can talk to their partners about when they would like to have a baby, and ask her about her preferred methods of contraception
Do I need contraception if I’m breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding can help to delay when you start ovulating and having periods again after giving birth.
Breastfeeding can help to prevent pregnancy on three conditions:
- If your baby is less than six months old
- If you're fully breastfeeding (only giving your baby breast milk)
- If you haven't had your first period since giving birth
Breast feeding can be 98% effective in preventing pregnancy if all three conditions apply. But the risk of pregnancy becomes higher:
- if you are breastfeeding less often
- if there are long intervals between feeds during the day or night
- if the baby is having other liquids as well as your breast milk
- if your periods return
Once your baby is more than 6 months old, you will need to use another contraceptive method even if you are fully breastfeeding and haven’t had a period.
Which methods are safe if I’m breastfeeding?
The contraceptive implant, injection, progestogen-only pill, IUD, IUS and condoms are safe if you are breastfeeding. If you're using a hormonal method of contraception, a very small amount of hormone will enter the milk, but this has not been shown to be harmful to breastfed babies.
Emergency contraception (IUD and emergency pills) are safe when breastfeeding. If you use the IUD or emergency pill containing levonorgestrel you can continue to breastfeed normally. If you use the emergency pill containing ulipristal acetate (ellaOne®) you should not breastfeed for one week after taking it. During this week you should express and discard your breast milk, because the effects of ellaOne® on breastfed babies have not been studied.
Which methods are not suitable?
The combined pill, contraceptive patch and vaginal ring may make it harder for your milk to come in (because they contain the hormone estrogen). So if you’re breastfeeding, it’s best to wait until your baby is six weeks old before starting one of these methods.
Fertility awareness methods are less reliable while breastfeeding because it is difficult to identify the signs of fertility. You should have 3 normal, regular periods before using fertility awareness methods, and this is unlikely to happen in the first 6 months after giving birth if you are breastfeeding.
Many unplanned pregnancies happen soon after having a baby.
How soon is it possible to get pregnant again?
You can get pregnant as soon as 21 days after having a baby. It is possible to get pregnant before you have your first period and if you’re breastfeeding.
Which methods can be started immediately after having a baby?
The IUD and IUS (coils) can be fitted at the time of a caesarean section or immediately after a vaginal birth. If they are not fitted within the first 48 hours, fitting should be at least four weeks after giving birth.
Emergency oral contraception (Emergency pills) are safe after having a baby but are not needed until 21 days after birth.
Which methods are not suitable after having a baby?
The combined pill, contraceptive patch and vaginal ring should not be used in the first 3 weeks after having a baby. This is because the risk of blood clots is higher after giving birth. If you are at increased risk of blood clots, you may be advised to wait 6 weeks before starting one of these methods.
The diaphragm is not recommended in the first 6 weeks because the cervix (neck of the womb) and vagina change shape and size during pregnancy and birth. These changes make the diaphragm less good at preventing pregnancy.
Fertility awareness methods are less reliable after giving birth because it is difficult to identify signs of fertility. You should have 3 normal, regular periods before using fertility awareness methods.
How long should I wait before getting pregnant again after having a baby?
The advice is to wait for 18 months or longer before becoming pregnant again. This is because if you get pregnant again quickly, the next baby might be too small, or be born too soon.
Leaflet: Contraception after having your baby