What contraception is best for me?

Finding the perfect form of contraception is kinda like dating. You gotta get out there and try a variety to see what you like. So, if you’re experiencing unwanted side effects from the pill, don't be put off. It's just a case of trial and error. Read on to find out what contraceptive pill is best for you.

Two young women are talking about the contraceptive pill.

The pill. Where would we be without it?. It’s been over 50 years since the pill was invented. But the honeymoon period (no pun intended) has faded somewhat in recent years. Nowadays, loads of headlines regarding this common type of method of contraception are keen to dramatise the side effects of the pill. Especially since the advent of options such as the contraceptive patch and intrauterine device (IUD) which also help to prevent pregnancy every time you have sex. 

So, should you be worried? To tell you the truth, we can’t say for sure. The pill works by replacing your real hormones with synthetic ones, and anything with hormones can potentially cause side effects. Thing is, most people aren’t aware of the vast variety of contraceptive pill brands in the UK or how, usually, you can find one to fit you.

In case you’re curious, popular contraceptive pill brands in the UK include:

  • Cerazette
  • Cilique
  • Microgynon
  • Ovranette
  • Rigevidon
  • Yasmin

How do I know if I’m on the right contraceptive pill for me?

Simple. If you’re going about your daily life, popping the pill everyday without any adverse effects – you’re good to go. 

“On the whole, most people wanna go on the pill. They get a prescription, start taking it, and it’s absolutely fine. Case closed.” says Lynn Hearton, a helpline manager at the Family Planning Association.

What a lot of us fail to realise is that it’s one of the most researched drugs in the last 50 years. Millions of people are on it. If you’ve been on it for a while, are happy, and not having any problems then it’s probably not wise to change for no good reason.

Essentially, if you’re just living life and came to this article more out of curiosity than actual concern, then go forth. Have wonderful sex. And don’t worry about multiplying because you’ve got your method of contraception sorted.

What are the side effects of the pill?

Common side effects related to the pill include, but aren’t limited to: breakthrough bleeding, PMS-type symptoms, spots, weight fluctuation, breast enlargement and breast tenderness. Not exactly a shining ad for this type of birth control. Thankfully, these side effects should settle within three months of starting a new brand of pill. 

Why does the pill have side effects?

“It’s quite normal to experience side effects in the first three months,” says Lynn. “Remember, you’re taking extra hormones to effectively put your ovaries to sleep. So it’s gonna take a while for your body to adjust. But it shouldn’t take too long. It’s actually a very small increase compared to the hormones you’re normally producing. Plus, the longer you take it, the more your body adjusts to the changes.”

Just know that if the test period is over and you’re still spottier/moodier/boobier than your normal self – don’t panic. Rather than chucking the foil packet out of the window and cursing it out, consider talking to a health professional. They can help you switch to a new brand instead.

And by the way, sometimes Sexually Transmitted Infections can be a side effect of sex. Regardless of whether or not you’re on birth control. Basically, unless you and your partner are both tested and only having sex with each other, we highly recommend using a condom!

Risk of blood clots when using the pill

It’s worth noting there’s a (small) increased risk of developing blood clots from any of the pills that contain oestrogen. These clots typically appear as deep vein thrombosis. Luckily, if they’re detected early enough they can be treated pretty easily. 

In case you’re wondering, The UK-based Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health estimates that the risk of a blood clot in individuals using a combined hormonal contraceptive is three times higher than the risk in people who don’t use it. 

That might sound like a lot, but there’s no need to panic. Between five and 12 people in every 10,000 will get a blood clot while using combined hormonal contraception pills each year. Among people who don’t use them, that figure is around two per 10,000. So, in reality, the difference is not that big.

FYI: Birth control pills containing oestrogen can also increase your blood pressure. So if yours is already high, they’re probably best avoided.

Why are there different kinds of pill?

Every person is different. We’ve all got different amounts of hormones charging around our bodies doing a bunch of different things. Given that that’s the case, a one-contraceptive-pill-fits-all isn’t really logical.

Everyone has a unique chemical makeup,” says Lynn. “That’s why there are so many different types of contraceptive pill, with varying amounts of oestrogen and progesterone. Finding the right pill can be very hit and miss. It’s really a case of trial and error. As a result, it’s very unlikely there isn’t a combination amongst the huge range that would suit you. Unfortunately, not enough people know this.” 

For example, there’s a progesterone only pill (also known as the ‘mini pill’) which doesn’t use any oestrogen at all. 

Now that you know all this, it opens up the question ‘What contraceptive pill is best for me?’. Like we said, here are tons of contraceptive pill brands out there. You’ll never know what works until you try it!

I’m not happy with my pill. How can I change it?

It’s important to remember contraception is a lifestyle choice, not a medical issue. Therefore the usual formula of simply going to the doctor, telling them what’s wrong and being handed a prescription doesn’t apply.

“It’s definitely worth putting the effort in to finding the right pill,” says Lynn. “You need to be assertive about what you want and advocate for yourself. Difficult as that might be.

“I would recommend going to a family planning clinic to talk through your contraceptive options. They deal with contraception all day every day. This means that they’re going to have the most up-to-date guidance. That being said, there are also some brilliant GPs out there as well. It’s about finding someone you feel comfortable discussing your sex life with. That way you can get the best service for you.”

My friend keeps raving on about how great her pill is. Should I switch to hers?

If you’re happy with your pill – don’t. Your body and hormones aren’t the same as anybody else’s and not all contraceptive pill brands are created equal. Plus, if your body has already adjusted to your pill, what’s the point of messing with it and going through the three month adjustment period again?

Don’t get us wrong, sharing advice about sex and contraception is great. But there’s the underlying danger of making you worry unnecessarily.

“More and more people are sharing their pill experiences with each other. And that’s amazing. Just be very aware that it comes with misinformation and can become a bit like Chinese whispers if you’re not careful,” say Lynn.

“Because everyone is so different, we need to get away from this thinking that because a side-effect happened to someone else, it’ll happen to you. Message boards in particular can cause unnecessary panic. If you’re happy with your pill, don’t let the outside world influence you.

And if you’re not, the best person to talk to about contraception is a healthcare professional. Not just googling ‘what contraceptive pill is best for me’ or asking your mates. 

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By Holly Thompson

Updated on 22-Jun-2022