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Birth Control Choices: The 4-1-1 on Long-Acting Reversible Contraception

Parents are probably familiar with the birth control pill, but there are other options of birth control available for your teen that don’t have to be taken every day. Long acting reversible contraception (LARC) is more effective than other birth control methods, such as the pill (which is 91 percent effective) or the patch (which is 94 percent effective) and lasts for years. Here’s the 4-1-1 on the two types of LARC – the implant and an intrauterine device (IUD).

The Implant

The implant is a small, flexible rod placed in the arm by a doctor. The implant has a small amount of progestin, a hormone similar to the ones naturally made in a woman’s body. This hormone prevents the egg from being released from the ovary and thickens cervical mucus to prevent sperm from reaching the egg.

Parents and teens may worry that the implant hurts. An implant hurts no more than a shot and a doctor will numb the arm before the procedure.

Advantages of the implant:

  • More than 99 percent effective
  • Lasts up to three years
  • Possible side effects are completely reversible once the implant is removed. Side effects can include irregular bleeding and spotting, scarring at the insertion site, possible weight gain, acne and mood change.

Find out more about the advantages and disadvantages of the implant, here.

IUD

An IUD is a small T-shaped device placed into the uterus by a doctor. Some IUDs contain hormones and others are hormone-free. A lot of women have concerns about the safety of IUDs, but IUDs are safer than both birth control pills and childbirth. Risks associated with an IUD are rare.

The hormonal IUD contains a small amount of progestin that stops the sperm from fertilizing an egg and lasts up to 3-5 years. The non-hormonal IUD slowly releases copper into the uterus that prevents an egg from being fertilized. The non-hormonal IUD can last up to 10 years.

Advantages of an IUD:

  • More than 99 percent effective
  • Lasts for 3-10 years
  • Effects are completely reversible once removed. For both forms of the IUD, effects can include spotting and irregular vaginal bleeding between periods for the first several months after the IUD is placed and cramping and discomfort at the time it is put in. In addition, women can have longer, heavier periods on the non-hormonal IUD.

Find out more about the advantages and disadvantages of the hormonal IUD, here and more about the non-hormonal IUD, or Copper IUD, here.

Also, remember that birth control is not just a conversation for girls! Parents and health care providers should talk about the risks of unprotected sex and birth control options with boys too. As part of that conversation, talk about how a condom is always necessary to reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infections. For more information about talking with boys about sex and birth control, click here.

The best way to ease your mind about birth control concerns is to talk openly with your doctor. A doctor can help you and your teen learn more about what method is best. To learn more, listen to our PediaCast or visit www.NationwideChildrens.org/bc4teens-birth-control-methods.

Sarah Saxbe
Sarah Saxbe, MS, MSW, LISW-S, coordinates community outreach and marketing for Nationwide Children's Hospital Teen and Pregnant Program, BC4Teens birth control clinic, and the Ohio Better Birth Outcomes collaborative.

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