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Patient Education

Birth Control 101

Most women can become pregnant from the time they are in their early teens until they are in their late 40s. About one half of all pregnancies are unplanned. Birth control helps a woman plan her pregnancies.

Methods of Birth Control

There are many methods of birth control. Each method has good points as well as side effects. Birth control allows a woman to plan her family - both the number and spacing of children.

The birth control pill, injections, vaginal ring, skin patch, intrauterine device (IUD), diaphragm, Lea's Shield, and cervical cap require a prescription. Condoms and spermicides do not.

More than one method may be used at the same time. For instance, a barrier method may be used with any other method.

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Types of natural family planning include:

  • Basal body temperature method
  • Ovulation/cervical mucus method
  • Symptothermal method
  • Calendar method
  • Lactational amenorrhea

Choosing a Method

At any given time, a couple may find one method of birth control suits their needs better than others. Most women and couples use many methods over their lifetime.

All methods have a chance of failure. When a method is used correctly each time, the failure rates are lower. Choose a method you will be able to use on a regular basis. If your method fails, you may want to consider emergency contraception.


No matter which method of birth control you choose, be sure that you know how it works, how to use it, and what side effects may occur. Even with methods that do not need a prescription, you need to learn how to use the method.

This excerpt from ACOG's Patient Education Pamphlet is provided for your information. It is not medical advice and should not be relied upon as a substitute for visiting your doctor. If you need medical care, have any questions, or wish to receive the full text of this Patient Education Pamphlet, please contact your obstetrician-gynecologist.

To ensure the information is current and accurate, ACOG titles are reviewed every 18 months.
Copyright © February 2003 The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists