Daily Health

How Long It Takes for Birth Control to Work

Birth control has been around for a long time. From the ancient Egyptians to the Victorians, there has been an assortment of forms of birth control. But it wasn’t until the women's liberation movement in the early to mid-20th century that birth control became more widely — and commercially — available. 


Now, there are a wide range of birth control methods available, which is great. But this can also feel daunting when trying to find the right one for you. Everybody (and every body) is different, and what you need might be different than what someone else needs. And the top concern that always comes up is, “how long for birth control to work?”

Here’s all the lowdown on birth control, so you can feel confident in the bedroom in a safe and healthy way. 

What is birth control?

Birth control is a catch-all term that refers to methods used to significantly reduce the risk of pregnancy in sexually active people. This can come in the form of hormonal birth control methods, barrier birth control methods, and, the less effective methods like the rhythm and “pull-out” forms of birth control.

Some types of birth control are over-the-counter, like condoms and spermicides, while some methods like hormonal birth control pills are available only with a prescription

A fundamental and important fact about birth control is that no birth control is 100% effective. There is always a chance that pregnancy might occur. However, with proper use and using a backup method (such as the birth control pill plus condoms), you can rest assured your chances of getting pregnant are low. 

Lastly, not all forms of birth control are effective against sexually transmitted infections. In fact, just like protection against pregnancy, there is no one birth control method that is 100% effective against the risk of contracting an STI. This is why it’s so important to communicate with your partner, and ensure that you make the best decision for your own health. 

If you do have any concerns about STI or the possibility of pregnancy, it’s always best to talk to your doctor. 

Hormone-based birth control

Birth control pill

The birth control pill can take up to seven days to take effect, so you should always use a backup method until then. 

Not all sexually active people take the birth control pill for birth control purposes only, and not all people who take the birth control pill are sexually active. There are medical reasons someone might take the birth control pill, including endometriosis management, PMS management, and for heavy and/or painful periods. Heavy or painful periods can be a symptom of endometriosis or another underlying medical issue, so it’s best to talk to your doctor first. 

Side effects of the pill can include:

  • Breakthrough bleeding
  • Breast tenderness
  • Headaches and nausea
  • Bloating when first starting the pill
  • Mood changes
  • Weight gain
  • Skin changes, usually oilier

There are two types of pills:

Combination pills

The combination pill can take up to seven days to take effect so it’s best to use a backup method of contraception.

Combination birth control pills have both estrogen and progesterone. These hormones are both   produced mainly by the ovaries. If taken correctly as prescribed by your doctor (meaning at the same time daily), a combination pill can be very effective. 

You can start taking a combination pill on any day of your cycle but make sure you use a backup method for two weeks after you start the pill to be protected from pregnancy. 

There are two types of combination pills: monophasic and multiphasic. It sounds complicated but it really isn’t. A monophasic pill delivers the same type and amount of hormone in every pill whereas a multiphasic varies. The monophasic pill is generally the first prescribed because of the flexibility it offers. More specifically, you can choose to skip your periods when you are taking a monophasic pill. Healthcare practitioners at Felix are happy to discuss which option is best for you.  

Also best to remember that no type of birth control pill is effective against STIs. 

Progestin-only birth control pill

The progestin-only birth control pill can take up to seven days to take effect so it’s best to use a backup method. 

The progestin-only pill is just that: progestin (progesterone) only. Sometimes referred to as mini-pills, they don’t contain any estrogen. It’s best to use a backup method of birth control for seven days or as otherwise directed by your doctor. These are used for a few reasons: in women with migraine headaches with aura, in women with a history of blood clots and if you have sensitivity or side effects to the estrogen component.

A few things to consider with the mini-pill that differs from the combination pill. In order for maximal protection against pregnancy, you must take these pills at the same time each day (within 2 hours).  We normally suggest starting this pill on the first day of your period.  There is no pill-free interval (no sugar pills), so you take active pills daily.

Intrauterine device (IUD)

An IUD can take up to seven days to take effect so it’s best to use a backup method. 

An IUD is a small device that is inserted into the uterus via the vagina and prevents the implantation of a fertilized egg. There are two types of IUD: progestin-containing and non-hormonal. It is inserted and removed by a doctor. The type of IUD chosen is very patient-dependent and should be discussed with your healthcare practitioner.

Because of the nature of an IUD, you should avoid inserting anything into your vagina for the first 24 hours, including tampons and not having sex. An IUD can also be used as emergency contraception. Depending on the brand of IUD, it can take up to seven days to take effect so it’s best to use a backup method such as a condom until then. 

Side effects of IUDs can include:

  • Breakthrough bleeding
  • Abdominal pain
  • Side effects from the hormones similar to those of the birth control pill
  • Ovarian cysts

If you experience any side effects from your IUD, talk to your healthcare practitioner.

Contraceptive rings and patches

Contraceptive rings and patches can take up to seven days to offer full protection so it’s best to use a backup method. 

Felix offers the contraceptive ring, called Nuvaring. It’s a small silicone device that you insert into your vagina for three weeks, then remove it for one week to have your period. It is very easy to insert and remove, but just like the pill, it also depends on you remembering to do it. You should use a backup method of birth control for seven days after the first time you start using it.

Felix also offers birth control patches. Patches work similarly to contraceptive rings in that they deliver hormones non-orally (i.e. no pills).   Patches are replaced weekly for three weeks.  On the fourth week, you don’t apply a patch and you will have your period. You can apply the patch on your bum, abdomen, upper outer arm, or back. Just like the contraceptive ring, when you first start using the patch, it’s best to use a backup method of birth control for seven days.  The one thing to keep in mind is that the patch is less effective in patients who weigh more than 200 lbs. 

Since  contraceptive rings and patches are also hormonal methods of birth control, similar side effects can occur as with the birth control pill. 

Barrier birth control

Barrier birth control methods can take effect anywhere from a couple of hours to immediately. 

Barrier birth control methods are just that: a barrier against sperm at different stages, from entering the vagina to entering the cervix. 

There are a few types of barrier birth control, some of which are more outdated and not widely available, such as the diaphragm. 

Male condom

Condoms take effect immediately. 

Condoms are widely available over-the-counter, and for free at most clinics. If used properly they are very effective against pregnancy. Condoms also help guard against most STIs. However, they aren’t as effective against STIs that affect the external genitalia, such as genital herpes. This is why communication is so important between you and your partner. 

Some individuals are allergic to latex and there are non-latex brands of condoms. If you have any concerns or questions about condom use, your doctor can help you with this. 

Female condom

The female condom can be placed in the vagina up to eight hours before intercourse.

The female condom is what it sounds like: a condom that is used in the vagina rather than over the penis. It is made of a soft and loose-fitting nitrile polymer sheath with two flexible rings at either end. The outer ring sits outside the vagina and the internal ring is inserted into the vagina, helping to keep it in place. 

The female condom works much the same as a male condom in that it holds the sperm, preventing it from entering into the vagina. 

Cervical cap

The cervical cap can be used up to two hours before intercourse.

The cervical cap is a silicone cap that is inserted into the vagina and fits over the cervix like a “cap.” It helps prevent sperm and bacteria from entering the cervix. It should always be used with a gel that immobilizes or kills sperm and the gel should be reapplied before each act of intercourse or after two hours has lapsed. It should be left in the vagina for at least six hours after intercourse, but not past 48 hours. 

The cervical cap does not protect against STIs. 

Sponge

The sponge can be inserted into the vagina up to 24 hours before intercourse, giving immediate protection.

The sponge is a form of barrier birth control that isn’t widely available. It has a high failure rate, does not protect against STIs, and uses spermicide. Because of this, it is not recommended as a safe and effective form of birth control. 

Diaphragm 

The diaphragm can be inserted into the vagina up to two hours before intercourse and should be left for at least six hours after, but no longer than 24 hours in total.

Like the sponge, the diaphragm isn’t a popular form of birth control and is not available in Canada. It requires the use of a spermicide and has a high rate of failure. 

The diaphragm does not protect against STIs. 

Discuss your options with a healthcare practitioner

Even if you’re not sexually active but are thinking about it, it’s important to speak with a licensed healthcare practitioner to address any concerns, and to determine which method of birth control is right for you. Felix offers pills, rings, and patches if you think those options might fit your lifestyle. Want to see how seamless access to birth control can be? Start your online assessment with Felix today.

WRITTEN BY
Felix Team
Updated on:
October 21, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Dr. Tanja Vlahovich
Family Physician, MD, CCFP (EM)
Disclaimer

The views expressed here are those of the author and, as with the rest of the content on Active Ingredients, are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider.

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