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.

How Long Does It Take for Birth Control to Work?

Did you know that Canadian Elizabeth Bagshaw was one of the first Canadian female physicians and a pioneer in the fight toward legalizing birth control? She was a founding member and 30-year medical director for the Federation of Medical Women of Canada, Dr. Bagshaw helped found an illegal clinic that offered birth control pills.

Thankfully, we’ve come a long way since then. The best way to understand how birth control works is by figuring out what you need. Body types and lifestyles are unique, so it's essential not only that we find an ideal method but also one that matches our personal preferences. 

Luckily there can be some flexibility with the types of contraceptives available. This article provides all the details regarding which birth control options may work for your unique situation.

What is birth control?

Birth control is a catch-all term that refers to methods used to reduce the risk of pregnancy in sexually active people. This can come from hormonal and non-hormonal birth control and barrier birth control methods.

Some types of birth control are over-the-counter, like condoms and spermicides. Some methods, like hormonal birth control pills, are available only with a prescription. A fundamental 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 a backup method (such as the birth control pill plus condoms), you can rest assured that your chances of getting pregnant are low. Therefore, birth control is an important aspect to consider in any healthy sexual relationship.

While birth control is an effective way to prevent pregnancy, it is not always effective in preventing the spread of sexually transmitted infections. No one birth control method 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 health. If you do have any concerns about STIs or the possibility of pregnancy, it's always best to talk to your healthcare practitioner. Being informed and proactive can help reduce your risk of STIs and unwanted pregnancy.

Hormone-based birth control

Birth control pill

While the birth control pill is most commonly used as a form of contraception, people can also use it for other medical purposes. Birth control pills contain hormones that can help regulate a woman's menstrual cycle, which can often help reduce the severity of symptoms associated with conditions like endometriosis and PMS. 

Sometimes, a healthcare practitioner prescribes birth control pills to help manage heavy or painful periods. However, it's important to note that heavy or painful periods can also be a symptom of an underlying medical condition. So, it's always best to speak to your healthcare practitioner first to rule out any other possible causes.

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 birth control pills:

The combination pill

The combination pill typically takes seven days to become 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. 

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

Birth control pills stop ovulation (the release of an egg from the ovary). They also thin the lining of the uterus (womb) to prevent pregnancy from occurring if an egg is released. For birth control pills to be most effective, they must be taken every day, at about the same time each day.

There are two types of birth control pills: monophasic and multiphasic. A monophasic pill delivers the same type and amount of hormone in every pill, while a multiphasic varies. The monophasic pill is generally the first prescribed because of its flexibility. 

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. It's also important to remember that no type of birth control pill is effective against STIs.

Progestin-only birth control pill

For the mini-pill to be most effective, you need to use another form of birth control, like a condom, for the first seven days after taking it. Progestin-only pill is also sometimes called the mini-pill. The mini-pill is an effective birth control method, but it takes longer to start working than the birth control pill with estrogen. 

It's a birth control pill containing only progestin, a synthetic form of the hormone progesterone. The mini-pill doesn't contain any estrogen. 

The mini-pill is a good option for women who can't take estrogen-based birth control pills because of side effects or health conditions. But it's not suitable for everyone. If you have migraines with aura, a history of blood clots, or are sensitive to estrogen, you may need to take the mini-pill. 

Talk to your healthcare practitioner about whether the mini-pill is right for you.

We usually suggest starting this pill on the first day of your period. Additionally, there are no sugar pills or pill-free intervals. Some people find this pill easier to remember because they don't have to worry about skipping a dose.

Intrauterine device (IUD)

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. 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.

IUDs are a popular birth control method for women who want a long-term, low-maintenance option. IUDs are small devices inserted into the uterus via the vagina to prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg. 

There are two types of IUDs: progestin-containing and non-hormonal. The type of IUD chosen is very patient-dependent and should be discussed with your healthcare practitioner. IUDs are inserted and removed by a doctor.

An IUD can also be used as emergency contraception. Talk to your healthcare practitioner if you have any questions or concerns about IUDs.

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

Contraceptive rings and patches

Contraceptive rings and patches are a popular type of birth control but did you know that they can take up to seven days to offer complete protection? That means it's always best to use a backup method of birth control, like condoms, when you first start using them. 

The contraceptive ring, called Nuvaring, is 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 effortless to insert and remove, but just like the pill, it also depends on remembering to do it. 

Birth control patches are replaced weekly for three weeks. You don’t apply a patch on the fourth week, and you will have your period. You can apply the patch on your bum, abdomen, upper outer arm, or back. Birth control patches are a type of hormonal birth control. They work by releasing hormones into your body that prevent you from getting pregnant. 

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 remember is that the patch is less effective in patients weighing more than 200 lbs.

Since birth control patches are also a hormonal method of birth control, similar side effects can occur as with the birth control pill. These side effects can include:

  • weight gain
  • nausea 
  • breast tenderness
  • headaches

However, these side effects usually disappear after a few months of using the patch. Talk to your healthcare practitioner if you have any concerns about the side effects of birth control patches.

Barrier birth control

Barrier birth control methods provide a barrier against sperm, preventing them from fertilizing an egg. There are a few different types of barrier birth control, including the diaphragm, cervical cap, and condom. 

Barrier birth control can take effect anywhere from a couple of hours to immediately after being inserted. Barrier birth control methods should be used with spermicide. Barrier birth control is not as effective as other forms of birth control, such as the pill, but it is a good option for people who cannot use hormone-based methods.

Male condom

Condoms not only help prevent pregnancy, but they also protect against most STIs. And they're easy to use.

Condoms are made of latex, which is a type of rubber. Some people are allergic to latex, so non-latex options are available. If you're unsure whether or not you're allergic to latex, you can always talk to your healthcare practitioner. 

To work effectively, male condoms need to be put on before any genital contact occurs, and make sure there's no air bubble in the condom when you put it on. It's also important to use a new condom for every sexual encounter and to take the condom off correctly after sex. 

Barrier methods of contraception, like condoms, create a barrier between sperm and the egg. They work well if used correctly, but there's always a tiny chance they could break or leak.

Female condom

You can insert a female condom up to eight hours before intercourse. The female condom is made of a soft 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. 

Female condoms work much the same as male condoms in that it holds the sperm, preventing it from entering the vagina. However, the female condom is not as effective at preventing pregnancy as the male condom.

Cervical cap

The cervical cap is a small silicone cup that fits over the cervix and prevents sperm from entering. It's a safe and effective method of birth control with a success rate of about 86%. The cervical cap can be used up to two hours before intercourse and should always be used with spermicide gel. 

After intercourse, the cap should be left for at least six hours but no longer than 48 hours. It's important to note that the cervical cap does not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). If you're interested in using the cervical cap as your method of birth control, talk to your healthcare provider about sizing and insertion instructions.

Sponge

The sponge can be inserted into the vagina 24 hours before intercourse. However, the sponge 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 is a barrier method of contraception which isn’t used frequently, doesn’t protect against STIs, and has a high failure rate. The diaphragm is not available in Canada.

Key Takeaways

Birth control is an important decision whether you’re sexually active or not. We want to ensure everyone has access to birth control and all the information they need to make the best health choices. 

Start your online assessment with Felix today to learn more about different contraception options and which might best fit your lifestyle.

WRITTEN BY
Felix Team
Updated on:
December 2, 2022
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 Health Guide, are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare practitioner.

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