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Is the Birth Control Shot Right for Me?
All of us who need birth control want to find the method that is best for us. And every woman has different needs when choosing a method. If you’re thinking about starting the birth control shot, you’re using the shot, you’re a concerned partner, or you’re just someone who’s curious about it, you may have many questions. Here are some of the most common questions we hear women ask about the birth control shot. We hope the answers help you decide if it is right for you.
What Is the Birth Control Shot?
The birth control shot is an injection of a hormone that prevents pregnancy. Each shot prevents pregnancy for three months. The shot is also known by the brand name Depo-Provera, or by the name of the medicine in the shot, DMPA.
How Does the Birth Control Shot Work?
Like other methods of birth control, the birth control shot releases a hormone — progestin — into the body. Hormones are chemicals made in our bodies. They control how different parts of our bodies work.
The progestin in the shot works by keeping a woman’s ovaries from releasing eggs — ovulation. Pregnancy cannot happen if there is no egg to join with sperm. The progestin in the shot also prevents pregnancy by thickening a woman’s cervical mucus. The mucus blocks sperm and keeps it from joining with an egg.
Some people say that the birth control shot works by keeping a fertilized egg from attaching to the lining of the uterus. But there is no proof that this actually happens.
How Effective Is the Birth Control Shot?
Effectiveness is an important and common concern when choosing a birth control method. The birth control shot is one of the most effective methods of birth control available. It works best when you get the birth control shot regularly, every 12 weeks.
- Less than 1 out of 100 women will get pregnant each year if they always use the birth control shot as directed.
- About 3 out of 100 women will get pregnant each year if they don’t always use the birth control shot as directed.
Keep in mind the birth control shot doesn’t protect against sexually transmitted infections. Use a latex or female condom to reduce the risk of infection.
If you get the birth control shot within the first seven days after the start of your period, you are protected from pregnancy immediately. If you get the shot within five days after miscarriage or an abortion, or within three weeks after giving birth, you are protected from pregnancy immediately. Otherwise, you need to use some form of backup birth control — like a condom, female condom, diaphragm, sponge, or emergency contraception (morning after pill) — for the first week after getting the shot.
Each shot of Depo-Provera will protect you from pregnancy for 12 weeks. So you will need to go to your health care provider every 12 weeks for a shot. If you are two or more weeks late getting your shot, your health care provider may ask you to take a pregnancy test, or may advise you to use emergency contraception if you had vaginal intercourse in the previous 120 hours (five days).
How Safe Is the Birth Control Shot?
Most women can use the birth control shot safely. But all medications have some risks, so safety is a concern when choosing a birth control method. Certain conditions increase the risk of serious side effects.
You should not use the shot if you
- are taking medicine for Cushing’s syndrome
- are pregnant or might be pregnant
- have or are suspected to have breast cancer
- have unexplained bleeding from the vagina
Talk with your health care provider about your health and whether the shot is likely to be safe for you.
There are many other methods of birth control that may be safe for you if you cannot use the shot. Read about other methods to find one that may be right for you.
What Are the Benefits of the Birth Control Shot?
- Using the birth control shot is safe, simple, and convenient.
- The shot provides very effective, long-lasting pregnancy protection.
- There is no daily pill to remember.
- There is nothing to do right before having sex.
- Some women say it improves their sex lives because it helps them feel more spontaneous.
- It is also a very private method of birth control — there is no packaging or other evidence that might be embarrassing for some people.
- The birth control shot does not contain estrogen, another type of hormone that is in many types of birth control, including the pill, patch, and ring. This means the shot can be a good choice for women who cannot take estrogen and for women who are breastfeeding.
- The shot can help prevent cancer of the lining of the uterus.
What Are the Disadvantages of the Birth Control Shot?
Many of us like to weigh the benefits against the risks of taking a medicine. Now that you’re familiar with the benefits, let’s look at the possible disadvantages.
Some women may have undesirable side effects while using the birth control shot. But many women adjust to it with few or no problems. Serious problems do not occur often.
Irregular bleeding is the most common side effect, especially in the first 6 to 12 months of use.
- For most women, periods become fewer and lighter. After one year, half of the women who use the birth control shot will stop having periods completely.
- Some women have longer, heavier periods.
- Some women have increased spotting and light bleeding between periods.
These side effects are completely normal. Some woman may worry that they are pregnant if they do not have a regular period. But when the birth control shot is used correctly, it is very effective. If you are concerned about a possible pregnancy, you can always take a pregnancy test.
There are also some less common side effects:
- change in sex drive
- change in appetite or weight gain
- hair loss or increased hair on the face or body
- nervousness, dizziness
- a rash or darkening of the skin
- sore breasts
There is no way to stop the side effects of Depo-Provera — they may continue until the shot wears off, in 12 to 14 weeks.
It’s important that you find a method that won’t make you feel sick or uncomfortable. If the side effects from the birth control shot continue to bother you, talk with your health care provider.
Because the birth control shot is long lasting, it can take a long time to get pregnant after getting your last shot — anywhere from nine months to more than a year. So, Depo-Provera is not a good birth control method for you if you’re thinking of getting pregnant soon.
Serious problems usually have warning signs. Report any of these signs to your health care provider immediately:
- a new lump in your breast
- major depression
- severe pain in the stomach or abdomen
- unusually heavy or prolonged vaginal bleeding
- yellowing of the skin or eyes
Although Depo-Provera is highly effective in preventing pregnancy, in the very rare cases where pregnancy does occur, it is more likely to be an ectopic pregnancy, which can be life threatening.
Women who use the birth control shot may experience a temporary thinning of their bones. Talk with your health care provider about the risks. You can help protect your bones by exercising regularly and getting extra calcium and vitamin D, either through the food you eat or from vitamin supplements.
How Do I Get the Birth Control Shot? How Much Does the Birth Control Shot Cost?
First, you’ll need to get a prescription. Visit a Planned Parenthood health center, a clinic, or a private health care provider for a prescription. Your health care provider will discuss your medical history with you and give you any other medical exam that you may need. The health care provider will then give you an injection. You may have a temporary bruise.
If you need an exam, it may cost about $35 to $250. Each injection costs between $30 and $75, and each visit after the initial exam may cost between $20 and $40.
If you are more than two weeks late for your injection, you may need a pregnancy test before getting your shot. Pregnancy tests cost about $20.
Medicaid and private health insurance may cover Depo-Provera. Family planning clinics usually charge less than private health care providers.