Hormonal methods of birth control

Birth control pills, skin patches, and vaginal rings contain estrogen and progestin. There are also progestin-only birth control pills, implants (Implanon), and shots (Depo-Provera). Hormonal methods of birth control prevent eggs from being released from the ovaries, thicken cervical mucus to prevent sperm from entering the uterus, and thin the lining of the uterus to prevent implantation.

Illustration of the birth control pills, birth control patch, and vaginal ring

Hormone pills come in packs, with each pack containing 3 weeks of hormone pills. During the fourth week, when you do not receive hormones, you have a menstrual period. (One type of birth control pill is sold in 84-day packs, for fewer periods per year.)

The hormone patch releases estrogen and progestin through your skin for 7 days. Over a 4-week period, you use one patch per week for 3 weeks, then no patch for 1 week. During this week, you have a menstrual period. You can wear the patch on your lower abdomen, upper torso (not breasts), buttocks, or upper arm.

Picture of the vaginal ring method of birth control

The hormone vaginal ring is placed in the vagina for 3 weeks. This gives you continuous birth control for the month. On the first day of the fourth week, you remove the ring. You then have a menstrual period. The exact position of the ring in the vagina is not critical for the ring to work.

Last Updated: May 22, 2008

Medical Review: Joy Melnikow, MD, MPH - Family Medicine & Kirtly Jones, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology

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