You may be prepared for the birth control conversation with your teenager. However, if your first thought is that your teen isn’t having sex, here’s a reality check:
In 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported more than 50% of teenagers in the US will have been sexually active by the time they’re 18 years old.
Yes, this is a conversation all parents should have with their teenagers.
The good news is, most sexually active teens are using birth control. The not so good news is they don’t always use the most effective forms of birth control. The bad news: the US has some of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the world. This is in spite of teen pregnancy rates in this country being at a record low.
Risks of teenage pregnancy
The importance of preventing teen pregnancy is underscored by the risks: premature birth, low birth weight, high maternal blood pressure and a higher incidence of postpartum depression.
Teenagers who have babies are also prone to drop out of school more often, setting them up to suffer economic challenges. The financial burden is often transferred, at least in part, to the teen’s parents.
Another pitfall — teenaged mothers can become socially isolated.
Birth Control Options
Because the stakes are so high, parents will want to be well-informed about the best birth control options for their teenager. The effectiveness of a method is often the first thing considered. It’s also important to take into consideration potential health risks of birth control methods, financial costs, ease of use and whether a method helps protect against Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs). Religious acceptance of a method may be important for some families, as well.
The option to just say no should always be presented. However, it’s important to remember abstinence-only programs have not been proven effective.
While most birth control methods are for women, parents of young men should be talking to their sons, as well. Even when a hormonal method is being used, condoms are the only method of birth control that protect against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
Hormonal Birth Control
Two highly effective methods of birth control, both are considered 99% effective, are Intrauterine Devices (IUD) and birth control implants. These two methods are often easier for young women as they don’t involve needing to remember to take or replace anything.
IUDs are small, flexible devices shaped like a T. Implanted in the uterus (a process that can be reversed), they change the way sperm move, making it more difficult for them to reach and fertilize eggs. There are two different kinds of IUDs on the market — copper and hormonal. Of the five brands on the US market — Paragard, Mirena, Kyleena, Liletta, and Skyla — the lifespan of IUDs can range from three to seven years. The most common side effects of IUDs are pain, irregular periods and heavier periods.
A birth control implant (AKA Nexplanon) is a tiny, matchstick-sized rod implanted into the arm. The implant releases hormones that protect against pregnancy for up to three years. Side effects can include pain, ovarian cysts, dizziness, headaches, mood swings, depression, mild insulin resistance and temporary absence of periods. Not having periods may be considered a benefit by many young women.
Other hormonal methods for pregnancy prevention with 91-94% effective rates include:
- Depo-Provera aka “the shot.” This injectable form of birth control that lasts three months.
- Birth control vaginal rings, which are replaced monthly.
- Birth Control Patch, that must be replaced weekly.
- Birth Control Pills, most of which require a daily dosage.
Barrier Methods of Birth Control
Barrier methods must be used each and every time intercourse occurs. They are 71-85% effective.
- Condoms, which are also effective against STDs
- Male condoms
- Female condoms
- Cervical Caps
- Birth Control Sponges that contain spermicide
Spermicidal creams are a chemical form of birth control that kill sperm. They must be inserted vaginally each time intercourse occurs.
When discussing these options, you need to consider several things.
- How do you and your child feel about hormonal methods of birth control?
- Is your child responsible enough to remember to replace rings or patches or take a daily pill?
- Whose responsibility will it be to pay for birth control? It can be expensive.
A transparent and honest conversation will include the responsibility to always carry and use barrier and/or spermicidal methods.
The birth control conversation can be awkward, or it can be just another open conversation. No matter what — it’s an important conversation.
*Author Andrea Tran RN, MA, IBCLC is a nurse and lactation specialist.