Switching between birth control methods can help a person find a more effective way to prevent pregnancy while minimizing side effects.

Every birth control method works slightly differently and each has risks and benefits.

Some people may find that the type of birth control they are using does not suit them and want to try something different.

Below is a breakdown of how the various types of birth control work and how to switch to a different type safely.

The following table provides guidance on the time that a person switching their method of birth control should start their new method:

Switching to:
Switching from:Birth control pillsCopper IUDHormonal IUDVaginal ringShotImplantPatch
Birth control pillsTake first pill of new pack the day after a pill from the previous packCan insert IUD up to 5 days after stopping pillInsert IUD 7 days before stopping pillInsert ring the day after a pill from the previous packReceive first shot 7 days before stopping pillReceive implant 4 days before stopping pillStart using patch 1 day before stopping pill
Copper IUDTake first pill 7 days before having the IUD removedInsert hormonal IUD immediately after removal of copper IUD, and use back-up birth control for 7 daysStart using ring 7 days before removal of IUDReceive first shot 7 days before removal of IUDReceive implant 4 days before removal of IUDStart using patch 7 days before removal of IUD
Hormonal IUDTake first pill 7 days before having the IUD removedCan insert copper IUD immediately after removal of hormonal IUDStart using ring 7 days before removal of IUDReceive first shot 7 days before removal of IUDReceive implant 4 days before removal of IUDStart using patch 7 days before removal of IUD
Vaginal ringTake first pill 1 day before stopping using the ringCan insert IUD up to 5 days after stopping using the ringInsert IUD 7 days before stopping using the ringReceive first shot 7 days before stopping using the ringReceive implant 4 days before stopping using the ringStart using patch 2 days before stopping using the ring
ShotCan take first pill up to 15 days after last shotCan insert IUD up to 16 weeks after last shotCan insert IUD up to 15 weeks after last shotCan insert ring up to 15 weeks after last shotCan receive implant up to 15 weeks after last shotCan start using patch up to 15 weeks after last shot
ImplantTake first pill 7 days before removal of implantCan insert IUD up to 5 days after removal of implantInsert IUD 7 days before removal of implantInsert ring 7 days before removal of implantReceive first shot 7 days before removal of implantStart using patch 7 days before removal of implant
PatchTake first pill 1 day before stopping using the patchCan insert IUD up to 5 days after stopping using the patchInsert IUD 7 days before stopping using the patchInsert ring on the same day as stopping use of the patch Receive first shot 7 days before stopping using the patchReceive implant 4 days before stopping using the patch

Birth control pills come in many forms, each with different combinations of hormones. They all work in a similar way by preventing ovulation. They also make it more difficult for an egg to implant in the uterus if ovulation does occur.

According to Planned Parenthood, birth control pills are about 91% effective at preventing pregnancy when people use them correctly. They do not prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Planned Parenthood also states that people who take combination pills, which contain both progestin and estrogen, should take the first pill within 5 days of starting their period for immediate protection.

How long do they take to work?

Taking the first pill at any other time means it will take the pill 7 days to work.

Progestin-only pills begin working within 48 hours. A person can switch from their current method to this method at any time.

Side effects

Side effects of birth control pills include bleeding between periods, headaches, and nausea.

Rarely, a person might have a more serious side effect, such as a dangerous blood clot in the legs. The risk is higher in smokers over the age of 35, people with cardiovascular disease, and people who use pills with higher doses of hormones.

The intrauterine device (IUD) comes in two forms.

The copper IUD does not contain hormones and prevents sperm and egg from meeting. It is more than 99% effective, and can last for 5 to 10 years.

The hormonal IUD works by releasing hormones that prevent ovulation. They also make it more difficult for sperm to fertilize the egg if a person does ovulate. They work for 3 to 7 years, depending on the device a person chooses.

How long do they take to work?

The copper IUD begins working immediately, and a person can switch to this method any time.

The hormonal IUD works right away if a person gets it during the first 7 days of their period. Otherwise, a person must continue using a back-up method for 7 days. Like the copper IUD, this device is more than 99% effective.

Side effects

Side effects of hormonal IUDs can include irregular periods, spotting, and cramping. These usually ease up 3-6 months after insertion of the IUD. Insertion of both types of IUD can cause some short-term pain and cramping.

People who use IUDs may have a small risk of developing pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), but this is usually only in the first 3 weeks after insertion.

If people do become pregnant with an IUD, a doctor will need to remove it straight away as IUDs can cause pregnancy complications.

A number of other hormonal options work similarly to hormonal birth control pills, using a combination of estrogen and progestin to prevent ovulation and make it more difficult for sperm to fertilize the egg if a person does ovulate.

Hormonal birth control options have similar risks and side effects to birth control pills. Smokers over the age of 35 have a higher risk of serious side effects, such as strokes and blood clots.

Other hormonal methods to consider include:

  • Birth control vaginal ring: Approximately 91% effective, a person must insert a new ring every few months for it to work well.
  • Birth control shot: The birth control shot, which is about 94% effective, requires an injection every 3 months. It works immediately if a person gets it within seven days of their period. Otherwise, they must wait a week and use a back-up method.
  • Birth control implant: The birth control implant, which is around 99% effective, releases hormones from an implant under the skin. It lasts up to 5 years, and fertility returns quickly after a person removes the implant. It works right away if a person gets it within 5 days of the start of their period. Some people have irritation at the implant site, and very rarely, the implant may move in the body.
  • Birth control patch: With an effectiveness rate of about 91%, the birth control patch releases hormones from a patch attached to the skin. A person must change their patch every week, and some people may have irritation at the site of the patch. It works immediately if a person gets the patch within 5 days of starting their period.

A person should avoid using multiple hormonal methods at once. For example, avoid switching to a patch until removal of a hormonal IUD.

Hormonal birth control methods do not prevent STDs, so people can also use condoms to reduce the risk of infections.

A condom prevents sperm from traveling to the egg by trapping the sperm. Some condoms also use spermicide to kill sperm if the condom breaks.

A male condom covers the penis, while a female condom goes inside the vagina. Condoms also reduce the risk of getting most STDs.

How long do they take to work?

A person can switch to condoms right away, and can use them with other birth control methods. Condoms are 85 to 98% effective depending on if people use them correctly.

Side effects

Condoms do not usually cause any side effects. People can use non-latex condoms if latex is irritating. A person may need to experiment to find the right condom.

A diaphragm covers the cervix, preventing sperm from entering to fertilize an egg. It contains spermicide that kills sperm. A person must insert it before any sexual contact.

Diaphragms are about 94% effective when a person uses them perfectly. They can be difficult to use though, and with normal use are about 88% effective.

How long do they take to work?

A diaphragm works as soon as a doctor inserts it. It is safe to use a diaphragm with other methods, and a person can switch right away.

Side effects

Diaphragms do not cause long-term or serious side effects. Some people find them painful or irritating to use. Leaving a diaphragm in for too long can cause pain or an infection. Some people are allergic to the silicone of the diaphragm, or to the spermicide.

Natural family planning (NFP) uses fertility awareness to avoid intercourse during times when a person is more likely to become pregnant. A person might monitor their cervical fluid, cervical position, or their morning body temperature to predict their most fertile times.

Different studies report vastly different success and failure rates with NFP. For NFP to be most effective, a person must have a regular cycle and carefully monitor fertility cues.

Some people practicing NFP also rely on breastfeeding as a way to avoid pregnancy. Doctors call this the lactational amenorrhea method (LAM).

LAM is most effective in nursing parents whose babies are younger than 6 months, who nurse frequently and regularly, whose babies who have not started solids, and whose periods have not returned after giving birth.

LAM can be up to 98% effective when a person meets the above criteria.

Side effects and risks

There are no side effects associated with NFP, and the only risk is pregnancy. NFP does not prevent STDs.

Some questions a person should ask themselves before trying a new birth control method include:

  • What are my birth control goals? Do I want to prevent pregnancy for a short period, or over the long term?
  • Do I need STD protection?
  • Do I want to use a back-up method?
  • Do I struggle to remember things? Will I need to use a reminder app or other strategies to remember to use my birth control?
  • Do I have any health risk factors that might make hormonal birth control unsafe?

A person does not need to see a doctor to use condoms or natural family planning. Condoms are available over the counter at many stores, and are sometimes available for free at health centers, community centers, and family planning clinics.

People can see a doctor or visit a family planning clinic for advice about a diaphragm, hormonal birth control or an IUD. These forms of birth control require a prescription.

A person should also see a doctor if:

  • their period is very late or they think they may be pregnant
  • they experience birth control side effects
  • they develop an infection, pain, or fever
  • they need help comparing birth control methods

Most private U.S. insurance plans provide coverage for birth control in certain conditions.

Learn more about Medicare and birth control here.

With so many birth control methods available, most people can find an option that works for them. Researching different options and talking to a healthcare professional can help.

If side effects feel intolerable, people can switch methods. Birth control should not be painful or unpleasant.