Birth Control Options for Women over 40
Over 40 and considering birth control? You have options.
If you’re over 40, most likely your kids are grown or out of the house – and birth control is the furthest thing from your mind. While it’s true that fertility declines with age, women are not infertile until they enter menopause; in fact, it’s not uncommon for women who are going through menopause to get pregnant. Studies have shown that this age group is both the least likely to use birth control and the most likely to have an unwanted pregnancy or abortion.
Hold on – let’s discuss menopause for a minute.
- Menopause is when your ovaries stop producing eggs and is identified by an absence of the menstrual cycle for 12 months. The average age for the onset of menopause is 51, but some women begin menopause as early as their 30s or as late as their 60s. A fairly reliable predictor of when you’ll begin menopause: your mother. You’re likely to go through menopause at about the same age as she did. (It’s true, you become more and more like her all the time.)
- Before your body enters menopause, it goes through a transition period, often called perimenopause. During perimenopause, your menstrual cycle becomes irregular.
- Once you’ve completed menopause – that is, not had a period for 12 consecutive months – you no longer need to worry about birth control.
For women in perimenopause, birth control used to be limited to sterilization and condoms, if anything was used at all. Now, new medical advancements have resulted in a range of different birth controls available to suit your busy lifestyle.
Non-Surgical Contraception: For contraception that requires frequent, sometimes daily use, and is typically very accessible and more common across the board, you have several options:
- The Pill: While women over 40 were once advised not to take the birth control pill due to risk of blood clots, the pill has changed to a new low-dose of estrogen. The pill, which requires a daily oral dosage, is a great fit for most women who are looking for birth control. Some birth control pills can also be used to ease the symptoms of menopause. The pill is not meant for women who may be overweight, have high blood pressure, or women who smoke.
- Rings and Patches: Another option for estrogen-based birth control is a ring or patch, such as the NuvaRing . Most rings are inserted into the vagina, like a diaphragm, for three weeks and left out for one week.
*Both of these estrogen options help to regulate the menstrual cycle, especially if you currently have irregular bleeding.
- Progesterone: These birth control options for women over 40 utilize the hormone progesterone(instead of estrogen) to prevent pregnancy, and can be used for months (sometimes years). Examples include the Depo-Provera injection, which is administered every 3 months, and the Implanon, a match-stick sized rod that is inserted into the upper arm and is effective for years. Progesterone-based birth control is also likely to completely eliminate monthly periods.
- Non-Hormonal: Birth control options for middle-aged women that are not hormone-based are still able to provide protection, but are not as effective as hormonal birth control. Examples include copper IUDS, spermicides, sponges, diaphragms, cervical caps, and condoms.
Surgical Contraception: If you are certain that you don’t want to have more children and don’t want the hassle of frequent doses of birth control, there are two options for more permanent (but still reversible) contraception:
- Tubal Ligation: This is the procedure best known as having your “tubes tied,” a surgical procedure through your abdomen that may require up to two days of recovery. The surgeon administers anesthesia, enters through the abdomen or navel, and either burns or clips the tubes shut, preventing sperm from reaching the egg. Even after this procedure, there is still a small chance of an ectopic (tubal) pregnancy. You should use a second means of contraception for three months after the procedure.
- Tubal Occlusion: This procedure, also known as “Essure,” is a nonsurgical procedure that accomplishes the same result as having your tubes tied, but without the potential complications. Your physician enters through your uterus, inserting a small device into your Fallopian tubes, which causes your tissue to grow and form a permanent barrier that blocks sperm. There is a minimal chance of ectopic pregnancy, and recovery only takes about 24 hours.
And of course, there’s always the abstinence option – 100% effective, every time. If you’re a woman over 40, you still have plenty of birth control options to choose from to suit your on-the-go lifestyle. Whatever you choose, just make sure you choose something; otherwise your 40s might bring you a little surprise!