The vaginal ring, also known by its brand name NuvaRing, is a hormonal method of birth control that was approved for use by the FDA in 2001.

What Is It?

The NuvaRing is a small, flexible ring that is inserted into the vagina to prevent pregnancy. Made out of plastic, the ring is about two inches in diameter and contains the synthetic hormones estrogen and progestin. 

How Does It Work?

The vaginal ring prevents pregnancy by continuously releasing hormones into the bloodstream. These hormones—estrogen and progestin—prevent ovulation. Without an egg released during ovulation, pregnancy cannot occur. Estrogen and progestin also thicken the cervical mucus, preventing sperm from passing through, and thin the uterus lining, keeping eggs from implanting.

How Do I Use it?

You need a prescription to use the vaginal ring. Make an appointment with your doctor to discuss the best birth control option for you. You should plan to start using the vaginal ring within five days after the first day of your period. To use, simply insert the ring into the vagina. The position of the ring does not influence its effectiveness. After three weeks, remove the ring on the same day and around the same time that the ring was inserted. You will leave the ring out for seven days, during which you will get your period, and then insert a new ring and start the cycle over again.

Effectiveness

The vaginal ring is more than 99 percent effective when used correctly. If the NuvaRing falls out, it must be reinserted within three hours. If it is not reinserted within three hours, the ring is not as effective in preventing pregnancy and back-up birth control should be used.

Benefits

The vaginal ring offers many of the same benefits of birth control pills but without having to remember to take a pill every day. The hormones in the vaginal ring can help regulate menstruation, resulting in shorter and lighter periods. In addition, because the hormones in the ring are absorbed directly through the vagina, side effects are often more limited as compared to hormone-based contraceptives taken orally. Women who use the NuvaRing are generally exposed to lower doses of hormones than women who use the pill or the patch.

Disadvantages

The vaginal ring does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases. There are few serious side effects of the vaginal ring. The most common complaints are nausea, weight gain, and vaginal irritation and/or infections. Hormonal birth control carries the very small risk of blood clotting, strokes, and heart attacks. Talk to your doctor about your risk factors.