Starting birth control or switching to a new form of contraception may stir up some questions. Perhaps most importantly: How long do you need to play it safe before you’re protected against pregnancy?
Here, we break down the wait times by birth control type.
It’s important to remember that while most birth control methods are highly effective at preventing pregnancy, condoms are the form of contraception that can protect against sexually-transmitted infections (STIs). Unless you and your partner are monogamous, condoms are your best bet for preventing STIs.
If you start taking the combination pill on the first day of your period, you’ll be protected against pregnancy right away. However, if you don’t begin your pill pack until after your period has started, you’ll need to wait seven days before having unprotected sex. If you have sex during this time, be sure to use a barrier method, like a condom, for the first week.
Women taking the progestin-only pill, which is sometimes called the mini-pill, should use a barrier method for two days after starting the pills. Likewise, if you accidentally skip a pill, you should use a back-up method for the next two days to ensure you’re fully protected against pregnancy.
The copper IUD is fully effective from the moment it’s inserted. You don’t have to rely on a secondary form of protection unless you intend to protect yourself from sexually transmitted disease.
Most gynecologists will wait to insert your IUD until the week of your expected period. If your IUD is inserted within seven days of the beginning of your period, you’re immediately protected against pregnancy. If your IUD is inserted at any other time of the month, you should use a back-up barrier method for the next seven days.
The implant is immediately effective if it’s inserted within the first five days of your period starting. If it’s inserted at any other time of the month, you won’t be fully protected against pregnancy until after the first seven days, and you will need to use a back-up barrier method.
If you get your first shot within five days of your period starting, you’ll be fully protected within 24 hours. If your first dose is administered after this time frame, you should continue to use a back-up barrier method for the next seven days.
To maintain efficacy, it’s important that you get your shot every 12 weeks. If you’re more than two weeks late getting a follow-up shot, you should continue to use a backup method for seven days after your follow-up shot.
After you apply your first contraceptive patch, there’s a seven-day wait before you’re fully protected against pregnancy. If you choose to have sex during that window, use a secondary form of birth control.
If your insert the vaginal ring on the first day of your period, you’re immediately protected against pregnancy. If you start using the vaginal ring at any other time of the month, you should use back-up birth control for the next seven days.
Male or female condom
Both male and female condoms are effective right away, but they must be used correctly to be the most successful. This means putting the condom on before any skin-to-skin contact or penetration. Right after ejaculation, while holding the male condom at the base of the penis, remove the penis and condom and dispose of the condom. You must also use a condom each time you have sex to prevent pregnancy. As a bonus, this is the only type of birth control that can prevent the exchange of STIs.
Diaphragm, cervical cap, & sponge
Diaphragms, cervical caps, and sponges also start working right away. To be the most effective, these forms of birth control need to be used properly and fit well. Work with your doctor to understand how to insert them and ensure they’ll properly protect you. If you have a baby, you will need to be refitted for your diaphragm or cervical cap.
This procedure blocks your fallopian tubes to prevent an egg from reaching the uterus and being fertilized. The surgery is effective right away, but you should still wait one to two weeks to have sex. This may be, more than anything, for your own comfort.
A tubal occlusion closes the fallopian tubes and prevents eggs from entering the fallopian tubes and uterus. This means sperm can’t reach and then fertilize an egg. This procedure isn’t effective right away, so you should use a secondary birth control method for three months or until your doctor confirms that the tubes are closed.
If you’re starting a new form of birth control or considering a swap, talk with your doctor. They can help you weigh the pros and cons of each method, including how long you may have to wait before you’re protected against pregnancy.
If you’re ever in doubt, you should always use a secondary method, such as a condom. Although condoms aren’t a consistently reliable form of birth control, they can provide an added layer of protection against pregnancy with the benefit of reducing your chances of getting a sexually transmitted disease.