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Sexual Development

About the Birth Control Shot

Lea este articulo en EspanolTalking to your kids about sex can be daunting, no matter how close you are. But discussing issues like abstinence, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and birth control can help lower teens’ risk of an unintended pregnancy or contracting an STD.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) supports sex education that includes information about both abstinence and birth control. Research has shown that this information doesn’t increase kids’ level of sexual activity, but actually promotes and increases the proper use of birth control methods among sexually active teens.

How and when you discuss sex and birth control is up to you. Providing the facts is vital, but it’s also wise to tell your kids where you stand. Remember, by approaching these issues like any other health topics, not as something dirty or embarrassing, you increase the odds that your kids will feel comfortable coming to you with any questions and problems. As awkward as it might feel, answer questions honestly. And if you don’t know the answers, it’s OK to say so, then find out and report back.

If you have questions about how to talk with your son or daughter about sex, consider consulting your doctor. Lots of parents find this tough to tackle, and a doctor may offer some helpful perspective.

What Is the Birth Control Shot?

The birth control shot is a long-acting form of progesterone, a hormone that is naturally manufactured in the ovaries. The shot is given as an injection in the upper arm or in the buttocks once every 3 months to protect a female from becoming pregnant.

How Does the Birth Control Shot Work?

The hormone progesterone in the birth control shot primarily works by preventing ovulation (the release of an egg during the monthly cycle). If a female doesn’t ovulate, she cannot get pregnant because there is no egg to be fertilized.

How Well Does the Birth Control Shot Work?

The birth control shot is a very effective method of birth control. Over the course of a year, fewer than 3 out of 100 typical couples who use the birth control shot every 3 months will have an accidental pregnancy. The chance of getting pregnant increases if a girl waits longer than 3 months to receive her next shot.

In general, how well each type of birth control method works depends on a lot of things. These include whether a person has any health conditions or is taking any medications that might interfere with its use. It also depends on whether the method chosen is convenient and whether the person remembers to use it correctly all of the time.

Protection Against STDs

The birth control shot does not protect against STDs. In fact some studies show that the birth control shot may possibly increase the risk of getting certain STDs, although scientists do not understand why.

Couples having sex must always use condoms along with the shot to protect against STDs.

Abstinence (not having sex) is the only method that always prevents pregnancy and STDs.

Possible Side Effects

Many women who receive the birth control shot will notice a change in their periods. The other side effects that some women have include:

  • irregular or no menstrual periods
  • weight gain, headaches, and breast tenderness
  • depression

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a safety warning with regard to the use of the long-acting progesterone shot. Studies link this shot to a loss of bone density in women, although bone density may recover when a woman is no longer getting the shot.

Doctors are not sure how this type of shot may affect the bone density of adolescent girls in the future, though. Young women who are considering the shot as a method of birth control should talk to their doctors about it and make sure that they get enough calcium each day. Women who smoke should be sure to let their doctors know because smoking may be connected to this bone density loss.

Women may notice a decrease in fertility for up to a year after they stop getting the birth control shot. However, the shot does not cause permanent loss of fertility and most women can get pregnant once they stop getting the shot.

Who Uses the Birth Control Shot?

Young women who have difficulty remembering to take birth control pills and who want extremely good protection against pregnancy use the birth control shot. Also, nursing mothers can use the birth control shot.

Not all young women can — or should — use the birth control shot. Certain medical conditions make the use of the shot less effective or more risky. For example, it is not recommended for women who have had blood clots, certain types of cancers, or certain types of migraine headaches. Young women who have had unexplained vaginal bleeding (bleeding that is not during their periods) or who suspect they may be pregnant should talk to their doctors.

Where Is the Birth Control Shot Available?

The shot must be prescribed and is given every 3 months in a doctor’s office.

How Much Does the Birth Control Shot Cost?

Each injection (3 months’ worth of birth control) costs about $60. Many health insurance plans cover the cost of birth control shots, as well as the cost of the doctor’s visit. Family planning clinics (such as Planned Parenthood) may charge less.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: July 2013