The Birth Control Ring: What an Ob/Gyn Wants You to Know

Don’t want to think about a pill every day? The ring may be your thing.

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The birth control ring is a very safe and effective way to prevent an unwanted pregnancy—if used correctly. “NuvaRing is a small, flexible ring you insert into your vagina. It releases a combination of the hormones estrogen and progestin to prevent pregnancy,” says Kecia Gaither, MD, Director of Perinatal Services at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center.

Considering this type of birth control? Dr. Gaither gives the 101 on the birth control ring.

1. The ring prevents pregnancy the same way that birth control pills do. 

Just like most birth control pills, the ring contains the hormones estrogen and progestin, which are similar to the ones your body makes naturally. Instead of taking a pill every day, however, you wear the ring inside your vagina. Then, the hormones are absorbed into your body through your vaginal lining.

“The hormones in the ring prevent your ovaries from releasing eggs, so you don’t ovulate. The hormones also thicken your cervical mucus, which makes it harder for sperm to enter the uterus and fertilize the egg,” says Dr. Gaither. Learn more about birth control pills here.

Note: Like the Pill, you need a prescription to get the ring.

2. Unlike the Pill, you don’t have to think about the ring every day. 

Always forgetting to take the Pill or just don’t want to worry about it every day? The ring may be a better option for you.

“You fold the ring and place it deep inside the vagina, where it stays for three weeks. Then you remove the ring and wait seven days (when you'll get your period) before you insert a new ring,” says Dr. Gaither.

If you still prefer the Pill, here are some tips to help you remember to take your medicine.

3. The ring is 91% effective at preventing pregnancy. 

Not using birth control correctly, whichever type you prefer to use, is the main reason why people may get pregnant while using birth control. With typical use, the birth control ring is 91 percent effective. “That’s because you might forget to put a new ring in on time, or you might leave it out of your vagina for too long,” says Dr. Gaither. “When used correctly, that number jumps to 99 percent.”

Here are some tips from Planned Parenthood to help you use the ring correctly:

  • Use an app or set an alarm to remind you to put in a new ring.

  • Add your ring removal / replacement days to your phone’s calendar. (Don’t forget to set it to be recurring!)

  • Find a “ring buddy”—a friend or loved one who also uses the ring—so you can help each other remember. Or, ask your partner to remind you.

  • Keep your replacement rings in a designated spot so you don’t lose them.

  • Store your rings at room temperature (away from direct sunlight!) for up to 4 months. If you have rings that you won’t use within 4 months, store them in the refrigerator.

  • Talk to your doctor about what other types of medications you take. There may be some medicines that make your ring less effective.

Here are some more ways to keep your medicine organized.

4. The ring is best for someone who’s comfortable with their anatomy. 

“The ring can be tricky for some women to insert and remove,” says Dr. Gaither. “Putting in the ring is similar to inserting a tampon, but if you don’t like the idea of putting your fingers inside yourself, this probably isn’t the best choice for you.”

5. The ring can fall out during sex, using a tampon, or even going #2.

It's not an emergency if your ring falls out. “If this happens, just make sure you put it back in within 3 hours. If it happens continuously, it may mean you’re not inserting the ring properly,” says Dr. Gaither.

Another note: There’s a chance that your partner may feel the ring during sex too. If the ring is bothering you during sex, Dr. Gaither says it’s OK to take it out during the deed—as long as you put it back in within that 3-hour window.

6. The ring has similar benefits as other hormonal birth control. 

Like the Pill, the birth control ring has many other medical uses that are incredibly beneficial to those who take it. “It can make your periods lighter and less painful, reduce acne, and reduce the risk of certain cancers,” says Dr. Gaither.

7. But the hormones in the ring can have side effects as well. 

Common side effects that you may experience while on the Pill include:

  • Headaches

  • Nausea

  • Breast tenderness

  • Breakthrough bleeding

  • And excess vaginal discharge.

Another heads up from Dr. Gaither: “Like other birth control that contains estrogen, the patch may not be safe if you have certain health issues such as blood clots, high blood pressure, breast cancer, or serious migraines.”

8.  You shouldn’t use a diaphragm as back-up birth control with NuvaRing. 

“NuvaRing can interfere with the placement of a diaphragm,” says Dr. Gaither.

If you’re looking for a little extra reassurance, use a condom as back-up birth control during penis-in-vagina sex instead.

Remember: Even though the ring is really good at preventing an unwanted pregnancy, it does *not* protect against STDs, says Dr. Gaither. (For STD protection, condoms are the way to go.) Learn more common myths about birth control.

Here are more routine birth control options to consider: