What are the benefits of birth control pills?
Calling them improve-your-acne pills or cure-heavy-and-painful-periods pills or get-some-control-over-your-life pills is too much of a mouthful, so unfortunately, we will just call them “birth control” pills even if the girl is not using them for pregnancy prevention.
I have written prescriptions for girls who have missed several days of school and endured embarrassing stains due to irregular and unpredictable and/or heavy and/or painful periods. I have written them for female athletes and actors who want lighter and fewer periods for their practices and performances. I have written them for girls who just want control over their life, so they can control when they bleed and plan out their menses around SAT tests and vacations. I have written them for girls with moderate to severe acne.
Studies also show that they decrease the risk of ovarian and uterine cancer (see the Q&A here). There are so many more benefits than just “birth control”.
What other hormonal options are there besides pills?
There are so many more options than just pills. I have prescribed patch and chewable options for girls who can’t swallow pills. I have also referred female patients to the gynecologist to discuss safe and really first line option of the levonorgestrel-containing intrauterine device (IUD), more commonly known as Mirena. This is a small, flexible T-shaped device that contains a low dose of hormone.
What are the side effects of birth control pills or hormonal options?
The main side effects that I discuss with my patients are nausea, vomiting, headaches, bloating, mood changes, and blood clots. The first five symptoms I mentioned are often minor and resolve in 2-4 weeks. I often suggest to my patients to take the pill before they go to sleep or when they brush their teeth at night so that (1) they remember to take it at the same time every day and (2) are less affected by the symptoms as they sleep through them. If any of these side effects are severe, call the doctor to discuss what to do next.
The risk of blood clots is very low, but I still have to let kids and parents know how to prevent and recognize a blood clot. Blood clots start in blood vessels in the calf and are at higher risk of forming if someone has stayed still for a long time such as during travel or after a surgery or immobilizing injury. It’s important to move the legs and massage the calves during these times to keep the blood flowing. If a blood clot forms in the calf, there will be severe pain and swelling in the calf. If the blood clot travels to blood vessels in the lungs, there will be problems breathing and chest pain. If the blood clot travels to blood vessels in the brain, there will be stroke symptoms such as severe headache, uneven facial expressions and smile, numbness or tingling on the face, or problems talking or seeing. Any concern of a blood clot warrants a call to 911.
Other resources to learn more
Here is the website that I frequently refer my patients and their families to, from Nationwide Children’s Hospital and the very smart Dr. Elise Berlan. BC4Teens, as in birth control (really in quotes) for teens. Please read it if you think you or your child is interested in pills or call for a referral to a gynecologist to learn more about the IUD procedure. We can raise a generation of empowered girls. Let’s do it!
This is not medical advice. Consult your child’s doctor for proper guidance and recommendations that fit your child’s specific needs.