Until recently, women over 40 didn’t have much variety when it came to methods of birth control: only condoms and tubal ligation (having your tubes tied) were considered safe. But these days, older women have nearly as many options as those half their age. Contraceptive methods and devices that were considered unsafe for older women, such as birth control pills and IUD, have been vastly improved, and are available as options again.
Birth control pills used to be considered unsafe for women in their 40s and 50s due to their high estrogen content, which raised the risk of developing a blood clot. But the amount of estrogen in today’s pills has been greatly reduced. Nonsmoking women over 40 who are not overweight can thus take birth control pills without incurring significant health risks. In fact, as reported by mnbc.com, birth control pills can actually be beneficial for some women over 40 as they help control irregular bleeding and hot flashes. They can also reduce incidents of ovarian cancer and hip fracture.
Previously, an Iitrauterine device (IUD) was not recommended for women over 40 as it increased incidents of pelvic infection and caused heavy menstrual bleeding. Modern IUDs, however, rarely cause such side effects. In fact, the Mirena IUD–which has a device that releases the hormone progestin to prevent ovulation–is known to lessen menstrual flow.
The vaginal contraceptive ring is also considered safe for women over 40. This device is a thin, flexible ring that is inserted into your vagina. The ring is left in place for three weeks while it slowly releases low doses of estrogen and progestin into your body. These hormones prevent ovulation and thicken cervical mucus, which makes it difficult for sperm to swim. The ring is removed at the start of the fourth week, thus allowing your period to begin. When used properly, it is 92 to 99 percent effective at preventing pregnancy.
Surgical tube-tying is a thing of the past. Since 2002, medical professionals have been performing a type of tubal ligation that doesn’t require cutting into the abdomen. Instead, doctors insert small tubes through the cervix and into your fallopian tubes. The tubes cause scarring, which results in the fallopian tubes being blocked. With the fallopian tubes blocked, the egg cannot reach the uterus and implant in the uterine wall. This out-patient procedure is a permanent form of birth control, ideal for women who have completed their families or know that they do not want children.
With the birth control implant, a matchstick-sized rod (called an Implanon) is inserted into the upper arm. There, it releases the hormone progestin to suppress ovulation. The implant can be left in place for three years and has an effectiveness rate of 99 percent for women who are not overweight.