A doctor talking to a young woman
By Jamie Krashin, MD

How to Choose the Best Birth Control Option—and Get Better Access to Care

UNM’s Reproductive Health Center provides a complete range of contraception options and services for all New Mexicans including Medicaid recipients, adolescents, and trans men.

When it comes to getting desired birth control, many patients face barriers to care, such as worries about intrusive exams, privacy, safety or transportation. That last one can be particularly tough for teens, as well as for New Mexicans who live in rural areas.  

Access to contraceptives is crucial, especially when leaving home is more stressful than usual due to the pandemic. These barriers can make it tough to get to the clinic or pharmacy regularly for pills, shots or exams.

UNM Health Sciences Center is working to improve birth control access for all New Mexicans, as well as options for short-term, long-term and permanent birth control. Birth control is available at all of our OB/Gyn clinics, and the Center for Reproductive Health (CRH) has additional expertise in birth control.

The providers at CRH help teens with intrauterine devices (IUDs) and birth control implants at lower costs, if either are the best choice for them. The providers at CRH also offers IUDs and implants to patients who want them after miscarriage or abortion procedures at lower costs as well.  

Birth Control Is Easier to Get for Most Women

Under the Affordable Care Act, birth control is covered by all insurance without a copay, including Medicaid and private insurance. Our providers at CRH can prescribe or refill most types of birth control without a pelvic or breast exam.

For example, birth control pills with estrogen and progestin—two female hormones—require just a blood pressure check and a health screening we can do over the phone.  

Choose an Option that Fits Your Life

CRH follows a shared decision-making model for birth control options. That means that we provide information and we ask you what’s important to you about birth control.

We want to know what’s important to you:

  • Is your chosen birth control method safe to use with your other medicines?
  • How well does it prevent pregnancy?
  • Can you stop using it without an office visit?
  • What are your privacy options?

We are there for you to answer questions and give you information and we trust you to make the right decision for you!

Beyond preventing pregnancy, patients take birth control (contraceptives) for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Controlling acne
  • Reducing heavy periods or cramps
  • Reducing ovarian cysts
  • Preventing cancer

Many of our patients have complex health conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, which require careful selection of birth control options. We also provide contraceptive care transgender and gender diverse people who were female sex assigned at birth.

Some patients prefer taking a daily pill, whereas others prefer a "set it and forget it" approach. We offer the spectrum of short- and longer-term options below.

Short-term Birth Control Options

Birth Control Pills

Most people have heard about “the pill,” a type of birth control you take by mouth every day. Some patients say they like the pill because the act of taking it daily helps them feel in control.

Each month, you start a new pack of pills. Each pack comes with a built-in calendar to help you stay on track.

  • Benefits: Patients can use pills to safely skip periods or to help time their periods The hormones in the pill can help reduce acne, period cramps and heavy periods. Pills prevent pregnancy in 93 out of 100 people.
  • Downsides: It can be challenging to remember taking a pill every day. Certain types of pills may not be safe for people with particular medical conditions, including hypertension, long-standing diabetes and history clots in their arteries and veins.

Other Hormonal Options

Teens and adults can also choose from these short-term birth control methods:

  • Depo-Provera shots: This option requires getting "the shot" every three months at a doctor's office or clinic. The shot prevents pregnancy in 96 out of 100 people.
  • The patch: The patch has similar hormones to the pill. Each week, you will apply a skin-safe sticker to your body. The sticker delivers hormones to help reduce the risk of becoming pregnant. It is as good at preventing pregnancy as the pill and can be used to skip some periods.
  • The ring: This soft, squishy ring has similar hormones to the pill. At home, you put the ring into your vagina and leave it there for three weeks. At the end of the third week, you remove it by yourself. After one week, during which you'll likely have a period, you can put in a new ring. There is a new ring on the market that acts the same way as the monthly ring, but you can keep it for 12 months. The ring is as good at preventing pregnancy as the pill and can also be used to skip periods.

Non-hormonal Options

  • Condoms: Male condoms are available for free at CRH through a supply given by UNM Truman Health Services. Regular and correct condom use prevents pregnancy in 87 out of 100 people. Of all birth control methods, only condoms protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). You may be at increased risk for STIs if you are in an open relationship or have more than one sex partner. To reduce your risk, use a condom every time you have sex. Condoms can be highly effective against STIs if used properly.
  • Diaphragm: The diaphragm is another barrier method that prevents pregnancy in 83 out of 100 people. It is a good option for women who want a non-hormonal barrier method that they control.

Long-term Birth Control Options

If you want to delay pregnancy for a longer period of time, consider a long-acting reversible contraceptive (LARC). All LARC methods prevent pregnancy in more than 99 out of 100 people.

Intrauterine Devices (IUDs)

IUDs are small, non-permanent devices that are T-shaped. Some IUDs emit hormones while others are made of copper.

IUDs sit inside the uterus and have two strings attached, which rest in in the back of the vagina. Most people won't feel the strings or the device, and most partners won't feel either during sex. When it's time to remove the IUD, the provider will use a small device to remove it using the strings.  

  • Benefits: Patients can avoid the hormonal side effects of the pill or shot, and many women have no periods or just light spotting within a year of IUD placement. You can have it removed at any time if you don't like it or you want to become pregnant.
  • Downsides: After placement of your first IUD, you might have heavy bleeding for a few months. Some patients might find the placement process uncomfortable.

In-arm Implant

The doctor will place a tiny tube about the size of a matchstick in your upper arm, on the side closest to your ribs. The implant releases a progestin hormone.

  • Benefits: Implants can last three years or longer. You don't have to do anything with an implant once it is placed. When it's time to replace the implant, the doctor will remove the old one and place a new one. If you decide you want a baby in the meantime, the implant is easy to remove at the clinic. Some patients end up having lighter periods or no periods while using an implant.
  • Downsides: The hormones can cause symptoms similar to the pill. Some patients don't like not having a period, which verifies to them that they aren't pregnant.

Permanent Birth Control Options

If you know you do not want to become pregnant in the future, you can choose a surgical contraceptive procedure that is more permanent.


A doctor can sever or seal the vas deferens, which are the tiny ducts that carry sperm from the testicles out of the body. Cis men or trans women who do not want to be able to get someone pregnant can get this procedure done in clinic, which takes 30 minutes or less. Most men experience limited discomfort and recover in a few days.

Vasectomy is over 99% effective and will not affect a man's ability to have an orgasm or ejaculate. However, patients and their partners should use another type of birth control for at least three months after vasectomy to avoid pregnancy. It takes about three months to ensure the patient's sperm are no longer active. Learn more (PDF).

Tubal Ligation

This procedure is also known as "getting your tubes tied." Cis women or trans men who do not want to be able to get pregnant can have this procedure done at our Outpatient Surgery and Imaging Services center in Albuquerque. Most of the recovery takes place over the first week after the surgery.

Tubal ligation is more than 99% effective. The doctor will make a small incision in your belly and use small tools to block off or remove your fallopian tubes, which carry eggs to the uterus.

Getting Started on Birth Control

Taking control of your reproductive health is a big step that depends on your unique needs and goals. Our patients also benefit from the work of our many partner organizations in New Mexico, including:

  • Bold Futures, which works to expand access to birth control across the state while ensuring people are not being forced to have birth control they do want.
  • New Mexico Perinatal Collaborative, which helps increase access to long-term birth control after childbirth for moms who want it.
  • The New Mexico Department of Health, which provides free and low-cost birth control across the state through their Title X-funded family planning clinics.
  • The UNM College of Pharmacy, which has been helping increase birth control access through pharmacist prescribing.

You deserve to get health information that makes sense to you. No matter how you identify, the team at UNM's Center for Reproductive Health can help you choose the best type of birth control. We'll discuss all your options to make sure you understand your choices.

To make an appointment or learn how to get low- or no-cost birth control

Categories: Women's Health