In some ways, determining if your birth control method works for you seems pretty simple. Does it allow you to plan if and when you want to get pregnant? With a level of effectiveness you're comfortable with? Then at the most fundamental level, yes. It's a good fit.
But there are a lot of different ways to prevent pregnancy, and some methods may not work all that well for your body and your specific lifestyle. The good news is that while some women really, truly struggle to find a good match, most don't have to.
"I sometimes see women who say, 'I can't use any hormone-containing contraception,' because they've tried a few types of pills," Dr. Colleen Krajewski, a gynecologist and family planning expert with the Magee Womens Hospital of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, told The Huffington Post. "But it's rare to see someone who we really can't find anything for."
Here's how to tell if your birth control is cutting it, or if it's time for you two to break the hell up:
Clarify your expectations. Beyond pregnancy prevention, there's a lot that birth control can do for women. Do you want lighter periods? Protection against sexually transmitted diseases? Are you looking for a birth control pill that fights acne? Do you need help managing a condition like endometriosis or polycystic ovarian syndrome? Different forms of contraception can help with some, if not all of those wants and needs, so before you talk to your care provider, spend some time thinking about your goals. That means going so far as deciding whether you want to get your period (because no, you don't need it).
"Some women are looking not to bleed at all, and for other woman, it's very concerning," said Dr. Petra Casey, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology with the Mayo Clinic. "So what one woman thinks of as an advantage of some contraceptive methods is a disadvantage for others. It's very individual."
Once you've zeroed-in on your must-haves, really push your care provider to spend time counseling you about the various options, Casey urged -- maybe even schedule it as a separate visit from your annual exam. This is a big deal. Don't let anyone rush you.
Give it some time. Of course, if you're experiencing a problem that feels in any way urgent, don't wait -- get help. But for more minor issues that can accompany the start of a new hormonal method, like spotting or breast tenderness, hold off on making big changes if you can bear it. "I'd say probably [give it] three to six months, because by then, most of the irregular bleeding [that can accompany some methods] and some of the nuisance side effects are gone," Casey said. "Things should really be how they're going to be for you longterm."
Talk to your doctor about side effects. Seriously, anything. Pay close attention to how you're feeling once you've started a new birth control, and if -- after that initial adjustment period -- you're dealing with anything that feels uncomfortable and potentially connected, bring it to your doc. Problems that may seem wholly unrelated to the functioning of your reproductive system, like migraines, vision issues, skin problems, or hair growth or loss could absolutely be linked to your birth control. Same goes for a dulled libido. And appetite changes. Is that random toe pain related? Probably not, but that's important to know as well.
"One of the things that breaks my heart is when I see women who blame [their symptoms] on 'hormones' and don't get evaluated," Krajewski said. "I see a lot of medical conditions that go untreated, because women think it's just a problem with their birth control."
If you've decided to make a change, talk to an expert. The Internet can be an amazing resource, but it also leads some women to self-diagnose incorrectly, Krajewski said, and then make changes that don't actually make sense. She believes it's essential for women to talk to their care providers before they switch birth control methods or stop them altogether.
"I tell my patients, never just stop your pills. Call me," she said. That gives you an opportunity to discuss what's not working, and what your other options are, even if you're considering options you think are outside your doctor's purview, like fertility awareness based methods. Those "natural" options can be far more complex than many women realize, Krajewski said, and a care provider can help. If you find that yours won't, look for one that will. Sometimes it's your doctor/nurse practitioner/midwife that needs breaking up with, not your birth control.
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