The best time to start using birth control is different for everyone. Finding a method you’re comfortable with may take some trial and error, but it’s worth the effort.

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer for when to start birth control or what the best contraceptive is. After all, what works for one person may not work for another, and that’s OK!

The best type of birth control for you and when you should start using it depends on whether:

  • your primary goal is to prevent pregnancy or alleviate unwanted symptoms
  • you prefer to use something long-term, on a set schedule, or as needed in the moment
  • you’re newly sexually active, postpartum, or in perimenopause

If you haven’t already, consider making an appointment with a healthcare professional to discuss your options.

There are many types of sexual activity, but penis-in-vagina sex is the only one that can lead to pregnancy.

So, if you’re anticipating having penis-in-vagina sex for the first time, another time, or on a more regular basis, you’re wise to consider birth control.

Intrauterine devices (IUDs) and implants are the most effective at preventing pregnancy, says Sophia Yen, MD, co-founder and CMO of Pandia Health, an online birth control provider.

Although a healthcare professional must insert your IUD or implant, it will prevent pregnancy for several years before needing to be replaced.

The copper IUD is effective as soon as it’s placed, whereas hormonal methods can take up to 7 days to take effect. Hormonal methods include:

If you don’t have that kind of time, your best bet may be to pick up a box of condoms at your local pharmacy.

Make sure you and your partners are familiar with the instructions. Condoms are only effective when used correctly and consistently. Mishaps can increase your risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Doctors commonly prescribe hormonal birth control to help alleviate acne, heavy periods, and painful cramps, as well as symptoms associated with certain gynecological conditions.


Hormonal birth control is often prescribed to treat acne. Estrogen is said to reduce testosterone levels, which may lead to decreased oil (sebum) production and, subsequently, fewer breakouts.

As such, your healthcare professional might recommend the combination pill, patch, or vaginal ring.

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and dysphoric disorder (PMDD)

Many people experience bloating, fatigue, and other symptoms, collectively referred to as PMS, the week before menstruation.

PMDD is regarded as a more severe form of PMS. It involves depression, anxiety, and other mental and emotional symptoms.

Although the exact cause is unknown, PMS and PMDD are likely related to hormonal fluctuations throughout your menstrual cycle.

Hormonal birth control methods work by “tricking” your body into thinking you’re pregnant, which squashes your natural menstrual cycle and the hormone changes that accompany it.

“The hormonal IUD and implant are generally your best bet for mitigating [these] symptoms, as they lead to the most stable hormone levels,” said Yen.

However, she says the pill, patch, and ring can also be effective.

Gynecological conditions

Hormonal birth control is commonly prescribed to manage symptoms related to:

Artificial hormone therapy can help stabilize your body’s natural hormonal fluctuations, preventing extreme highs and lows known to exacerbate symptoms.

For example, progestin-only methods like the hormonal IUD or shot are usually recommended for people with endometriosis, while the combination pill is usually the first line of action for PCOS.

If you recently gave birth and are nursing, you may be able to practice the lactational amenorrhea method (LAM).

It involves nursing at least once every 4 hours during the day and at least once every 6 hours at night. Deviations from this schedule can decrease overall effectiveness, so consistency is key.

Methods that contain estrogen may interfere with early lactation, so your healthcare professional may recommend waiting to start hormonal contraception or suggest a progestin-only method.

You may also need to wait a few more weeks if you’re interested in getting an IUD, explains Yen. This can help reduce the risk of expulsion.

You have a variety of options when it comes to barrier methods. Internal and external condoms, for example, can be used anytime.

The cervical cap, diaphragm, and sponge can be safely used after 6 weeks postpartum. However, the cervical cap and sponge are considered less effective after childbirth.

If you used a cervical cap or diaphragm before pregnancy, make an appointment with your healthcare professional to have the barrier refitted before use.

When a miscarriage or stillbirth occurred will affect your options for contraception, says Andrea Sleeth, APRN, nurse practitioner and medical adviser at Wisp, a telehealth platform focused on sexual and reproductive health.

If miscarriage occurs during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy (first trimester), you may have the option to start using any form of hormonal or nonhormonal birth control you desire.

In the event of a miscarriage in the early second trimester, your healthcare professional may recommend waiting a couple of weeks to move forward with IUD insertion. This can help reduce the risk of IUD expulsion.

Stillbirth occurs after 20 weeks, which is the late second trimester. Although many people can safely begin estrogen-based contraception during this time, the risk of developing a blood clot increases during the third trimester.

Your healthcare professional will likely recommend using a nonhormonal or progestin-only contraceptive after a stillbirth at 29 or more weeks. You may be able to begin an estrogen-based method after 6 weeks, says Sleeth.

When it comes to condoms and other barrier methods, the guidelines for postpartum use can also be applied here.

It’s usually safe to start nonhormonal or hormonal birth control after a successful medication or procedural abortion.

Although there’s a slight risk of hormonal birth control interfering with the effects of mifepristone, it’s unlikely. The pill, patch, shot, and implant can all be started alongside abortion medication or shortly after.

You can start using the vaginal ring or IUD as soon as the medication abortion is complete. Your healthcare professional may recommend waiting a few days after your last dose of abortion medication to ensure all tissue has passed and clotting has subsided.

If you have a procedural abortion, your healthcare professional can usually place an IUD or implant at the end of your appointment.

Do you have to wait for your period to start birth control?

You can start using nonhormonal or hormonal birth control at any time. The only benefit of waiting is that you may experience less breakthrough bleeding with hormonal contraception, explains Sleeth.

Hormonal and nonhormonal IUD insertion may be more comfortable during this time of the month.

When is the best time to start birth control?

The best time to start birth control is whenever you decide you’re ready to use birth control.

Some people choose to start birth control long before they’re sexually active so that they’re protected against unintended pregnancy whenever they decide to have penis-in-vagina sex.

Others may decide to keep condoms on hand should the opportunity arise so they’re prepared.

What happens if you start taking birth control mid-cycle?

It will take a full week for hormonal birth control to effectively prevent pregnancy if you start taking it mid-cycle, says Sleeth. Expect to use a secondary method of birth control, like condoms, during this time.

The copper IUD protects against pregnancy immediately. For other nonhormonal methods, be sure to follow your healthcare professional’s instructions for use or refer to the directions on the packaging.

The vaginal contraceptive film, for example, must be applied 10 to 15 minutes before penis-in-vagina sex to be effective.

Will starting birth control before your period delay it?

Not exactly. Hormonal birth control can help regulate your menstrual cycle, meaning period-like withdrawal bleeding or menstruation will occur on a more predictable schedule.

Although you may have some control over when you start your hormonal contraceptive, exactly how it affects your individual cycle and overall chemistry varies from person to person.

There are almost as many reasons someone might start birth control as there are types of birth control.

That’s why if you want to start prescription contraception — or think you could be a good candidate for it — it can be helpful to consult a healthcare professional.

A healthcare professional can answer any questions you may have about different nonhormonal and hormonal methods and make a shortlist of recommendations based on your unique health history.

Tess Catlett is a sex and relationships editor at Healthline, covering all things sticky, scary, and sweet. Find her unpacking her inherited trauma and crying over Harry Styles on Twitter.