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How long does it take for contraception to work?

by Maddie Braidwood · Sep 4, 2020

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Reviewed by Dr Becky Mawson on Jan 6, 2022

How long does it take for contraception to work - a pill packet and tracking calendar
If your contraceptive has been inserted, surely its effective straight away... right? Wrong! Get the lowdown on how soon your contraception takes to work, and when you need to use extra protection such as condoms.

When it comes to switching your contraceptive, or even starting for the first time, there are hundreds of questions that come along with it. Like, how long does it take for a contraceptive to work? What are the side effects? Will it give help my heavy periods?

Before starting your new contraceptive, it’s important to know how long before it actually becomes effective – just because it’s in you, doesn’t mean it’s working! For this it’s important to know that day 1 of your menstrual cycle counts as the first day of your period starting. 

How long does it take for a contraceptive to work?

If you want to know how long to wait before you can wave goodbye to those condoms (even though they’re always good to keep on hand for an emergency – remember they protect against STIs!) then we’ve got you covered.

Combined pill

If you’re starting on the combined pill in the first 5 days of your natural period you are covered straight away. 

You can start it at anytime in your cycle but will need to use barrier contraception or avoid sex for 7 days until your birth control pill starts working.

Progestogen-only pill

If you’re starting on the progestogen-only pill in the first 5 days of your natural period you are covered straight away. 

You can start it at anytime in your cycle but will need to use barrier contraception or avoid sex for 2 days until it starts working.

Copper IUD

Once the copper IUD is inserted, it is effective instantly. You shouldn’t have to worry about using another form of contraception, unless you’re using it for protection from STIs. 

The great thing about the copper coil is that it can also work as emergency contraception. It can cover all unprotected sex in the previous 5 days or can be fitted within 5 days of the earliest likely date you ovulated.

Hormonal IUS

If the hormonal coil is fitted in the first 5 days of your natural period you are covered straight away. 

The hormonal coil can be inserted at any point in your cycle as long as there is no risk of pregnancy. You will need to use alternative contraception or avoid sex for 7 days until it starts working.

Need help? Talk to our doctors about your contraception

Implant

If the implant is fitted in the first 5 days of your natural period you are covered straight away. 

The implant can be inserted at any point in your cycle as long as there is no risk of pregnancy. You will need to use alternative contraception or avoid sex for 7 days until it starts working. 

Contraceptive injection

If you have the injection in the first 5 days of your natural period you are covered straight away. 

The injection can be given at any point in your cycle as long as there is no risk of pregnancy. You will need to use alternative contraception or avoid sex for 7 days until it starts working.

It’s important to get the contraceptive injection every 13 weeks. If you are for whatever reason late for getting a follow-up injection (it has been over 14 weeks since your last injection), you should continue to use a backup method for seven days after you get it. 

Contraceptive patch

If you first apply the contraceptive patch in the first 5 days of your natural period you are covered straight away. Day 1 counts as the first day of your period starting. 

You can start it at anytime in your cycle but will need to use barrier contraception or avoid sex for 7 days until it starts working. 

Vaginal Ring

If you insert the vaginal ring in the first 5 days of your natural period you are covered straight away. 

You can start it at anytime in your cycle but will need to use barrier contraception or avoid sex for 7 days until it starts working.

Male and female condoms

Both the male condom and the female condom are effective straight away. However to ensure they are actually effective at preventing pregnancy, they must be used correctly. This means putting the condom on before any skin-to-skin contact or penetration.

As soon as you’re finished using a male condom, hold the condom at the base of the penis whilst you remove it to ensure no sperm leaks out, and then dispose of it straight away.

You must use a new condom every time you have sex for them to be effective. 

Diaphragm and cap 

The diaphragm and cap are effective straight after insertion. Much like condoms, these methods need to be inserted properly for them to be fully effective. Check out the FAQs on our contraception page for more details on how to use them.

Sterilisation

Female sterilisation is a procedure that blocks the fallopian tubes to prevent an egg from reaching the uterus to avoid it from becoming fertilised. This can be done at the time of cesarean section or otherwise via keyhole surgery under general anaesthetic (when you’re put to sleep).

This surgery is effective straight away, but you should wait 1-2 weeks after the operation to have sex (for comfort more than anything). 

Vasectomy

The male vasectomy is a procedure that blocks the tube which carries sperm and involves a small operation which is done under local anaesthetic (a small injection) often in GP surgeries or sexual health clinics. 

About 12 weeks after the operation, men should have a semen test to see if the sperm have gone. During this time additional contraception should be used.

So, how long does it take for birth control to work exactly?

If you’re starting a new form of birth control, it’s always good to explore your options by talking to your doctor or healthcare provider, as well as checking out The Lowdown’s contraception recommender and reviews to help you make the right decision.