What Is A Birth Control Ring And How To Use It?

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When you think of contraceptives for women, you probably think of the pill. But not all women are comfortable using the pill and look for alternatives to avoid pregnancy. If you want a contraceptive that acts as a barrier to prevent conception, consider using the birth control ring. Also referred to as the vaginal ring, the contraceptive is safe to use and keeps pregnancy away for as long as you want.

This MomJunction post gives you an insight into birth control rings: what they are, how and when to use them, their benefits, side effects, and more.

What Is A Birth Control Ring?

What Is A Birth Control Ring
Image: IStock

A birth control ring is a soft, thin, and flexible ring of about two inches in diameter. It is also known by its brand name ‘NuvaRing.’ It releases the pregnancy hormones estrogen and progestin, which stop the release of eggs from the ovaries, thus preventing them from fertilization. No fertilization means no pregnancy.

The hormones also thicken the cervical mucus that blocks the sperm from meeting the egg. That means the ring offers double protection and is effective (1) (2).

How Effective Is NuvaRing?

When used the right way, the ring is 99% effective in preventing pregnancy. Otherwise, the chances of birth control are 91% even with typical use (delay, missed the date, or forgotten) (3). For effective birth control, it is essential that you learn how to use it properly.

How To Use The Birth Control Ring?

The birth control ring is a convenient and easy option. First, note down the date when you start using the ring. Next, follow the steps (4).

  1. Clean your hands. Squeeze the birth control ring between your index finger and thumb.
  1. It is a soft and bendable ring, so you can push it gently inside your vagina. Push it until you feel comfortable. Make sure you are able to feel the ring with your fingers.
  1. Mark your calendar and make sure you are removing the ring exactly three weeks after. For instance, if you are inserting the ring on Sunday, then you should remove it on a Sunday three weeks later.
  1. You do not have to remove or change the vaginal ring in these 21 days.
  1. Before removing, clean your hands thoroughly, pull it out gently and then dispose of it.
  1. Your menstrual cycle will start a couple of days after you remove the ring.

You can start your three-week cycle of the ring after your period ends.

What Is The Right Time To Start Using The Vaginal Ring?

Ideally, you should start using the ring (5):

During your period: You may start using the ring while you are on your periods (within the first five days). This way, the ring becomes effective immediately. Then you don’t have to worry about the next three weeks.

After the period: Once the period is over, you can insert the ring into the vagina. However, it takes about seven days for it to become effective. During these seven days, you could use a condom as an additional birth control method to minimize the chances of conception.

But is NuvaRing for all women? We will talk about that next.

Can All Women Use The Birth Control Ring?

No, use of the birth control ring is not advisable for all women. In some cases, the ring may fail to prevent pregnancy, and in others, it could result in adverse effects (6) (7).

  1. Women who are older than 35 should not use the ring.
  1. If you are a smoker or have stopped smoking a year ago.
  1. Don’t use if you are overweight, or if you have diabetes or high blood pressure.
  1. Don’t use if you suffer from a severe migraine, or blood clots, or had a heart attack before.
  1. When you are unable to hold the ring inside your vagina.
  1. If you had breast cancer in the last five years.
  1. Don’t use it when you are pregnant.
  1. The ring becomes less effective in case you are taking medicines such as anticonvulsants, antiretroviral, and certain supplements and antibiotics (such as St. John’s Wort and rifampin)

If none of the above apply to you, use the vaginal or birth control ring to prevent pregnancy. This contraceptive offers several benefits when used correctly.

What Are The Benefits Of Birth Control Ring?

Using the NuvaRing as a birth control measure is better and more effective than other birth control measures (8).

  1. You can have regular, lighter, and shorter periods.
  1. Less painful periods and reduced acne during the menstrual cycle.
  1. You need not worry about getting pregnant when you don’t use the condom during sexual intercourse.
  1. Reduced risk of cysts in ovaries and breasts.
  1. Reduced risk of uterine, ovarian, and endometrial cancer. Also, minimal risk of ectopic pregnancy.
  1. It is discreet, which means you may or may not tell about this birth control measure with your partner. The choice is yours.
  1. Reduced chances of infection in the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries.
  1. It is not a permanent birth control measure. You can stop its use anytime and get pregnant naturally.

Some women could experience certain side effects when using this ring.

What Are The Side Effects Of The Birth Control Ring?

You could experience certain minor, but temporary, side effects after using the NuvaRing.

  • You may have headaches or migraines.
  • Nausea, mood swings, and breast tenderness could be experienced.
  • Vaginal discharge and irritation are possible.
  • Change in skin tone and weight.

If the effects don’t tend to vanish or they become severe even after months, then you can talk to your doctor.

When To Call The Doctor?

Although using the birth control vaginal ring is not too risky, you should visit your doctor in any of the following situations.

  1. When experiencing severe chest pain and abdominal pain
  2. In case of swelling or pain in your leg (groin, calf, or thigh)
  3. Issues with eyesight all of a sudden
  4. Breathing issues and coughing

Using the vaginal ring may not be entirely easy. There may be slip-ups sometimes.

What Happens If The Ring Comes Out Or You Forget To Remove It?

Sometimes, the ring just won’t sit in properly. And sometimes, it may stay in longer than it should (2).

  • The ring slips out if you have not inserted it properly. Do not panic. Just rinse it and reinsert it. If the ring has been out for less than three hours, it is still safe to use and you will be protected from unwanted pregnancy. But if it’s been out for more than three hours, make sure you use a backup contraceptive such as a condom to prevent pregnancy.
  • If you have forgotten to remove the vaginal ring after three weeks and you are in the middle of the fourth week, then continue using it till the end of the fourth week. Then remove the old ring and insert the new one. This way, you will still be protected.

However, if you forget to insert the ring after your ring-free week, then insert it as soon as you remember. And see that you are using another birth control method for about a week.

Where Can You Get The Birth Control Ring?

Drug stores, health centers, and health clinics offer the birth control ring on producing a prescription. You can talk to the medical professional, let them know your reasons, get a checkup done, and get a prescription.

What Is The Cost Of A NuvaRing?

The cost of one ring could be around $30 to $50, although it varies based on the medical center and insurance plan you have. In addition to this, you also need to pay for the doctor’s visit. Some government programs and health insurance could offer it for free or at a discounted price (2).

Next, we address a few commonly asked questions about the birth control ring.

Frequently Answered Questions

1. Is NuvaRing better than birth control pills?

Yes, although both are safe, the NuvaRing is known to have better tolerability and compliance. Also, the birth control pill is slightly more effective than pills. In addition to this, the ring is convenient and removes the need to worry about contraception for about four weeks after it is inserted (9).

2. Does the vaginal ring protect against sexually transmitted diseases?

No, even though a birth control ring is highly effective in preventing pregnancy, it does not protect you from any sexually transmitted diseases and HIV. However, using a condom along with the ring could help in lowering the chances of transmitting the diseases.

3. Can I skip my period on NuvaRing?

Yes, some women use the birth control ring to skip their period. For that, you should start using the ring a week before your menstrual cycle date. You can remove the ring after three weeks, and insert a new one to keep periods away. Note that you could experience bleeding or spotting in the initial months, and that is normal.

4. Am I safe during the week the NuvaRing is out?

If you are removing the ring after three weeks, then you are protected. However, if your ring is out before your break-free week, for more than three hours, then you might not be protected for the week even if you have re-inserted the ring.

5. Do I still ovulate on NuvaRing?

No, the ring releases hormones that prevent ovulation. No ovulation means no release of eggs from the ovaries. Hence, there are hardly any chances for fertilization with this contraceptive (10).

6. Can NuvaRing affect a pregnancy test?

No, there is no effect of a birth control ring on the pregnancy test. NuvaRing releases progestin and estrogen. And the pregnancy test detects hCG hormone if a woman is pregnant. So, there is no connection between the use of NuvaRing and the pregnancy test.

7. What if I get my period while on NuvaRing?

You may experience spotting or light bleeding even if you are on the NuvaRing. It is normal for a few months. In case the bleeding is severe, or you are suffering from intense pain, you should see a doctor.

If you wish to prevent pregnancy for about a year or two, then using a birth control ring is a good idea. It is easy to use, and there are no major risks. All you have to remember is when you insert it and when to remove it to prevent accidental pregnancy. And when you change your mind and decide to become pregnant, you can stop using the ring.

Did you use NuvaRing as a birth control measure? How was your experience? Do share it with us in the comment section.


1. Birth control methods; U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women’s Health
2. About the birth control ring; Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital
3. Module 3 Preventing unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections; nyc.gov
4. Birth control: how to use the vaginal ring; Michigan medicine University of Michigan
5. Fact sheet: The ring; UC San Diego Student Health 7 Well-being (2015)
6. Facts about the vaginal ring (Nuvaring); Alabama medical aid agency plan first/Family planning program (2016)
7. Vaginal ring; U. S. Department of Health & Human Services
8. Ring contraception; PennState Behrend
9. NuvaRing vs. Oral Contraceptive Pills (OCP) for In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF) Pre-Treatment; U. S. National Library of Medicine (2011)
10. Nuva Ring; University Health Services; University of California


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