Low dose birth control is a form of hormonal birth control with a dosage which is on the low end, reducing the unpleasant side-effects associated with hormonal birth control. It is no less effective than “high dose” birth control pills, as long as it is used correctly, and many women prefer low dose versions because of the reduction of side effects. Low dose birth control also has many of the benefits associated with hormonal birth control, such as control over a woman's menstrual cycle, and a reduction of cramps, spotting, and PMS.
When hormonal birth control was first introduced, the dosage was very high, because doctors still weren't sure about the correct dosage. As a result, many women developed unpleasant side-effects. The problem was compounded by the type of estrogen used in early hormonal birth control. As more was learned about estrogen and hormonal birth control, doctors were able to reduce the dosage, and switch to a different form of estrogen.
A typical low dose birth control product delivers less than 35 micrograms of estrogen with each dosage. Many are in pill form, although it is also possible to find a low dose contraceptive patch, which delivers hormones through the skin, and a low dose contraceptive ring, which is inserted into the vagina, where it delivers a slow supply of hormones to prevent pregnancy. Ultra low dose birth control has less than 20 micrograms per dose.
Some examples of low dose birth control products include Nordette®, Yasmin®, and Cyclessa®, among others. A doctor may start a woman out on a low dose product, switching to an ultra low dose form of birth control if she experiences side effects from the hormones. Higher dosage products delivering up to 50 micrograms a day may be used in women who experience heavy menstruation, as the higher dose makes periods much lighter, and reduces spotting between periods. Dosages may also need to be adjusted for larger women.
Low dose birth control (or any form of hormonal birth control) should not be used during pregnancy. It is most effective when taken as directed, and in the case of oral birth control, it is critical to take the pill every single day, ideally at the same time. Hormonal birth control also does not prevent sexually transmitted infections such as herpes, AIDS, and gonorrhea, and it is not 100% reliable, leading many doctors to recommend the use of a barrier method such as a condom in addition to hormonal birth control. After abstinence and Intrauterine Devices (IUDs), hormonal birth control is the most effective form of birth control, with a failure rate of around 2%.