The vaginal ring is a small, soft plastic rig that you insert into your vagina. It is left inside the vagina for 21 days then removed. Seven days after removing the ring, you insert a new one for the next 21 days.
The ring contains the hormones progestogen and oestrogen and these are released into your bloodstream to prevent pregnancy. The hormones prevent ovulation (release of an egg) and make it difficult for sperm to reach the egg. They also thin the lining of the womb making it less likely that an egg will implant there.
Who can use the vaginal ring?
You can start using the vaginal ring at any time during you menstrual cycle. You leave it in for 21 days and then remove it and have a seven day break. You are protected against pregnancy during that seven day break. You can then put a new ring in for another 21 days.
You will be protected from pregnancy if you start using the ring on the first day of your period. If you use the ring at any other time during your cycle you will need to use condoms for the first seven days. Otherwise, you won’t be protected from pregnancy.
Some women cannot use the vaginal ring. Your doctor or nurse will ask about your family’s medical history to assess if this method of contraception is suitable for you to use. It may not be suitable if you:
- have had a blood clot in a vein or artery
- have had heart or circulatory problems, including high blood pressure
- are 35 or older and smoke, or stopped smoking in the past year
- have severe migraine with aura (warning symptoms)
- have had breast cancer in the past five years
- have diabetes with complications
- are overweight
- take certain medicines
- have vaginal muscles that can’t hold a vaginal ring
If you don’t smoke and there are no medical reasons why you can’t use the ring, you can use it until you are 50 years old.
After having a baby
You can use the vaginal ring 21 days after having a baby if you feel comfortable. If you start it on day 21 you will be protected from pregnancy straight away. If you start after 21 days you will need to use a condom for seven days.
If you are breastfeeding and your baby is less than 6 months old it is recommended that you use a different method of contraption as the contraceptive ring can affect you milk flow.
After a miscarriage or abortion
You can start using the vaginal ring straight away after a miscarriage or abortion and you will be protected.
The contraceptive vaginal ring is held in place by the muscles of your vagina. Occasionally it may come out (expulsion) and what you need to do depends on how long the contraceptive vaginal ring has been out for, and where you are in your ring-cycle.
Less than three hours
- Rinse the contraceptive vaginal ring (cool or lukewarm water) and re-insert the same ring
- You are protected from pregnancy and don’t need to use additional contraception
More than three hours in the first or second week of use
- Rinse the contraceptive vaginal ring and put it back in as soon as possible
- You will need to use additional contraception (condoms) until the ring has been in place for seven days
- You may also need emergency contraception if you have had sex in the previous few days - ask your doctor or nurse for advice
More than three hours in the third week of use:
Throw the ring away and either:
- Insert a new ring straight away and start a new ring cycle. You may not experience a withdrawal bleed but you may have some breakthrough bleeding or spotting
- Do not insert a new ring. Start your seven day, ring-free interval. You will have a withdrawal bleed. Then insert a new ring seven days from the time the previous ring came out of the vagina (you can only choose this option if the ring was used continuously for the previous seven days)
In either case you will need to use additional contraception (condoms) until the contraceptive vaginal ring has been in place for seven days. You may also need emergency contraception if you have had sex in the previous few days – speak to your doctor or nurse.
If you lose the vaginal ring insert a new one and continue with the cycle that you were on.
Know the facts
- The vaginal ring is over 99% effective against pregnancy if used correctly
- It protects against pregnancy but not sexually transmitted infections (STIs) so you will need to use condoms as well
- Some medicines can affect how well it works
- It doesn’t interrupt sex because you can have sex with the ring in place
- It will provide contraception for a month so you don’t have to think about it everyday
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