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Contraceptive Pearl: Minimizing Gaps in Contraceptive Coverage

Many unintended pregnancies happen during a gap between contraceptive methods – that is, at a time when women have stopped one method (due to cost, side effects, a negative newspaper article, a new prescription plan, etc.) without starting a new method.  These gaps often occur during life transitions: changes in job, relationship, housing, etc.  Women who have trouble reaching their clinician by phone are at higher risk for contraceptive gaps.

How can we prevent contraceptive gaps?  We should make certain that patients have a way to reach us easily with their problems, questions, and concerns.  A small and timely dose of reassurance may be all a patient needs to wait out minor side effects.  But when reassurance isn’t enough, we can offer advice about how to switch methods without raising the risk of unintended pregnancy.

What’s the best way to switch from one contraceptive method to another?  It depends.  Some transitions require a brief period of overlap – that is, a period of 1 to 7 days when the patient uses both methods together.  The fact sheet below outlines which transitions require overlap.  If you find this overly complex, use a simple, universal method for switching: advise women to go straight from the old methods to the new method, using condoms or spermicide for the first 7 days.

We appreciate your feedback! Please write us at with any questions, comments or additional resources to add to our list.


Helpful Resources

Fact Sheet: Switching Birth Control Methods


Grady WR, Billy J, Klepinger D. Contraceptive method switching in the United States. Perpectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, Seattle, May/June 2002. 34 (3)

Frost JJ, Darroch JE, Remezz L. Improving contraceptive use in the United States. Issues Brief (Alan Guttmacher Inst). 2008; (1):1-8.


The Reproductive Health Access Project does not accept funding from pharmaceutical companies. We do not promote specific brands of medication or contraception. The information in the Contraceptive Pearls is unbiased, based on science alone.