The IUD (Intrauterine Device)can be a great birth control option, but it’s not for everyone. How do you know if it’s right for you? Here are answers to some common questions about the it and ideas for additional topics to discuss with your healthcare provider.
What is an IUD?
The IUD is a small device shaped like a T that is inserted into the uterus. The T-portion is about as thick as a tampon string with thin flexible arms on the side that keep it in place. It is long-acting, meaning that it provides protection from pregnancy over time. But it is reversible, and it has a small string attached to the bottom so it can be removed. There are different versions of the IUD including:
- Paragard (copper)
- Mirena (hormonal)
- Skyla (hormonal)
How does it work?
Pregnancy happens when a sperm joins an egg. IUDs work by releasing copper or hormones that prevent sperm from reaching and joining with eggs.
Where do you get it?
Healthcare facilities. An IUD must be inserted by an experienced healthcare provider.
How effective is it?
It is over 99% effective in preventing pregnancy. Important to note: an IUD will not protect you against sexually transmitted infections.
How long does it last?
It depends on which type you get. The Mirena can stay in for 5 years. The Skyla is a little smaller and can stay in for 3 years. The copper IUD is called Paragard and can stay in place for 10 years. You can change your mind at any time after having it put in though and have your doctor take it out. (It doesn’t hurt to have them removed.)
What are the advantages over other birth control methods?
Once an IUD is inserted, you don’t have to remember to do anything with your birth control for years after it is placed. That means it’s a great option if you have difficulty remembering to refresh or take other birth control. It also provides more privacy and less risk of someone finding your birth control because there is no packaging or pills for you to keep at home. If you have an IUD, you also have fewer required follow-up visits because you don’t need to request refills.
Does it have side effects?
Once your body gets used to the IUD being there, there aren’t many side effects. There is a less that 1% chance of complications from the insertion, but a more than 99% chance that it will go great.
The hormonal IUD can cause a little breast tenderness while your body gets used to it. Unlike the other hormonal types of birth control, like the pill or the patch, the hormone doesn’t really affect the rest of your body. It is only inside the uterus, and most women don’t notice any changes with it other than lighter periods or no periods at all. You will still have normal “cycles” with your body’s normal hormones, but the hormone IUD makes it so there is no lining building up in your uterus during the month. So when it comes time to have your period there is little, if anything, in there to bleed. Yay!
If you don’t like the thought of that, the copper IUD can cause periods that are a little heavier and crampier, but you will still get a period every month.
You will have a follow-up visit about 6 weeks after it is inserted to make sure it is still in the right place. It is most common for them to shift in the first 6 weeks after it is placed. This doesn’t happen very often, but your doc will want to make sure it didn’t shift or come out so that they know you are protected from pregnancy.
Does it hurt to have it placed?
A health care provider places the IUD inside the uterus using a skinny tube. It can feel pretty crampy and uncomfortable to have it placed. Most docs offer you prescription medicine to take before you have it put in so that it hurts less. Definitely ask your doc about medication to take beforehand if you are thinking about getting one. It can also cause some random cramping on and off for about a week or so after it is placed that can feel like strong period cramps. Usually an ibuprofen will take care of it.
How soon after I get an IUD can I have sex?
It depends which kind of IUD you have and where you are in your cycle when you get it inserted. So, before you ditch the condoms, you’ll want to check with your provider to be sure you are protected. The Paragard is usually effective right away, but the hormonal versions can take a little longer and you may need to use an additional form of birth control for a period of time. Check with your provider to be sure.
Does the IUD prevent STDs and STIs?
Just saying it again…Nope. The IUD won’t protect you against STD, just pregnancy. If you get gonorrhea or chlamydia with an IUD in place, you can get a pelvic infection. Bottom line, you don’t want gonorrhea or chlamydia anyway (or herpes, or HIV, or any of the other STDs out there). You still need to use a condom and/or other barrier method to protect yourself from STDs.
Will it help with my cramps?
After the initial cramping of having the IUD put in goes away, the IUD with hormone in it is surprisingly good at decreasing cramps associated with your period. The copper one can make cramps a little worse. So if you tend to have heavy periods with cramps, the IUD with hormone may be a better bet. If you don’t want any hormones at all and have light periods, then you would be fine with the copper IUD.
Will it make it harder for me to get pregnant later?
No. It is a completely reversible form of birth control. Once it is removed, you can get pregnant.
If you’re thinking of getting an IUD, be ready to have an open conversation with your healthcare provider. Ask questions, voice any concerns, and be honest about any past health issues so that you can have the best experience possible!