IUDs are short for intrauterine device. They are small, plastic, and T shaped – designed to sit inside your uterus. They are also one of the most effective methods of birth control on the market. So what else do you need to know about IUDs? Read on for all the deets.
How do IUDs work?
There are two main types of IUDs – hormonal and non-hormonal. Hormonal IUDs have progesterone that is released in very small amounts every day.
This progesterone prevents pregnancy in three ways:
1. Prevents ovulation most of the time
2. Causes the lining of the uterus to stay thin which prevents a potential pregnancy from implanting
3. Thickens the cervical mucus to prevent sperm from even getting to your beautiful eggs.
The non hormonal IUD on the other hand has copper coils that prevent pregnancy. The copper works by causing an inflammatory reaction inside the uterus – and no this doesn’t hurt your uterus – but it does confuse the heck out of the sperm. These poor guys have no idea where to swim and can’t make it up to the prize egg. No sperm meeting egg = no pregnancy. Pretty simple!
There are 4 progesterone IUDs on the market – Mirena, Liletta, Kyleena, and Skyla.
There is only 1 non-hormonal IUD on the market – Paragard
How effective are they?
VERY effective! I like to tell my patients that the hormonal IUDs are even more effective than getting your tubes tied! And it’s true – the chances of pregnancy when you have a hormonal IUD in place is about 0.1%. The chances of pregnancy after having SURGERY to have your tubes tied is less than 1%
Copper IUDs are also very effective – chances of pregnancy with this method is about 0.6%
How long do they last?
Mirena and Liletta last for up to 6 years
Kyleena lasts up to 5 years
Skyla lasts up to 3 years
Paragard lasts up to 10 years
What’s it like to have one placed?
It hurts! But it’s pretty fast. The procedure to have an IUD placed feels like very intense period cramps for most women. But thankfully the procedure only takes about 5 minutes. You may feel nauseous or light headed initially from the sensation of moving your uterus and cervix around but these symptoms go away pretty quickly – usually 5 to 10 minutes after the procedure is over.
What’s it like to have one removed?
Super easy! One quick cramp and you’re done. It literally takes less than 1 minute.
Can you get one if you haven’t had a baby?
Absolutely! This is a very common misconception and is not true. IUDs can be great for females who haven’t had children. It’s really for anyone who wants long-term birth control that is very effective and you don’t have to think about.
Do they make it harder to get pregnant in the future?
Nope! Another great benefit of IUDs. There is no decrease in your long-term fertility. As soon as it is removed your fertility is restored and you can get pregnant right away
Are there other benefits to having an IUD?
Progesterone IUDs specifically have the benefit of making your period lighter and less crampy
It’s a great option to treat chronic pelvic pain and/or heavy periods
What are the negatives to having an IUD?
The main negative is that it’s a procedure to have placed so you do need to see your doctor for this. It also can be quite painful (but as I said, the pain is very short-lived).
Another negative if you choose a copper IUD is that this form of birth control makes your period heavier and more crampy. Probably not a big deal if your periods are relatively light and tolerable. But if you already have heavy, crampy periods, this likely isn’t the best choice for you.
Ok…so are you convinced? Are you ready to take the plunge and get your IUD?
If you’re still worried about insertion I’ll leave you with these final thoughts.
Ways to make IUD insertion less painful:
- Have it placed when you’re on your period – the cervix is already a bit open and it tends to make placement easier
- Take ibuprofen or another anti-inflammatory an hour or so before your appointment
- Make sure you eat before your appointment – having an IUD placed when you have an empty stomach tends to make the nausea and light-headedness worse
- Bring something to distract you – listen to music, play on your phone, etc.
- Try some deep breathing techniques or meditation. Remind yourself you are a strong and capable female and you are taking charge of your fertility!
Still not convinced? Stay tuned for more posts on birth control options. Your body. Your choice.
You can also check out bedsider.org for more helpful info.
Dr. Quimby is the co-founder of FemEd – a female health education platform that educates females of all ages about their bodies.
She is also a former professor at USC Keck school of Medicine where she led the OBGYN clerkship. She is passionate about education and empowering her patients and her students through knowledge and shared decision making.
She is currently a full time OBGYN at Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles.
Dr. Quimby has received accolades for teaching and leadership. She has been named Top Doctor by both Pasadena and Los Angeles Magazines. She is a regular speaker throughout the community giving talks to both the public and other physicians. She has contributed to LAist, SELF, and several other news media sources.
Her special interests include: preconception counseling and improving sexual health
When she’s not educating the public on all things female health she can be found traveling with her 2 young daughters and ever supportive husband.