If you’ve been doing your research, you are probably already aware of the different forms of birth control. From the pill to the patch and the good (or not-so-good) condom options, they may all seem like they are less-than-ideal.
Maybe you’ve even tried the pill or other options, but don’t love the idea of having to remember to take something every day or even every month.
Have you ever thought about getting an Intrauterine Device (IUD) for birth control? There are many IUD choices on the market, some of which are newer, and you may not know about.
Read on for more information about what IUDs are, how they work, how they differ, and how you can make the best decision for yourself concerning IUDs as the ideal birth control option.
What Exactly is an IUD?
IUDs are small devices that are permanently placed in the uterus to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Unlike most other options, IUDs are both long-term and reversible.
And as far as birth control effectiveness goes, they are also believed to be at least 99% effective, if not more. Unlike condoms, they are not prone to breakage, leaks, or other types of human mistakes that can affect their overall efficacy.
They are also not “forgettable” – that is, they are permanent and working all the time, so you can’t forget to insert them or take them, as you could a diaphragm or pill, respectively. You can have one inserted and forget about it for years.
It’s important to note that IUDs do not protect against STDs.
How Safe Are IUDs?
IUDs got a bad rep back in the day when they were first introduced, and there were some complications. But since then they’ve come a long way.
Strict screening also comes along with wearing an IUD so that on the very small chance of infection, your gynecologist can treat it right away.
Some people might wonder if the copper in IUDs like ParaGard could cause problems in the body, but there shouldn’t be much to worry about as there is no evidence that there’s enough copper for it to be toxic.
Side effects like pain, cramping, spotting, and irregular periods, as well as regular periods, do happen with some IUD users. These should only occur in the first several months.
There is a risk of expulsion — that is, the IUD may come out of the vagina. While there is only a small chance of this (though it may be more likely for younger women), most experts conclude that IUDs are a safe and effective birth control method and that the risks of unwanted or dangerous pregnancies associated with other methods far outweigh the very low risks associated with the IUD.
Getting an IUD Inserted
If you’re wondering what getting an IUD feels like, here’s a bit of an overview. Some women will feel more discomfort than others, of course. In addition, sometimes you may be offered medicine to help open the cervix and numb the pain.
With a speculum, a gynecologist will put the IUD in through the cervix and into the uterus. It only takes a few minutes on average and can be done at any time. Some women feel pain or cramping as it’s being inserted, and if this is the case, pain medication can be prescribed.
There’s a small chance that you will feel dizzy or have more severe cramps after the time of insertion, and for this reason, your gynecologist will recommend that someone pick you up after the surgery.
Most of the time there is no recovery time, but you may have cramps so treat it like a period and schedule some rest just in case.
The Different Types of IUDs
There are a few different types of IUDs. Some IUDs are hormone-free, and some secrete low doses of progesterone to prevent pregnancy. All of them essentially “kill” sperm on the way to the uterus, making pregnancy impossible.
ParaGard is a copper, non-hormonal option and is the most effective – it can even serve as emergency contraception if you get it five days after unprotected sex, and in this case, you can also opt to keep it in.
The other four are hormonal and use progestin (like progesterone) for pregnancy prevention. If size is an issue, newer models are coming out with smaller sizes than earlier models, so ask your doctor if you think a smaller option may be a better fit.
Taking care of yourself throughout your pregnancy is the best way to help your baby to have a healthy start. Including some form of physical activity in your daily routine can improve your overall health and fitness, which will be good for your baby. One thing to keep in mind is that pregnancy is not the time to exercise with the intention of losing weight.
For most women, exercise during pregnancy is safe, particularly if you were physically active before you became pregnant. If you are healthy, it is probably safe to start or continue an exercise program during pregnancy, but it’s best to talk to your obstetrician to make sure he or she doesn’t have any concerns or restrictions that you should follow.
Benefits of Exercise
Exercise can do more than improve your overall physical fitness. Here are some of the other benefits of exercise
- Helps improve your mood
- Can help you sleep better
- May relieve bloating and constipation
- Can decrease back pain
- Increases your energy level
- Improves your posture
- Can help you not to gain excess weight
- May increase your strength and fitness and ultimately make it easier to cope with labor
Exercise may also make it easier for you to lose the pregnancy weight after the baby is born.
Choosing an Exercise During Your Pregnancy
If you were doing an exercise program before you got pregnant, you will probably be able to continue doing the same activities. If exercise is new to you, start slowly. Your OBGYN will give you some suggestions of exercises that are safe. Walking is one of the best exercises to help you to be more active without overdoing it. Yoga, swimming, and stretching exercises can also be very beneficial during your pregnancy.
You will want to avoid high-intensity aerobics, jumping or contact sports. Make sure to drink plenty of water and be careful not to hold your breath during exercise. Don’t exercise to the point of exhaustion or try to ignore warning signs that your body gives you such as pain or lightheadedness.
Conditions That May Make Exercise During Pregnancy Unsafe
There are certain conditions that may make it risky to exercise during pregnancy. Your OBGYN will probably advise against exercise if you have an existing health problem, such as heart disease or lung disease. If you have severe anemia or hypertension, you may also be cautioned against exercise.
If you are carrying multiples, your doctor may advise against exercise because of the risk of going into preterm labor. Other conditions may become apparent as your pregnancy progresses that make exercise no longer safe, such as preeclampsia or placenta previa after 26 weeks of pregnancy.
Considerations as Pregnancy Progresses
As your pregnancy progresses, there are other considerations that may affect your ability to exercise. The extra weight you are gaining shifts your center of gravity and increases your risk of falling. Hormones cause joints to become more mobile which could lead to pain or injury.
As your uterus grows, you may find that you are more and more short of breath. This may make it more difficult to do any type of strenuous exercise.
Signs That You Should Stop Exercising
There are certain signs that indicate you should stop exercising right away. These signs include:
- Leaking fluid or blood from the vagina
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Pain or swelling in the calf
- Painful or regular uterine contractions
If you experience any of these symptoms, call your OB/GYN right away. Throughout your pregnancy, keep in contact with your obstetrician and communicate how much you are exercising and how you are feeling.
Prenatal testing will go on throughout your pregnancy. Most tests are routine and not uncomfortable, and they will give your obstetrician a lot of valuable information regarding your health and the health of your baby. The intention of most of these prenatal tests is to confirm that everything is just fine, but they also aim to identify any complications that may be developing.
For most women, exercise during pregnancy is safe, particularly if you were physically active before you became pregnant. If you are healthy, it is probably safe to start or continue an exercise program during pregnancy, but it’s best to talk to your obstetrician to make sure he or she doesn’t have any concerns or restrictions that you should follow.The first trimester of pregnancy is a time of important development for your baby. Your OBGYN will want to make sure that everything is moving along exactly as it should.
The first round of prenatal bloodwork will check to make sure you are in good health, and it will look for conditions that could affect your pregnancy. Your blood type will be checked, and your OBGYN will make sure you don’t have anemia. Your obstetrician will also check your Rh factor, a protein in the blood cells. If you are Rh-negative and your fetus is Rh-positive, this can lead to incompatibility problems, which your doctor will want to prevent.
This initial bloodwork will also check for conditions such as syphilis, Hepatitis B, and HIV and will check your immunity for German measles.
You will have a urine test at your first prenatal visit and probably at every subsequent visit as well. In early pregnancy, your urine can be tested for the hCG level, which will confirm you are pregnant. Your OBGYN will also look for signs of kidney infection, glucose or albumin to identify possible problems with gestational diabetes or high blood pressure. Your urine will continue to be monitored for abnormalities throughout your pregnancy.
Do You Want Genetic Testing?
As the first trimester approaches its completion, your obstetrician may ask you if you want genetic testing. These tests are not 100% accurate but may give information on whether your baby is at risk for certain congenital conditions.
You may prefer to decline this and just let the pregnancy run its course rather than going through the stress of trying to detect possible problems. If you do decide to go through with genetic testing, you should discuss all the options and possible complications with your doctor.
Some genetic tests are non-invasive and work like a specialized ultrasound. One or more of these tests may be offered to you, particularly if you are over 35. Non-invasive tests don’t pose any risk to you or the fetus. They screen for chromosomal abnormalities such as spina bifida and Down syndrome. If abnormalities are detected, further testing may be recommended, because screening tests don’t actually diagnose. An abnormal result on a screening test sometimes proves to be false.
Amniocentesis or CVS
Amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling (CVS) are examples of tests that are more invasive. They take samples of the amniotic fluid or placenta to more accurately diagnose genetic abnormalities or genetic defects such as sickle cell anemia, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy or Down syndrome. CVS is performed during the first trimester and amniocentesis would be done during the second trimester. A genetic counselor may be able to help you decide if you want to go through with one of these tests.
Early in pregnancy an ultrasound can be useful to confirm viability and get accurate dating. If you are unclear when your last period was, an ultrasound can be used at around eight to ten weeks of pregnancy to estimate your due date. Or your obstetrician may wait until the second trimester to do this non-invasive diagnostic test. You will most likely have an additional ultrasound in each of your second and third trimesters to monitor fetal development and screen for any potential problems.
All your testing options should be discussed with your OBGYN so that you understand what tests are being run and why.
High blood pressure is a condition that can lead to dangerous complications while you are pregnant, and it’s especially concerning for women who have been diagnosed with chronic hypertension before the pregnancy or develop hypertension before reaching 20 weeks of pregnancy.
High blood pressure during pregnancy can be a sign of preeclampsia which is a very serious complication of pregnancy. Hypertension can worsen during pregnancy and lead to other complications such as kidney or liver problems, stroke or seizures. Your obstetrician will always closely monitor your blood pressure and will give you suggestions for managing your blood pressure while you are pregnant.
How High is Too High?
High blood pressure means that as blood pushes against the walls of your blood vessels, the force is too high on a consistent basis. When you have hypertension, your blood pressure is consistently elevated, meaning the heart and blood vessels are working harder and less efficiently.
Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80 mm Hg. Stage one of hypertension means that the top number of your blood pressure reading is between 130 and 139, while the bottom number is 80 to 89. In stage two, the top number is 140 or higher, and the bottom number is 90 or higher. Anything over 180/120 is considered hypertensive.
Taking Charge of Your Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is sometimes brought on by unhealthy habits. There are certain lifestyle changes you can make that may help to reduce blood pressure. If you are a smoker, it is a great time to quit, and your doctor will be happy to help you work toward that. Avoid alcohol, caffeine and illicit drugs, and discuss any over-the-counter medicines with your OBGYN before taking them.
While you will gain weight during your pregnancy, take care not to gain too much. Keeping all your prenatal appointments will help you to keep a close eye on your weight gain and your blood pressure and will allow your obstetrician to continue to monitor your health as well as the health of your baby.
Your daily food choices should include fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy. Use saturated fats and cholesterol sparingly, and limit the amount of fried food that you eat. Avoid salt and high sodium foods and try not to eat much fast food. Include foods that are high in potassium to help balance out the negative effects of salt. These foods include bananas, baked potatoes, baked sweet potatoes, and spinach.
Try to include some form of physical activity during your pregnancy if possible. Discuss what your options are for physical activity with your OBGYN. If you have developed preeclampsia, your doctor may recommend bed rest.
Take Blood Pressure Medications
If you are already being treated for hypertension before your pregnancy or if medication has been prescribed during your pregnancy, be sure to take it as prescribed. Your doctor will be monitoring your medication and will prescribe the best medication for you at the safest dose during pregnancy.
Learn Relaxation Techniques
Stress and tension can make high blood pressure get worse, so learn ways to calm feelings of anxiety during your pregnancy. Take time to sit quietly and breathe deeply. Learning breathing techniques can help reduce feelings of stress.
When you have hypertension, your pregnancy will be classified as high risk because of the potential for serious complications. It is important to do whatever you can to make healthy choices and to take good care of yourself during your pregnancy. Taking care of your own health is the best way to take care of your unborn child.
When you have decided you are finished having children, you don’t want to worry about getting pregnant each month. There are a variety of options for both long-term and permanent birth control. The best gynecologist will be happy to discuss all possible options for safe use of birth control and offer recommendations.
Intrauterine Device (IUD)
An intrauterine device or IUD is a tiny device shaped like a T. Those that are wrapped in copper can prevent pregnancy for as long as 10 years. Other IUDs use the hormone progestin to prevent pregnancy and can be effective for three to six years. IUDs prevent pregnancy by preventing sperm cells from making it to an egg. While this choice is very effective at pregnancy prevention, the device can be removed, giving you an opportunity to get pregnant in the future if you should have a change of heart.
If you are sure that your child-bearing days are behind you, tubal ligation, also known as getting your tubes tied, is a method of permanent birth control. It is done under general anesthesia, and it involves closing off the fallopian tubes by having them clipped, clamped or cauterized. In most cases, the procedure can’t be reversed.
EssureⓇ is a form of permanent female sterilization. It’s a nonsurgical alternative to getting your tubes tied. It involves having an implant with soft, flexible metal and fiber coils inserted through the vagina and cervix. They are placed on the fallopian tubes so that scar tissue will form and prevent fertilization of an egg. There will be a waiting period of three months in which alternative forms of birth control will need to be used to be sure the scar tissue has formed.
While some women have been satisfied with EssureⓇ as a permanent birth control alternative to an invasive surgical procedure, in recent years, many women have come forward to report unpleasant side effects such as cramping, dizziness, and pelvic pain. Others have experienced allergic reactions, and some have gotten pregnant after the procedure. Talk to your gynecologist to determine if this is a good option for you.
Birth Control Pills
If you are reluctant to choose permanent birth control even though you feel sure your child-bearing days are over, birth control pills remain one of the most effective methods of preventing unwanted pregnancy. The biggest drawback is the fact that you have to remember to take the pill each day at approximately the same time. As long as you do that, they are extremely effective. There are many options to choose from, including progestin-only pills and pills that are a combination of estrogen and progestin.
If you are looking for a form of birth control that prevents ovulation but you don’t have to remember to take a pill every day, consider hormone shots. These shots are given every three months and are a very effective choice for preventing pregnancy.
Vasectomy is the permanent form of male birth control. If your partner elects to have a vasectomy, the procedure will be performed in a doctor’s office. The vas deferens will be tied, cut or sealed which stops sperm from traveling from the testicles to the penis. The sperm remains in the testicles and is reabsorbed by the body. There will be a three-month waiting period to be sure the procedure has been effective. A vasectomy may be able to be reversed if an individual changes his mind in the future.
Choosing a method of contraception and deciding whether to use permanent or temporary methods is a personal choice that should be discussed with your gynecologist.