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. Of course if you’ve had a bad reaction or known allergy to copper in the past, you should be sure to disclose that information to your provider when discussing IUD options.
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.
How Do IUDs Work?
Most IUDs will typically work in one of two ways.
- Hormone-based IUDs will effectively thicken mucus n the cervix. This makes it difficult for sperm to reach the egg and begin the fertilization process. Additionally, the hormones will thin the lining of the uterus while also partially suppresses ovulation. These two processes, together, help ensure fertilization does not occur. Mirena, Liletta and Kyleena are examples of a hormone-based IUD.
- Copper-based IUDs will instead produce an inflammatory response in the local area of the body. This inflammation creates an environment that is inhospitable to sperm cells. Because the sperm cannot survive, fertilization and pregnancy is prevented. ParaGard is an example of a copper-based IUD.
Both hormone and copper based IUDs work to prevent fertilization from occurring at any point.
However, if fertilization does occur while an IUD is in place, there is a high chance for the development of an ectopic pregnancy, so you should talk to your OBGYN if you think you might be pregnant or have taken a positive pregnancy test.
What Are The Benefits of IUDs?
IUDs are a popular contraceptive option for a wide variety of reasons. Some of the most significant reasons include:
- Long term birth control: You don’t need to think about taking a pill every day or interrupting sex due to the need for contraception. What’s more, most IUDs can remain in place for anywhere between 5-10 years (depending on the type).
- Regulation of severe periods: Many women who have heavy periods end up using IUDs to help manage their discomfort and symptoms (for somewhere around 20% of women, IUDs will eliminate their period altogether).
- You can remove an IUD at any time: Your OBGYN can remove your IUD at any time (you may want local anesthesia depending on your comfort level). Once your IUD is removed, your normal fertility will usually return within a few days.
- You can also use your IUD while breastfeeding: Most physicians recommend waiting 6-8 weeks after you deliver your baby to insert a new IUD, however.
- IUDs are contraceptives that do not require partner participation: This means you remain in control of your reproductive choices. For many women, this is a significant and much appreciated benefit.
- IUDs do not use estrogen: IUDs are often a safe and effective option when other options are not able to be used because they do not use estrogen. Estrogen methods of birth control can be contraindicated in individuals with hypertension, smokers, history of bleeding disorders and other medical conditions.