Are you ready to get personal? We’re all about the health of our whole selves around here, and for many women, that includes family planning. It’s time to talk birth control – specifically, intrauterine devices (IUDs).
IUDs are a form of long-acting birth control with outstanding benefits – they are incredibly effective, low maintenance, and last for years. The modern version of the IUD has only recently risen to prominence, driven partially by 2012 support from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists as a safe and appropriate form of birth control. In the same year, a provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) made IUDs affordable to most women in the United States for the first time in history. The popularity of IUDs soared even higher later, when the outcome of 2016 election threatened that the ACA would go away.
Considering an IUD? Here’s what you need to know.
You’ll need to talk to your doctor to determine if getting an IUD is right for you. Here are a few considerations to help with that conversation.
- There are two types of IUDs, hormonal and copper (non-hormonal) – both are T-shaped devices that are inserted into a woman’s cervix to prevent pregnancy. Hormonal IUDs are plastic, and use the hormone progestin to prevent pregnancy. There are four types of hormonal IUDs, ranging in duration of effectiveness from three to six years. The non-hormonal IUD can be effective for up to 10 years, and prevents pregnancy by releasing copper, which prevents sperm from reaching an egg.
- IUDs are incredibly effective at preventing pregnancy – more than 99% – because you can’t mess them up by forgetting to take a pill or change your NuvaRing.
- On the flip side, IUDs do absolutely nothing to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs), so you’ll need a condom unless you and your partner have recently tested negative on having any STIs.
- An IUD must be inserted by a medical professional, which means it takes a little planning (more on that below)
- You may experience spotting or irregular periods in the first three to six months after getting an IUD. Eventually, hormonal IUDs can lighten periods and reduce cramps. Some women stop menstruating altogether!
- IUDs are easily reversible. When an IUD is removed (by a nurse or doctor), women are able to start trying to get pregnant almost immediately.
- IUDs aren’t for everyone. There are risks associated with IUD insertion, including expulsion and perforation of the cervix. Talk to your doctor to understand the risks and decide if an IUD is right for you.
How to get an IUD
Getting an IUD takes planning, and then becomes very low maintenance. There are a few steps to follow to start using an IUD as your method of birth control.
Talk to your doctor
Schedule a consultation with your OB-GYN to identify if you’re a good candidate for getting an IUD. Your doctor will discuss options and potential risks, and help you decide between copper or a hormonal IUD. IUDs can cost between $0 and $1,300; check with your insurance to confirm if any or all of the IUD options are covered on your policy. Either at your consultation or on the day of your appointment, you’ll be tested for undiagnosed STIs. Women with some STIs who get an IUD are more likely to develop pelvic inflammatory disease.
Prepare for your appointment
Planned Parenthood recommends preparing for your appointment by eating something prior to arriving at the doctor’s office, and taking 800mg of ibuprofen about 20-30 minutes before you arrive. Ibuprofen will help ease cramping during and after the appointment.
Getting Your IUD
You may need STI and/or pregnancy testing on the day of your appointment. Next, the insertion will begin like a standard gynecological appointment. The doctor uses a speculum and a special tube-shaped inserter to place the IUD in your cervix. When the IUD goes in, the sides of the “T” are folded down, and will open up when the device is in your cervix. After the IUD has been inserted, the doctor will snip the device’s strings so that they’re not bothersome. The procedure will not take more than a few minutes, and can range from being uncomfortable to very painful.
After your appointment
You may experience cramping and backaches after the appointment. Take the rest of the day to relax and watch TV (doctor’s orders!). Your doctor will also give you instructions on if you should wait to use a tampon or have sex, and if follow up appointments are required. She’ll also provide directions on monitoring the IUD’s placement. IUDs are mostly likely to expel in the first three months following insertion.
What is getting an IUD really like – does it hurt?
From my personal experience, yes, getting an IUD hurts, and can be rough on your body. At my appointment, I experienced a few minutes of moderate pain and a few seconds of what I’d consider severe pain. Then, just like that, it was over. In my recovery, I experienced bad cramping, and even threw up when I walked the mile home from the women’s clinic.
But… was it worth it? Absolutely. I love the security of knowing I don’t have to worry about my own human error to take a pill every day, and it feels great knowing I am in control of what happens to my body.
If you think an IUD might be right for you, talk to your doctor.