Why IUDs are the New Birth Control Pill
We’re just going to come right out and say it: The birth control pill feels like a thing of the past. Don’t get us wrong, it was great while it lasted but all good things must come to an end eventually. No need to worry though, because we’re here to tell you that there is something MUCH better waiting for you. Intrauterine devices (otherwise known as IUDs) are where it’s at in 2020. This form of birth control is not only hassle-free, it’s more effective than the pill at preventing pregnancy. Whether you’re like us and have never been able to master the whole “take it at the same time everyday thing,” or you have a different reason for being fed up with the pill, we hear you, and we urge you to consider making a switch. IUDs are soaring in popularity and as you read on, you’ll quickly understand why. From the misconceptions surrounding the safety of IUDs to the possible side effect of shorter and lighter periods (yes, please!), keep scrolling to learn all there is to know about IUD birth control.
Are IUDs safe?
Despite what you may have heard, today’s IUDs are considered both safe and effective for almost all women, making them an excellent method of birth control. However, like all forms of birth control, there are some risks associated with IUDs. Perforation is one such risk, whereby the device gets stuck in or punctures the wall of the uterus. If this happens (though it is quite rare), the IUD should be removed as soon as possible. Expulsion, where the IUD is pushed out of the uterus, is another risk. Sometimes it is only partially expelled, other times it is fully expelled into the vagina. If this happens, it puts you at risk for pregnancy, so it should be removed and re-inserted by a doctor. If you were to get pregnant with an IUD in, which again is very rare, it is a bit more likely that the pregnancy could be ectopic. Lastly, it is possible to get an infection if bacteria gets into the uterus when the IUD is inserted. Ultimately, all of these risks are all extremely low, but your doctor should explain each of them to you in person, so be sure to ask any questions you may have.
How do I choose which IUD is right for me?
There are two types of IUDs on the market today: hormonal and copper. In order to decide which type is right for you, you really have to speak to a medical professional. Your decision may ultimately come down to personal preference, but a doctor may also have a strong recommendation one way or the other based on your medical history, which is really what matters most. Both types are said to be equally effective at over 99%, so the real differences lie in the possible side effects, the length of time they last, and the way in which they prevent pregnancy.
Hormonal IUDs, such as Mirena, Liletta, and Skyla, release a hormone called levonorgestrel, a form of progestin. This prevents pregnancy by damaging or killing sperm. It makes the mucus in the cervix thick and sticky to the point that sperm can’t penetrate it. Hormonal IUDs also prevent the lining of the uterus from growing very thick, which makes it a less than ideal spot for a fertilized egg to grow. In contrast, copper IUDs like ParaGard, use copper wire as a form of contraception. In copper IUDs, a piece of copper wire is actually wound around the stem of the device before being inserted. Copper is toxic to sperm, and the copper wire makes the uterus and fallopian tubes produce a fluid that effectively kills sperm. In essence, both hormonal and copper IUDs prevent pregnancy by killing sperm, they just achieve this goal in different ways. Fun fact about copper IUDs: In addition to being a long-lasting and effective birth control method, they can also be used as emergency contraception. If a copper IUD is inserted within 5 days of unprotected sex, it is more than 99.9% effective.
It’s also important to note that IUDs aren’t for everyone, which is why a consultation with your doctor is necessary. For example, copper IUDs are a definite no-go for those with copper allergies or Wilson’s disease (a disorder where too much copper builds up in the body). Conversely, doctors will not recommend a hormonal IUD if you have liver disease, breast cancer, or are at high risk for contracting breast cancer. In rare cases, the shape or size of the uterus may not be conducive to placing an IUD. Further, IUDs of any variety generally aren’t recommended for women who are pregnant, have cervical or uterine cancer, experience unexplained vaginal bleeding, or those who have or recently had a pelvic infection or STI. (Oh, and while we’re on the topic, IUDs do NOT protect against STIs, so this is not an excuse to start ditching condoms.)
How is an IUD inserted?
An IUD must always be inserted by a healthcare professional. It is a simple outpatient procedure that takes roughly 15 minutes from start to finish. However, the actual insertion part only takes a couple minutes. During the course of the procedure, your doctor will insert a speculum into the vagina (just like they do for a pap smear). From there, they will use a special inserter to put the IUD through the cervix and into the uterus. (For those that don’t know, an IUD is a small piece of flexible plastic that is about the size of a quarter and is shaped like a “T”.) Once the procedure is complete, you can head on home. The post-procedure experience varies from woman to woman. Some feel completely fine to go about their day, while others may have some cramping or a backache. In this case, we recommend not making any plans on the day of the procedure, beyond curling up on your couch with a Netflix show to binge.
Does it hurt to get an IUD put in?
While everyone’s experience is their own, we are happy to report that having an IUD inserted typically only causes mild to moderate discomfort. Many women liken the feeling to period cramps. Thus, pain associated with the procedure is generally not something you need to worry too much about, especially given that the whole thing only takes a minute or two. But if you are concerned, ask your doctor about taking pain medicine in advance of the procedure. They may also offer to inject a local numbing medicine around your cervix.
How soon will the IUD start working after being inserted and how long does it stay in?
Some doctors recommend scheduling the IUD insertion during your period, as the cervix is most open at this time. Depending on if you get it put in while on your period or not, and which type of IUD you get, it will either start working immediately or within seven days of insertion. Even better? Once the IUD procedure is complete, the device can stay in your uterus without needing to be replaced for three to five years if it’s a hormonal IUD, or three to ten years if it’s a copper IUD. Of course, if you wish to have it removed for any reason, such as you want to have a baby, the removal procedure can be scheduled anytime. Good news: Removing an IUD is even quicker and easier than inserting it, and is usually less painful as well!
Will I still get my period when on an IUD?
In most cases, yes, but whatever your period “normal” was before will likely change, at least temporarily. Many women who opted for a copper IUD reported heavier periods and worse cramping, especially in the first few months. Oppositely, one selling point for hormonal IUDs is that they may actually lighten and shorten periods, but on the flip side, they may make your period more irregular. Further, there is a small chance that women using hormonal IUDs may have their period stop altogether for up to a year. All of these menstruation side effects typically only occur in the first three to twelve months after insertion, and they aren’t usually a cause for concern. Of course, if the period pain you experience following the insertion of a copper IUD is extreme, or if you experience any of these symptoms well beyond one year, be sure to consult your doctor.
We hope this article has opened your eyes to the world of intrauterine devices. Though they might not be for everyone, they do provide some pretty undeniable benefits that stand to make preventing unwanted pregnancy easier than ever before.
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