What is an IUD?
An IUD is a small, T-shaped device that is made from a flexible plastic and is used to prevent pregnancy. There are two kinds of IUDs. The ParaGard IUD contains copper and the Mirena IUD contains the hormone progestin. The ParaGard IUD can be used as an emergency birth control if it is inserted within the first 5 days after unprotected sex.
How does it work?
IUDs are inserted in a woman’s uterus by a health care provider to protect against pregnancy. Both the ParaGard and the Mirena IUDs affect the way sperm move to prevent the sperm from joining with an egg and fertilizing it. IUDs also change the lining of the uterus, which is thought to prevent a fertilized egg from attaching to the wall of the uterus.
The progestin hormone in the Mirena IUD prevents pregnancy by keeping a woman’s ovaries from releasing eggs (ovulation). If there are no eggs for the sperm to fertilize, then pregnancy cannot happen. Progestin also thickens a woman’s cervical mucus to help block sperm from entering the uterus and joining an egg.
How effective is it?
IUDs are one of the most effective methods of birth control. Less than 1 out of 100 women using ParaGard or Mirena will get pregnant each year.
What are the benefits of using IUDs?
- While the initial cost may seem expensive, over time IUDs are the least expensive and longest lasting method of birth control.
- ParaGard works for 10 years; Mirena works for 5 years.
- You do not have to remember to take it every day/week/month or every time you have sex.
- An IUD is a good option for women who cannot use estrogen or women who are breastfeeding.
- The ParaGard IUD (copper) does not affect your hormone levels.
- The Mirena IUD (progestin) may reduce cramps and make your period lighter. For some women, periods may stop altogether.
- Your ability to become pregnant quickly returns after the IUD is removed.
What are the downsides of using it?
- IUDs do not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
- Mild to moderate pain; you may have cramps and backache for a few days after the IUD is inserted.
- Spotting between periods for the first 3-6 months.
- Mirena- you may have irregular periods during the first 3–6 months.
- ParaGard- you may have heavier periods and increased cramping, which is worst in the first 6 months after insertion.
- The IUD may slip out of the uterus, either partially or completely. If it comes out even a little bit, it must be removed. If the IUD slips out, pregnancy can happen.
How do I check my IUD?
You should check your IUD every month to make sure it has not slipped out. An IUD is most likely to slip out of place during your period. IUDs have strings attached to them. Between periods you can check for the strings:
- Wash your hands.
- Sit or squat down.
- Put your index or middle finger up into your vagina until you touch the cervix.
- Feel for the string ends that should be coming through. If you find them, then the IUD is in place and working.
- If the strings feel longer or shorter than before, or you feel the hard, plastic part of the IUD against your cervix, the IUD may have moved.
- The IUD should be put back in place by your health care provider. Do not try to put the IUD back in place on your own.
- If the IUD has slipped out or moved, be sure to use a backup method of birth control until you see your health care provider.
Where can I get an IUD?
A ParaGard or Mirena IUD must be inserted by a trained health care provider in a doctor’s office or clinic. Your health care provider can help you decide if an IUD is right for you. The ParaGard IUD ranges in price from $175 to $650 upfront and lasts up to 10 years. The Mirena IUD is slightly more expensive and costs $250-$950 upfront; it lasts up to 5 years.
You should check your IUD once per month (ie. after you have your period) to make sure it is still in place.
You should not use an IUD if you:
- have or may have a sexually transmitted infection or other pelvic infection
- think you might be pregnant
- have cervical or uterine cancer
- have unexplained vaginal bleeding
- are or may be allergic to copper (ParaGard IUD only)
Where can I get more information?
For more information about IUDs, talk to yourhealth care provider. You can also get reliable information from the following websites:
Association of Reproductive Health Professionals
Disclaimer: This document is for informational purposes only and is not intended to take the place of the care and attention of your personal physician or other professional medical services. Talk with your health care provider if you have questions about individual health concerns or specific treatment options.