Contraception: IUDs

For a long-term, completely reversible, almost 100% perfect form of contraception, you can’t do better than the IUD. IUD is the acronym for an Intrauterine Device. There are currently two types of IUDs that are available in the US. One is hormonal, the other is copper wrapped.

The copper wrapped IUD that is available in the US is called the Paragard. I personally have one. The Paragard is shaped like the letter T, and has copper wire wrapped around the plastic device. The Mirena is similar to the Paragard, but instead of using copper, it releases a form of the hormone progestin, just like a birth control pill.

Size Comparisons. The Mirena is on the right, the Paragard in the middle, and a standard US quarter on the left.

How does it work?

  • The arms of the T shape hold the device in place in your uterus.
  • For the Paragard, the copper on the IUD is toxic to sperm, and will cause your body to create an environment that will kill the sperm before it can fertilize an egg. It also irritates the lining of the uterus, and will lessen the likelihood of a fertilized egg to be able to implant in the uterus.
  • For the Mirena, just like with the birth control pill and other hormonal contraception, the hormones thicken the mucus in a woman’s cervix to impede sperm from travelling into the uterus. It also thins the lining of the uterus to make it an inhospitable place for a fertilized egg to implant.

How is it used?

  • A Gynecologist who has been trained in insertion will bend the arms of the IUD, and place it in a small hollow rod.
  • This rod is inserted into the uterus through the cervix, and the IUD is pushed inside the uterus. I was told in a class that it is preferable to do the insertion on the third day of a woman’s period, as her cervix will already be slightly dialated, and it will be more comfortable. Mine was inserted two weeks after my period, and because my cervix wasn’t dialated at all, it was painful.
  • The arms of the T will then spring into place, and the Gynecologist will cut the remaining plastic string to a more comfortable length.

Are there any side effects I should be aware of?

  • It is possible for the IUD to perforate the uterus during insertion. If this happens, the Gynecologist will remove the device.
  • Many women experience heavier cramping or bleeding during the first few months of Paragard use as their body adjusts to having a foreign object in the uterus.
  • Sometimes a woman’s body will reject the IUD, and it will be expelled during menstruation. This generally only occurs during the first few months after insertion.

What are the benefits of choosing an IUD?

  • IUDs are the best option for long term reversible birth control. The chances of getting pregnant when you have an IUD are almost astronomical.
  • IUDs are practically maintenance free. You don’t have to remember to take a pill every day, or change a patch every week, or keep buying condoms. The only maintenance you have to worry about is checking that the plastic string is still in place after each menstrual cycle.
  • The Paragard is effective for at least ten years and the Mirena is effective for five.
  • The cost is comparable to one year’s worth of birth control pills or patches.

Anything else I should know?

  • Just like the birth control pill or other non-barrier methods of contraception, the IUD will not protect you against STIs. If you or your partner are non-monogamous, you should still use condoms during sex to lessen the chances of STI transmission.
  • Many Gynecologists will refuse to insert an IUD if you have not previously had a child, due to the increased risk of expelling the IUD. If you reason with the doctor, and say that you will use another form of contraception during the first few months, they should give the okay.
  • The Paragard is a good choice of contraception for women who are breastfeeding, as there are no hormones that will interfere with the production of breast milk.
  • The Mirena is effective at treating women who experience heavy bleeding and cramping during menstruation. Many women will find that they no longer experience menstruation at all. It is also an effective treatment for endometriosis.

I have had my Paragard IUD for seven years now. Although insertion was painful, and I experienced cramping for longer than the usual time, I maintain that choosing to have an IUD inserted was the method of contraception for me. I don’t have to worry about an unintended pregnancy, and I am notoriously bad at remembering to take a pill or change a patch. I also experienced some bad side effects from hormonal birth control, and that is no longer an issue.

As with all of my posts about contraception, this is not intended to replace the advice of a trained medical professional. You should discuss contraception options with your Gynecologist before making a decision about what is best for your sexual health.

Posted on March 7, 2012, in Contraception, IUD and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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