IUDs: Learn More about Advanced, Reversible Birth Control

The expert physicians at Northern Florida's All About Women discuss this long-term, reversible form of birth control

You might have heard a lot of buzz about IUDs: this low-maintenance form of birth control is gaining popularity with women here in the U.S. In fact, the New York Times reports that use has nearly tripled over the last decade and now accounts for 10% of all prescribed birth control.

Interested in learning more? Here are answers to common IUD questions:

How Does an Intrauterine Device (IUD) Work?

IUDs are small (the size of a quarter or smaller) t-shaped devices that sit in the uterus to prevent pregnancy. There are two types of IUDs currently available – hormonal and non-hormonal.

Hormonal IUDs release the hormone progestin, which thickens the cervical mucus so that sperm cannot reach the egg. It may also prevent eggs from leaving the ovaries, thus stopping ovulation.

ParaGard is a hormone free IUD that contains copper. The copper is slowly released into the uterine cavity, making an environment that's inhospitable to sperm.

Neither form of IUD is considered an abortifacient (causing abortion) by the American College of Obstetricians (ACOG), the lead group of gynecological professionals. They prevent pregnancy before it occurs.

Who Can Use an IUD?

Most all women are eligible to use an IUD. A widely held myth is that IUDs are only for women who have already had children. That's not the case. You can still use an IUD even if you've never had a baby. Any woman who chooses this approach to birth control needs to know that they do not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs), so a "barrier" form of protection (i.e. condom) is still needed in this case.

How is the IUD Inserted?

IUDs are inserted during a visit to your gynecologist's office. The process only takes 5-10 minutes to complete.

Your doctor will apply an antiseptic solution to your cervix and then insert the IUD using a special applicator that holds the device in a closed position until it reaches the top of the uterus. During insertion, you may feel mild to moderate cramping. Our gynecologists recommend that you take Ibuprofen or another painkiller before you come in for your appointment to help alleviate these cramps.

Once inserted, your doctor will trim the strings of the IUD, which allows them to remove the device in the future or to check and ensure proper placement.

Some women have pain or nausea following insertion, so you may want someone to drive you home. You should plan to take it easy for the rest of the day. After several weeks, you will have a checkup to make sure the IUD is settled into place.

What Do I Have to Do to Maintain My IUD?

IUDs are very low maintenance and practically forgettable. Your gynecologist will recommend that you check for your IUD strings every month to ensure it hasn't become dislodged (a rare occurrence).

What are the Advantages of an IUD?

IUDs are a highly effective form of birth control. They prevent 99% of pregnancies, which is about the same rate as sterilization. All IUDs are low-maintenance, long lasting forms of birth control.

The two hormonal IUDs, Skyla and Mirena, are effective for three and five years respectively. The copper IUD Paragaurd is effective for 10 years! And while IUDs are long lasting, they are completely reversible. Most women are able to get pregnant easily after having their IUD removed.

What are the Possible Side Effects and Associated Risks?

For many women who have a copper IUD, menstrual periods can be slightly heavier and more painful, though the ACOG notes that these symptoms often subside over time. The hormonal IUD can cause irregular periods for the first three to six months, but these periods lighten or even disappear afterwards.

Very rarely, a woman may develop pelvic inflammatory disease in the six weeks following insertion. In other rare cases, the IUD may penetrate the uterus and harm other organs.

All About Women is Here For You

From IUDs to birth control pills to sterilization, choosing the best form of birth control for your lifestyle may feel like an overwhelming decision. The birth control specialists at All About Women in Gainesville and Lake City are here to help. Make an appointment today with our knowledgeable team of providers to learn more about your options.