Many women use an IUD (intrauterine device) as a method of birth control. It is safe, easy to use, and relatively inexpensive. It has a low rate of side effects and a low failure rate (in other words, few women using the IUD get pregnant).
Once a month, a woman releases an egg from one of her ovaries. The egg travels through a tube, called the Fallopian tube, towards the uterus (where a baby develops). If the woman has had intercourse, the egg may be fertilized by the sperm while travelling in the Fallopian tube. When the fertilized egg reaches the uterus, it implants or buries itself into the lining.
The IUD is a T-shaped plastic device, which is inserted by a doctor into a woman’s uterus. The exact action of the IUD in preventing pregnancy is not known. The most common IUD used contains a small amount of copper. It is thought with these IUDs, copper is slowly released into the uterus, affecting the movement of the egg and sperm. Newer IUDs on the market contain a hormone, progesterone, instead of copper. The progesterone that is released affects the lining of the uterus and prevents a fertilized egg from implanting. You can discuss with your doctor which IUD is the right one for you.
The IUD is 97 to 99.2 per cent effective in preventing pregnancy. An IUD can be left in place for up to five years. In other words, 97 to 99 out of 100 women using an IUD properly will not become pregnant. An IUD does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases. Women using an IUD, and their partners, should be in a monogamous relationship.
An IUD can be inserted at any time though it may be easier when the woman is having a period, since the cervix is slightly open at that time. The cervix is the opening at the lower end of the uterus. Insertion is similar to a Pap smear exam. A metal or plastic speculum is gently inserted into the vagina in order to see the cervix. The cervix is wiped with a special cleanser. Next, a small ‘sound’ (or tiny ruler) is inserted to measure the length of the uterus. The IUD is then inserted using a very small straw. The IUD has a string attached to one end. The doctor trims the IUD string that is coming through the cervix into the vagina (birth canal). The string allows the woman to check that the IUD is in place. Some women have cramping during and after insertion; ibuprofen can help relieve the cramping.
Once the IUD has been inserted, a woman will not be fertile. She may have some spotting of blood, which should stop in a few days. Once a month the woman should check for the IUD string in her vagina with her finger. If the string cannot be felt, the IUD may have been expelled. If the string is missing, she should use another method of birth control and follow-up at a doctor’s office. It is sometimes possible for the woman’s partner to feel the string when they are having sexual intercourse. In this case, she should return to her doctor, who can easily trim the string with scissors.
A woman should return to her doctor in three months for a follow-up visit. The position of the IUD will be checked, and the doctor will ask about signs of infection and any changes in the pattern of menstruation. A woman should return to her doctor at any time if she misses a period, has unusual pain or bleeding from the vagina, or if the device is expelled.
There is often cramping and spotting the first few weeks after the insertion of the IUD. There is a small chance of developing an infection in the uterus following insertion. The chances of this happening are lessened by cleaning the cervix prior to insertion of the IUD, and by using sterile equipment during the procedure. There is a small chance of tearing the uterus during the insertion of the IUD.
The IUD can cause longer, heavier, and more painful menstrual periods in some women.
When a woman wants to become pregnant, her IUD can be removed at any time. It is easily removed in a doctor’s office with little discomfort. It is actually easier and quicker to take the IUD out than it is to put it in. Once it is removed, a healthy woman will usually have instant fertility. As a matter of fact, if it is removed near ovulation, it is possible for the woman to become pregnant from recent intercourse that took place before IUD removal.
A woman who becomes pregnant with an IUD in place has a higher chance of having an ectopic pregnancy (a fertilized egg implanted in a Fallopian tube, instead of the uterus). This can be very dangerous and requires urgent medical attention. If the pregnancy is in the uterus, the risk of miscarriage is increased.
If the IUD is removed, 89 per cent of women will go on to have a normal birth.
An IUD may not be the best method of birth control for every woman. Due to possible health risks the IUD should not be used if the woman has:
To work as a form of emergency birth control, the IUD needs to be inserted up to seventy-two hours after unprotected intercourse.
The IUD is a safe and reliable method of birth control for healthy women who are in a stable relationship. Many women find it highly acceptable. Your doctor will be able to help you decide if it is a good method of birth control for you.