IUDs Demystified

By Faith Lewis

Rumors abound when it comes to intrauterine devices, or IUDs, but many of these are outdated misconceptions that can be traces back to the 1970s.

In reality, IUDs are one of the most effective forms of birth control and can be used worry free for up to 12 years.

As a one-and-done birth control option, IUDs are nearly foolproof and are 99% effective in preventing pregnancy. You can’t forget to take it like the pill, which is 91% effective taking into account forgotten doses or the interference of other medications. And there’s no chance of using it wrong like condoms, which are 85% effective.

But if you decide you do want to get pregnant, IUDs are reversible, allowing you to conceive immediately after removal.

There are two different types of IUDs, and five brands available in the US. Let’s explore options and find the best choice for you.

There are four brands of hormonal IUDs: Mirena, Kyleena, Liletta, and Skyla. They range from a three-year lifespan (Skyla) to six (Mirena). These use a progestin hormone called levonorgestrel to prevent pregnancy.

Hormonal IUDs work in to two ways. First, they thicken the mucus on the cervix, which traps sperm before it enters the uterus. They also affect ovulation–this can mean lighter or no periods when using a hormonal IUD.

These IUDs don’t immediately take effect, however, so you should also use condoms or another non-hormonal form of birth control the week after insertion.

There is only one option for a non-hormonal based IUD: ParaGard. As the longest lasting IUD, it can prevent pregnancy for up to 12 years. This is a great birth control option for women whose medical history makes hormonal birth control options risky, such as those who are likely to have blood clots or who have had breast cancer.

The ParaGard IUD is wrapped with small copper coils which is an extremely effective spermicide. Much like the hormonal IUDs, ParaGard also increases mucus on the cervix, ensuring any straggling sperm can’t make it into the uterus.

Because ParaGard doesn’t use hormones, it is effective from day one–in fact, it can be used as emergency contraceptive up to five days after unprotected sex. However, your cycle is entirely natural and you may have heavier periods.

Insertion Day Dos and Don’ts
The insertion itself can range from uncomfortable to painful, but there are several ways to lessen the discomfort the day of:

–  Take ibuprofen before your scheduled insertion and have some on hand to take after.

– Wear loose fitting pants to the appointment. You’ll likely feel bloated and experience cramping after the insertion and the last thing you want to contend with is your tightest skinny jeans.

– Have someone pick you up. You will be safe to drive as you won’t be impaired by any medication, but you will be uncomfortable and it’s better just to sit this one out.

– If you’re concerned about the pain of the insertion, ask your doctor for a paracervical block, a common gynecological anesthetic procedure that may help lessen the pain of insertion.

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