The lowdown on IUDs
If you’re considering long-term contraception, the intrauterine device (IUD, also known as ‘the loop’) is a good option for many women. Here are our most frequently asked questions about the IUD to help you decide whether it’s right for you.
1. What is the IUD?
An IUD is a small, T-shaped plastic device that is wrapped in copper or contains hormones that prevent you from falling pregnant. The IUD is inserted into your uterus by your doctor. A plastic string tied to the end of the IUD hangs down through the cervix into the vagina. The string is not visible from the outside, and your partner will not be able to feel or see it during sex.
2. What types of IUDs are there?
There are two types of intrauterine devices: hormonal IUDs and copper IUDs. The hormonal IUD, such as Mirena or Skyla, releases levonorgestrel, which is a form of the hormone progestin. There are two hormonal IUDs – one that works for five years, and one that works for three years.
The copper IUD (such as Paragard) is the most commonly used IUD. Copper wire is wound around the stem of the T-shaped IUD, and this works to prevent pregnancy. The copper IUD can stay in place for up to 10 years and is a highly effective form of contraception.
3. How do IUDs work?
The hormonal IUD prevents fertilisation by damaging or killing sperm and making the mucous in the cervix thick and sticky, so sperm can’t get through it to the uterus. It also stops the lining of the uterus (endometrium) from growing very thick, which makes the lining a poor place for a fertilised egg to implant and grow. The hormones in this IUD also reduce menstrual bleeding and cramping.
The copper IUD is toxic to sperm: it makes the uterus and fallopian tubes produce fluid that kills sperm.
4. Am I a good candidate for the IUD?
The IUD is right for you if:
- You have only one sex partner who does not have other sex partners and who is infection-free. This means you are not at high risk for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Marie Stopes encourages dual protection and the use of condoms together with your IUD contraceptive.
- You want an effective, long-acting method of birth control that requires little effort and is easily reversible.
- You cannot or do not want to use birth control pills or other hormonal birth control methods.
- You are breastfeeding.
- Require emergency contraception. The copper IUD is recommended for emergency contraception if you have had unprotected sex in the past few days and need to avoid pregnancy, and you plan to continue using the IUD for birth control. As a short-term form of emergency contraception, the copper IUD is more expensive than emergency contraception with hormone pills.
Remember that you must be free of pelvic infections when the IUD is inserted.
5. How effective is the IUD as a method of birth control?
The IUD is a highly effective method of birth control. When using the hormonal IUD, roughly two out of 1000 women become pregnant in the first year. When using the copper IUD, about six out of 1000 women become pregnant in the first year.
Most pregnancies that occur with IUD use happen because the IUD is expelled from the uterus unnoticed. IUDs are most likely to come out in the first few months of IUD use, after being inserted just after childbirth, or in women who have not had children.
6. What are the advantages of using the IUD?
The advantages of IUD usage include cost-effectiveness over time, ease of use, lower risk of ectopic pregnancy, and no interruption of foreplay or intercourse.
Let Marie Stopes help you make the right contraceptive choice.
At Marie Stopes, our nurses are trained to help you make the right contraceptive choice for your lifestyle and your body. Visit your nearest branch for advice on long and short-term contraceptives, and to find the ideal method at a price that suits your budget.