Looking for birth control that doesn’t include taking a pill every day? An IUD (intrauterine device) might be the right fit for you. It’s a small device that’s placed in your uterus to prevent pregnancy. First created in 1909, IUDs are a safe and effective option approved by the FDA.
If you have an IUD, add it to your Ovia profile so you never forget your insertion date!
How an IUD works
IUDs are either hormonal or copper. Both work to prevent sperm from getting to the egg and neither impacts your ability to become pregnant in the future. Let’s start with the hormonal option.
Hormonal IUDs are made of plastic and release progestin. The progestin thickens cervical mucus, making it harder for the sperm to reach the egg. Progestin also thins the uterine lining and suppresses ovulation.
How often you need to do something with a hormonal IUD
It depends on the type of hormonal IUD. They can last up to three, five, or seven years, making them a great long-term birth control option.
The copper IUD
The copper IUD is actually made of plastic with copper around the arms and stem. The brand approved in the U.S. is called Paragard. Copper in the Paragard helps to prevent pregnancy by thinning the lining of the uterus — making it difficult for a fertilized egg to implant in the uterus. Sperm also dislike copper, so the Paragard keeps them away from the egg. The copper IUD does not affect ovulation.
How often do you need to do something with the Copper IUD?
The copper IUD can last up to 10 years. All IUDs can be removed at any time, though, if you decide you want to get pregnant. Be sure to track when you had your IUD inserted so you can replace it when the time comes.
Benefits and drawbacks
Each type of birth control has its pluses, minuses, and potential side effects. Someone’s “pro” might be someone else’s “con”. For example, the hormonal IUD may minimize cramping and make periods lighter or have the inverse effect. It all depends on your specific situation. Copper IUDs are approved for use for people with a variety of health conditions who cannot use hormonal birth control, and they are 99% effective.
Here’s the lowdown on IUDs.
- Lasts anywhere from three to 10 years
- Convenient with no hassle, maintenance, or partner participation
- One-time cost
- Safe for breastfeeding parents
- Slightly more effective at preventing pregnancy than the pill, and fertility returns immediately
- Doesn’t interrupt sex (the strings may need to shortened if they are disrupting sex)
- Can be removed any time if you want to get pregnant
- Minimal side effects
- Hormonal IUDs can decrease menstrual pain, heavy periods, and risk of endometrial cancer. However, the copper IUD may increase cramping and make periods heavier.
- Copper IUDs can be used by people with health conditions that cannot safely use hormones.
- Higher risk of ectopic pregnancy if you become pregnant (though the risk is still very low)
- Can cause spotting in first few months
- Can make your periods irregular or menstrual cramps worse (particularly the copper IUD)
- Doesn’t protect you against STIs
- Insertion and removal can be uncomfortable or painful
- Minimal risk of infection, mostly during insertion
- Possible side effects include breast tenderness, headaches, acne, and mood changes
- Can cause ovarian cysts which are usually benign and go away within a few months
- In rare cases, the device can penetrate your uterine wall
IUDs have almost immediate effectiveness within seven days from insertion (based on when in your cycle you get your IUD). They are over 99% effective in preventing pregnancy — partly because you won’t need to form any consistent habits (such as remembering to take a pill). The copper IUD (Paragard) can even prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex if they’re inserted within five days of intercourse.
Where and how to get it
You can get an IUD inserted by a nurse practitioner, doctor, or midwife. Contact your health center, gynecologist, or family planning clinic to set up an appointment.
IUDs cost between $0 and $1,400 for insertion but these expenses are usually covered by health insurance and government health plans. The total cost depends on the type of IUD and the number of medical exams and follow-up appointments. With an IUD, the cost is upfront and you won’t have to pay anything else for another three to 10 years.
IUDs are a great choice for most healthy premenopausal women but aren’t appropriate for everyone. If you’ve had certain types of cancer, pelvic infections, liver disease, or unexplained vaginal bleeding, you may not be a candidate for an IUD. Your practitioner should also ask about any allergies and review the medications you’re taking. If you’re allergic to copper, you should only consider hormonal IUDs.
Want to learn about other types of birth control? Check out these posts.
Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team
- “Birth Control and the IUD (Intrauterine Device).” WebMD. WebMD. May 6, 2021. https://www.webmd.com/sex/birth-control/iud-intrauterine-device.
- Corbett, Megan. “A History: the IUD.” Reproductive Access Health Project. Reproductive Access Health Project. January 17, 2013. https://www.reproductiveaccess.org/2013/01/a-history-the-iud/.
- Healthline Editorial Team. “Intrauterine Devices (IUDs).” Healthline. Healthline Media. October 28, 2019. https://www.healthline.com/health/birth-control-iud.
- “Hormonal IUD (Mirena).” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic. February 26, 2020. https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/mirena/about/pac-20391354.
- “How can I get an IUD?” Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood. 2020. https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/birth-control/iud/how-can-i-get-an-iud
- “IUD.” Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood. 2020. https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/birth-control/iud.