Birth Control: What You Need To Know About IUDs

Thinking about getting an intrauterine device, or IUD?
PHOTO: istockphoto

When it comes to birth control methods, most of those available in the Philippines are either short term (lasting one to three months) or permanent, such as sterilization. None of this is true for the IUD, or intrauterine device, which can serve for up to five, even ten years, but loses efficacy once removed.

Still, there are a few things you should know about it before you decide on this method of contraception. Keep reading for the basics.

What are IUDs and how do they work?

An IUD is a small device inserted into a woman’s uterus to prevent pregnancy. IUD stands for “intrauterine device”; it is sometimes also referred to as an IUC, or intrauterine contraceptive.

The devices themselves are flexible and shaped like a T. They prevent pregnancy by changing the way sperm cells move, sometimes by repelling them and other times by trapping them, depending on the type of IUD inserted. This way, the sperm cannot reach the egg and pregnancy cannot occur. Some types of IUDs also release hormones that prevent eggs from leaving your ovaries; by blocking ovulation in this way, pregnancy is unlikely to occur.

Are there different kinds of IUDs?

There are two types of IUDs: copper IUDs and hormonal IUDs. Copper IUDs, as the name suggests, contains copper that alters the cervical mucus and can stop a fertilized egg from implanting itself. These IUDs are normally longer-lasting and can work up to 10 or even 12 years.

Hormonal IUDs release the hormone progestin. This thickens the cervical mucus, which blocks and traps the sperm, preventing it from fertilizing the egg, and may also prevent ovulation. These types of IUDs often last anywhere from three to seven years.

How effective are IUDs?

IUDs are one of the best birth control methods available, with an effectiveness rate of over 99 percent. Better yet, the nature of the devices are such that, unlike other forms of contraception, there is no user error factor that can lower its effectiveness. Unlike the Pill or the Depo-Provera injection, going off schedule is not an issue; and unlike condoms, you can’t use it incorrectly. Copper IUDs can also be used for emergency contraception within five days of having unprotected sex.

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How much does it cost to have an IUD inserted?

According to our Complete Guide to Birth Control Methods in the Philippines, “Copper IUDs can cost anywhere from P10,000-P15,000, while Mirena (the hormone-secreting IUD) can cost up to P15,000-P20,000 (not including insertion fee). At certain health centers, the copper IUD is actually inserted for free!”

Where can I get an IUD?

Ideally, you should discuss this with your doctor. However, if you do not have a regular doctor, you may also want to contact a women’s health organization. The Likhaan Center for Women’s Health is one such organization; their services extend to counseling and providing actual contraceptives—the Pill, the injection, and IUDs—as well as STI screening and more.

Does insertion hurt? What can I expect during and after insertion?

You will need to undergo an exam of your vagina, cervix, and uterus before your IUD can be inserted, as well as a pregnancy to make sure you are not already pregnant. Once everything is good to go, a health care professional will insert a speculum into your vagina and use an inserter to place the IUD in your uterus via the opening of your cervix.

The entire process takes only a few minutes—often less than five or ten minutes for the actual insertion. There is normally some cramping or pain during the IUD placement itself. Confer with your doctor before the insertion; some recommend taking over-the-counter pain medication to prevent cramps, while others may administer a numbing agent to the cervix.

Some dizziness and, in rare cases, fainting during the process or immediately afterward may also occur. It would be a good idea to have a trusted friend or family member with you when you go, and to make sure you do not have to walk or drive home from your appointment. Rest is also recommended after your appointment. You can manage any cramping through the application of heat or by taking over-the-counter pain medication.

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You may also experience some cramping and spotting for the three to six months after you get your IUD; this rarely persists after that point, however. If there is persistent pain or other side effects you are unsure of, you should consult your doctor.

Does having an IUD affect my periods?

Copper IUDs may result in heavier periods and stronger cramps; this may be true as long as the IUD is inserted, or it may lessen over time. Hormonal IUDs will often eventually result in lighter, less painful periods; you may even stop getting periods altogether.

Will an IUD make me infertile?

No, you will be able to regain fertility after the device has been removed.

Why do I have to get the IUD inserted while I’m having my period?

IUDs can be inserted at any point during your cycle; however, some doctors prefer to schedule insertion while you are menstruating as this can mean your cervix is softer and more open, making it easier to insert the IUD. It also means that there is very little chance of insertion during an undetected pregnancy.

What are the pros and cons of this birth control method?


Pros:

  • Long term contraception
  • No user error factor
  • Hormonal IUDs may lighten periods and reduce cramps
  • Fertility is unaffected in the long term post-removal

Cons:

  • Can be expensive
  • Minor pain associated with the procedure
  • Copper IUDs may make periods and cramps heavier
  • Requires insertion procedure not everyone is comfortable with
  • Does not prevent STIs

Is getting an IUD the right decision for me?

This is a question only you can answer, with the help of a health care professional. Consult your doctor, but also read up on our article, “Which Birth Control Method Is Right for Me?” for more information.

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