Featured Women's health

What you need to know about IUDs


Intrauterine devices (IUDs) are becoming increasingly popular as a reliable and easy-to-manage option for birth control. Canadian women have more choice than ever with this type of birth control.

What is an IUD?

An IUD is a small, T-shaped device that is inserted into your uterus by your nurse practitioner, family doctor or gynecologist. It has two fine strings attached to the end, which hang down through your cervix into your vagina. You can check to ensure the IUD is in place by feeling for these strings.

How does it prevent pregnancy?

There are two types of IUD – copper and hormonal (containing progestin). Both types basically make it extremely difficult for sperm to survive. Copper IUDs cause changes in the uterus which impair the ability of sperm to fertilize an egg. Hormonal IUDs make the mucous in your cervix very thick and sticky, so sperm can’t pass to fertilize an egg and also thin your uterine lining. Hormonal IUDs include the Jaydess which offers pregnancy protection for up to three years, and the Mirena and Kyleena, which offer protection against pregnancy for up to five years.

What are the benefits of IUDS? Why not just go on the pill?

IUDs are highly effective at preventing pregnancy. Here are other benefits:

  • Easy to use: Once the IUD is in place, you don’t have to do much other than check to make sure the string is in place after your period each month.
  • Easy to reverse: If you decide you want to try to become pregnant, the IUD is removed and you can start trying for a baby immediately.
  • Lasts for years: The copper IUD can be used for up to five years. The hormonal IUD’s can be used up to three, or five years.
  • Good non-hormonal option: Maybe you can’t, or don’t want to, use hormonal methods of birth control. In that case, the copper IUD is a good option.
  • Option for breastfeeding moms: The copper IUD doesn’t contain any hormones, so is a good option for mothers looking for a reliable form of birth control. It can be inserted at your first postpartum visit, which is usually six weeks after delivering your baby.

Hormonal IUDs generally also reduce heavy bleeding during your periods, and may play a role in relieving endometriosis and preventing endometrial cancer.

Are there any disadvantages?

With any type of birth control, there are of course potential problems that affect a small percentage of women. These include the risk of which happens when the IUD punctures the uterus. It typically happens during insertion but is thankfully very rare, occurring in 1 out of 1000 women. There is also the risk the IUD may be pushed out of your uterus into the vagina, which usually happens if the IUD is used right after having a baby, and means you wouldn’t be protected against pregnancy.

I’ve heard it’s painful to have an IUD inserted, is this true?

While every woman’s pain tolerance is different, there should not be excessive discomfort. You may have some cramping during insertion, which may last for a few days.

Just one word of caution: IUDs do not protect you from sexually transmitted infections. It is always prudent to use a condom to reduce the chance of getting an STI. It is also wise to make sure your pap test is up-to-date and to screen for infections before inserting an IUD.

About the author

Dr. Nancy Durand

Dr. Nancy Durand

Dr. Nancy Durand is a gynaecologist at Sunnybrook, with a clinical and research interest in minimally invasive surgery, HPV and colposcopy.

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