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Updated: Feb 1

What is an IUD?

IUDs, or Intrauterine Devices, are small, flexible pieces of plastic shaped like a T. They are extremely effective in preventing pregnancy.

By extremely effective, we mean over 99% effective, making it one of the most reliable forms of contraception available.

This is because IUDs leave no room for error. Unlike condoms, birth control, and many other forms of contraception, you don't need to remember to use them. Because they last for years, you can get an IUD inserted and won't have to worry about it again until it expires. IUDs work by changing how sperm cells move so they can't reach an egg.

IUDs do not protect you from STIs

Only condoms and dental dams can protect you from STIs.

Diagram of a IUD properly set inside the uterus
Diagram of a IUD properly set inside the uterus (Image Source: PRISM FL, Inc / Cameron Makris)

Types of IUDs

There are two different types of IUDs: copper IUDs and hormonal IUDs.

Copper IUDs

Copper IUDs don't contain hormones. Instead, they're wrapped in copper, which protects from pregnancy for up to 12 years. Sperm doesn't like copper, so it prevents them from getting to an egg. They are effective as soon as you get one inserted. Copper IUDs can also be used as emergency contraception. If you get a copper IUD inserted within 5 days of having unprotected sex, it's over 99.9% effective in preventing pregnancy. These can make your periods heavier and cramps worse. This usually goes away over time, but talk to your doctor if you feel any discomfort or pain.

Hormonal IUDs

Hormonal IUDs use the hormone progestin to prevent pregnancy. While it varies depending on the brand, hormonal IUDs generally work for up to 3-7 years. Progestin works to prevent pregnancy by thickening the mucus in the cervix to trap the sperm and sometimes preventing ovulation. These make your periods lighter, and you may stop getting your period at all. If you get a hormonal IUD inserted within the first 7 days of your period, these protect againt pregnancy immediately. If it's inserted at any other point in your cycle, you'll be protected after 7 days.

Getting an IUD

IUDs have to be inserted by a doctor or nurse. If you have health insurance, you can likely get an IUD for free.

When getting an IUD, your doctor will examine your vagina, cervix, and uterus and may test you for STDs. They may offer to numb you before the procedure starts. The nurse or doctor will use a speculum and a special inserter to insert the IUD into your uterus. This normally only takes a few minutes. Some people may feel cramping or pain when getting their IUD inserted, but this is usually brief.

Removing an IUD

If your IUD is about to expire and you still don't want to get pregnant, or if you want to get pregnant now, you'll need to have your IUD removed.

This is usually very simple. Your doctor will gently pull the string, and the IUD's arms will fold up so it can slip out. You may experience cramping, although this should be very brief. Unless you start another form of hormonal birth control, your period will go back to how it was before you got your IUD. You can get pregnant as soon as you get your IUD removed.

If your IUD slips partially out or falls out completely (this can happen during the first 3 months), call your doctor immediately. If this happens, you can get pregnant.



IUD Birth Control | Info About Mirena & Paraguard IUDs. Planned Parenthood. (n.d.).


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