Tuesday, December 8, 2009

No Babies: Our Intrauterine Friends

The intra-uterine device, or IUD, is extremely effective (more than 99%), and lasts for a very long time. There are 2 IUDs currently on the market: the Paragard (or 'copper T') and the Mirena. I had the Mirena placed about 3 years ago, and I heart it.

Both types look very similar - a small plastic 'T' that rests inside the uterus. The Paragard contains a small amount copper which inhibits sperm motility, while the Mirena contains a tiny amount of the hormone progestin, which prevents ovulation and thickens cervical mucus so the sperm can't swim well. The devices themselves create a physical obstacle, as well. The Paragard remains effective for 12 years, the Mirena for 5 years.

Paraguard Mirena

Both are placed by a health care professional. The placement procedure takes about 20 - 30 minutes, costs between $175 and $650, and is covered by most insurance. Now, I can't lie...the placement hurts like hell. It's supposed to be easier for women who've given vaginal birth, but even then, it's not fun. Don't fear, though...local anesthesia is available and is WORTH EVERY PENNY. It's called a 'cervical block', and it is your friend.

Side effects are few, but include spotting between periods, especially in the first several months. The Paraguard can make monthly periods heavier, which can lead to anemia, and can also make cramps worse. Mirena can stop periods completely - I only have 3-4 super light periods per year, which is win.

One rare side effect (that I experienced, unfortunately) is a temporary, but marked, decrease in sex drive. For me, it lasted about 5 months. Everything got 100% back to normal, but it definitely put a kink into my relationship for a while there, and not in the fun way.

If someone is ready to get busy right away, Paragard is effective immediately. Mirena is effective immediately if placed within 7 days of a woman's last period. If it's placed at any other time during her cycle, a backup method is needed for 1 week.

IUDs are best suited to women in monogamous sexual relationships, as the strings used for retrieval pass through the cervix into the vagina, creating a veritable superhighway for bacteria (chlamydia, gonorrhea, even normal flora) to enter into the uterus. Bacteria + uterus = OW. I have known a few health care professionals that insist women with more than one partner can safely use IUDs, but most recommend against it.

Less than 1 in 100 women will get pregnant while using and IUD. Unfortunately, if a woman does get pregnant while using one, there is an increased risk for ectopic or tubal pregnancy. A woman can get pregnant within a month or two of having the IUD removed, so if "No Babies!" turns into "Babies, Please!", you're solid. They're also both safe to use while breastfeeding!

An IUD gives the protection and forget-about-it-ness of permanent birth control without having to commit to the permanent part. It's the most effective non-permanent method (some say it's most effective, full stop) and also the most cost-effective. That equals 2 thumbs up 'round these parts!


  1. I have a five year IUD that is not the Mirena. Not sure of it's name but it does conatin copper. I love it! I did experience heavy bleeding in the first six months but they continued to get better after that. I have had the IUD for a year and 9 months now and love that it is a fool proof birth control...no pill to remember each day or ring to remove once a month..(Neuvoring)I have tried several birth controls over the years rangeing from about 4 different types of pills, the original Norplant (six small rods implanted in your arm), and even Depo-prevera (the shot in the tush). I was miserable till i found a non-hormone birthcontrol. Thank heavens for IUD's!

  2. thank you for sharing your story!!

  3. Nice article comparing and contrasting both methods. Though it is worth noting that there are a number of side effects associated with the use of both that has significant health risks for some women. I know it doesn't happen to every woman, since everyone reacts differently to each brith control method and preference for one method over another comes down to comfort and economic factors. I just thought it would also be informative to share and expand on the various side effects that women have reported when using either Paragard and Mirena. Here's to reading more insightful articles like this.