An intrauterine device (IUD) is a very effective method of birth control. It is a small, plastic, T-shaped device that uses copper or hormones to prevent pregnancy. The doctor places the IUD into your uterus. Plastic strings tied to the end of the IUD hang down through the cervix into the vagina. Your doctor may teach you how to check the placement of your IUD by feeling the strings.
You can have an IUD inserted at any time, as long as you aren't pregnant and you don't have a pelvic infection. Be sure to tell your doctor about any health problems you have or medicines you take. The IUD can also be placed right after you have a baby.
There are two types of IUDs. The copper IUD works for up to 12 years.footnote 1 The hormonal IUD works for 3 to 8 years, depending on which brand you have. Talk to your doctor about which IUD is right for you and how long you can use it. The hormonal IUD also usually reduces menstrual bleeding and cramping.
How it is done
Your doctor will place the IUD during an office visit. You may be asked to take a pain medicine such as ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) 30 to 60 minutes before you come in. This can help with cramps during the IUD placement.
First, you will probably take a pregnancy test. After that, you'll have some privacy to get ready. You'll be asked to take off your clothes below the waist. But you will get a covering to drape around your waist. When it's time for the procedure, your doctor will ask you to lie back on the table. It has footrests that will help keep your legs comfortable. You may be offered medicine to help with discomfort during the procedure.
Your doctor may start by doing an exam of your pelvic organs. The doctor places two gloved, lubricated fingers into your vagina while gently pressing on your belly with the other hand. This lets your doctor check the size and position of your uterus.
To place the IUD, your doctor will gently put a tool called a speculum into your vagina. It opens the vagina a little bit. You may feel some pressure. The speculum helps your doctor view the inside of the vagina and see the cervix. Your doctor will check for signs of infection. Then your doctor will use special tools to gently hold the cervix in place and measure the space inside your uterus. The IUD will be carefully guided into place using a very thin tube. You may feel some cramping.
When the IUD is in place, your doctor will trim the strings at the end of the IUD and remove the tools and speculum. The doctor may teach you how to check IUD placement at home by feeling the strings.
The whole process takes just a few minutes.