What is an Intrauterine Device (IUD)?
IUDs are small T-shaped plastic devices that are are either wrapped in copper or contain small amounts of synthetic hormones. Once inserted into the uterus they are highly effective in preventing pregnancy. There are several types of intrauterine devices. This article looks briefly at the two most popular brands, ParaGard and Mirena, as well as some of the known benefits and side effects of these devices.
The Good and the Bad: the benefits and negatives of IUDs at a glance
- up to 99% effective in preventing pregnancy
- generally considered safe for most women, including women who have already had children and those who are breastfeeding
- one IUD lasts 5-10 years depending on the type
- low or no hormones
- requires no maintenance once inserted
- cost effective considering length of effectiveness
- can begin trying to conceive shortly after removal
- despite long term cost effectiveness, upfront cost is high
- needs to be inserted and removed by your doctor and appointments can be hard to get
- does not prevent all pregnancies
- 10% or more of women will experience expulsion of the device
- does not protect against STDs
- some women experience serious health issues from the use of an IUD, can be life threatening
- some women feel uncomfortable with the device in their bodies, become ill from the hormones or copper and/or have emotional and mental side effects
Are IUDs Safe and Effective?
As with any birth control method, the safety and effectiveness of an intrauterine device should be researched carefully before choosing one for yourself. While many women swear by them as an easy to live with and low hormone approach to birth control, others have endured many physical and mental side effects from their IUDs.
Lawsuits have been filed against both Mirena and ParaGard after women experienced "spontaneous migration" of the IUD from the correct area of the uterus causing a variety of medical issues, some severe. And while IUDs have proven to be very effective in preventing pregnancy (up to 99%) women do become pregnant even with a properly placed device. Studies have shown that as many as 10% of women may also experience complete or partial expulsion of an IUD. The dangers and rates of malposition of the device, those of uterine perforation (known to happen in 1 out of 1000 women) and other side effects are explored in a recent study. Read it here.
Physical side effects are not the only concern, some women experience symptoms similar to pregnancy or PMS when using an IUD as well as unnerving emotional or mental reactions.
Still, IUDs may be a safer option than other birth control methods, such as a daily hormonal pill, and are generally safe for breastfeeding moms and those who were recently pregnant. Both ParaGard and Mirena claim to be 99% effective and their effectiveness is more predictable than some other birth control methods. And, for busy moms looking for something that is highly effective and easy to forget about, this may be the simplest and least limiting birth control option available.
How Much Do They Cost?
The upfront cost for an IUD is between $500 and $1000, depending on a variety of factors. This is a one-time cost for the life of the device (assuming you do not have associated medical issues), but you will need to pay for removal of the IUD when its effectiveness ceases or you are ready to begin trying for another child. Some women have removed IUDs on their own at home but this is not recommended by doctors. Both services are covered by most insurance policies, however, getting an appointment for insertion or removal can take months in some areas.
Although the initial cost may be prohibitive it is relatively low when the years of effectiveness (5-10) are factored in, especially considering that they require no maintenance or additional doctor visits for most women.
Below is a simplified breakdown of the two most well-known and used IUDs on the market. Before deciding to use an IUD, or choosing which one best meets your needs, considering asking the women in your life about their experiences and recommendations, doing additional research online, or reviewing the many discussions in the Mothering community on this topic.
Cross Comparison: ParaGard VS Mirena
ParaGard and Mirena are both intrauterine devices that are popular with Mothering moms for their ease of use and general effectiveness. And while both systems work similarly, there are major differences to consider.
- claims to be more than 99% effective for up to 5 years
- releases a synthetic form of progesterone (levonorgestrel) into your uterus to prevent pregnancy: partially prevents ovulation, thickens cervical mucas to prevent the entrance of sperm into the uterus and thins the uterine lining to prevent a fertizlized egg from attaching
- uses a very low dose of hormones compared to oral contraceptives
- will affect your normal menstrual cycle hormonally, sometimes dramatically
- once removed, may continue to prevent pregnancy for weeks or months
- can cause pelvic infections and uterine perforation, as well as reactions or the hormones
- is considered safe for breastfeeding in most cases
- claims to be more than 99% effective for up to 10 years
- is wrapped in copper and contains no hormones: disrupts sperm and the uterine lining to prevent pregnancy
- may increase bleeding during your normal cycle but does not disrupt the cycle on a hormonal level
- conception is possible almost immediately after removal
- can cause pelvic infections and uterine perforation
- is safe for breastfeeding
If you are trying to avoid hormones and plan to conceive another child quickly after removal, ParaGard may be a better solution than Mirena. Overall, if you are interested in an IUD the best option will come down to your personal needs. You can find more details, including specific safety information, on the Mirena or ParaGard websites or from your doctor.
Interested in other types of birth control for moms? Check out this article on the most common and recommended methods.
This article is not intended to take the place of medical advice from a professional. Talking to a trusted doctor or midwife is the best way to gain accurate information about the use of IUDs.
Have you used an IUD? Tell us about your experience in the comments.