What is the IUD?
The IUD is a really small contraceptive device, literally almost the same size as the top of your pinky finger.
In Australia, there are two types of devices available, and one of them is the copper IU, which is made out of copper and releases a small amount of copper safely into your womb. The other device is called a Marina, and it produces a tiny amount of synthetic progestin (which is a version of the hormone that occurs naturally in all women), which is released into the womb.
Once the IUD is inserted, it can stay in your womb for 5-6 years, and for that time, you simply do not have to think about birth control again, unlike the other options, which require daily uptake.
“The really important thing about the IUD is it’s probably the most effective contraceptive, so the copper IUD provides 99 per cent protection against preventing pregnancy, and the Marina actually is 99.5 per cent or even more.
“So they are certainly more effective than the common pill or indeed condoms,” said Dr Lara.
However, Dr Lara importantly points out that just because you have an IUD doesn't mean you can stop using condoms.
“The IUD unlike condoms can’t protect you from STIs. The most common being chlamydia and gonorrhea in Australia and wearing a condom should always be used, no matter if you have an IUD in or not.
“It’s a really important choice you should make when you are having sex with someone you don’t know. When you are having casual sex - absolutely use condoms to prevent STIs,” said Dr Lara.
Dr. Lara also notes the copper IUD can be used as emergency contraception if needed.
“The copper IUD can be used as emergency contraception provided you come in five days after the unprotected sex.
“It can actually be inserted and then it’s there for the next 5-8 years, so that is an option for you if you are in that specific circumstance.”
It is also important to know that the IUD is NOT associated with gerdnerella and bacterial vaginosis, which is the most common reason one may experience an odour or smell from their vagina.
How much is an IUD?
The hormonal IUD costs around $6 if you have a health care card, and if you don’t, it will cost around $120. The Marina will cost a little more if you don't have a healthcare card as well.
Should I choose an IUD?
The IUD is your low maintenance friend who exists to keep you safe from unwanted pregnancy so you can live your life stress-free (well, at least in this one area).
“It doesn’t interfere with sex so if you are in a stable relationship and not worrying about condoms once you the IUD is in you can forget about it. Whereas you can’t forget about taking a pill every day, the implant lasts a little longer but it still needs to be changed and the injectable contraceptive lasts about 3 months,” said Dr Lara.
So this costs you way less brain space than setting an alarm every day to remember to take your pill.
It is also super effective at relieving period pain and stopping heavy periods, and around 50 per cent of women stop bleeding a year after an IUD is inserted.
“You still cycle but you don’t bleed and many women find their periods become very light and less painful,” said Dr Lara.
Dr Lara recommends taking the day off for the procedure, and she says that you should be okay to go to work or school the next day.
How is an IUD inserted?
When you arrive at the clinic and leave, the whole process should take 30 minutes, with the procedure itself taking five minutes.
There are a few places you can go to have an IUD inserted, one being your preferred general practice or a health clinic like Family Planning, where a doctor or nurse will insert the contraceptive device.
Dr Lara says that 50 per cent of women who don’t use local anaesthetic feel “absolutely nothing,” however, a doctor will explain to you every option, which may include using an anaesthetic.
“A lot of women don’t need anaesthetic at all and more so women who have already given birth and had children.
“But some women would just prefer to have an anaesthetic which would just make you be lightly asleep and some women prefer to have just a local anaesthetic,” explained Dr Lara.
What happens after the IUD is inserted?
You may experience some spotting, bleeding and cramping after the IUD is inserted, but this is very normal.
“You have an internal examination, some women might need some tests before they have an IUD inserted and your GP will tell you. Some people have an STI screening or an ultrasound before their procedure.
“Have it inserted five days after your last period and not to have sex during that period of time,” said Dr Lara.
While there is a risk it may fall out, this is really rare and will only occur if there is an anatomical aboriginality of the uterus or if it isn’t inserted correctly.
Also, be aware that while the copper IUD starts working immediately, the Marina IUD takes a little longer, so it is recommended that you continue using a condom for the first seven days.
Where does the IUD sit in my womb?
“The IUD is put through the neck of the womb and is placed in the womb; women can’t really feel that but sometimes there is some cramping as it passes through the womb.
“Both the copper and Marina have a little string that is part of the device, and those strings are cut and they sit just at the neck of the womb and we actually ask women to check and feel for the strings,” said Dr Lara.
About 4-6 weeks after its inserted, the doctor will recommend checking for the string that hangs off the IUD by inserting one or two fingers deep into the vagina to see that it is there.
Lara notes sexual partners will usually not feel the IUD.
Are there any side effects associated with IUDs?
While we commonly associate side affects with the pill, it looks like there are very few associated with the IUD.
Dr Lara explains that because the IUD doesn’t have estrogen, it is a more friendly option for women sensitive to the hormonal contraceptive pill.
“The copper IUD has no side effects, so if you can’t tolerate the combined contraceptive pill or other contraceptives that have estrogen, because some women can’t handle too much estrogen as they get very nauseated, or they get really bad headaches, or experience breast tenderness.
“Then both the IUDs are really good options because they don’t have any estrogen in them,” said Dr Lara.
What are the benefits of the IUD?
- It does not interfere with sex.
- No side effects from estrogen.
- You can forget about it once it’s in.
- Doesn’t affect your libido.
- You can remove the device and your fertility returns immediately (unlike a pill, which can take up to a year).
- It does not cause weight gain.
The first three months on the IUD
The first three months after taking any new medication can be a period of adjustment as your body becomes used to the change.
An IUD can take three months to settle, which can cause spotting, some breakouts and irregular periods, which is all explained by Dr Lara as a normal part of the process.
“With the Marina the first three months it’s quite normal to experience a few changes before your body settles down.
“Some people might experience a little bit of breast tenderness and some women may feel they are a little bit more headachy. Your cycle will become a little bit irregular and you may have spotting or bleeding a little bit when you don’t have your period,” explained Dr Lara.
However, this should settle down after three months - if it doesn't, consult a healthcare professional.
Do you still get a period on the IUD?
According to Dr Lara, about half of women who have the IUD won’t have a traditional period (aka one in which you bleed) in a year, but these women are absolutely still cycling and releasing their natural hormones.
Dr Lara mentions that she had one patient who experienced some acne, but they could manage it, and it cleared.
She also recommends if you in high school and wanting to have an IUD for year 11 or year 12, plan an appointment in October or November the year before. That way, by the time school starts your body has adjusted.
If this sounds like an option that would work for you, then make that appointment with your GP.