Many people – kids, teens, adults and parents – have questions about all the different types of birth control and ways to manage periods. An intrauterine device (IUD) can be used for both birth control and managing periods.
The kid experts in our gynecology program are here to help you further understand what IUDs are, what getting one placed is like and how they can help teens and young adults. You’ll also hear from Children’s Minnesota patients about their firsthand experiences with IUDs!
What is an IUD?
A hormonal intrauterine device, or IUD, is a small, T-shaped device that your health care provider can place in your uterus. They are very common and can be used by most anyone who has a period.
While IUDs are very common and an effective way to prevent pregnancies, some don’t work right away. If you do have sex, use a reliable, second method of birth control for at least seven days.
“It [having an IUD] has also helped with lessening the blood flow every month, as well as the amount of days that I get my period for,” said Maddie, a Children’s Minnesota patient. “The best thing about an IUD is not having to worry about my bleeding.”
IUDs are used to:
- Manage periods, including heavy or frequent bleeding.
- Suppress periods.
- Prevent pregnancies.
“I’m glad I got an IUD because I had super heavy periods and it helps with that,” said Sarah, a Children’s Minnesota patient.
What is a hormonal IUD?
Hormonal IUDs work by releasing a very small amount of progestin into your uterus. The progestin thins the uterine lining, which makes periods lighter, and thickens the mucus at the cervix, which stops sperm from entering the uterus.
Do IUDs protect you against STIs?
No, IUDs do not prevent sexually transmitted infections, or STIs. So, if you do have sex, you will also need to use a condom to protect against STIs.
Getting an IUD placed
Getting your IUD placed can be an uncomfortable experience for some, but your health care team will walk you through every step of the way!
“The nurses were describing everything and always made sure I was OK and ready for everything to happen,” said Sarah, a Children’s Minnesota patient.
Before getting your IUD placed, your clinician may recommend taking an over-the-counter medication to help you feel more comfortable. Naproxen is a common anti-inflammatory medication that helps with pain management.
Here’s the process of getting an IUD placed:
The entire process of placing an IUD takes about 3-5 minutes. Here’s how it works:
- Your provider will begin by inserting the speculum into your vagina. You will feel some pressure inside. Just so you know, this can be a little uncomfortable.
- After they clean your cervix with the antiseptic swabs, the provider will numb your cervix by injecting a small amount of lidocaine. This usually feels like a pinching or cramping sensation.
- The provider will then use the tenaculum to hold the top of the cervix, and the uterine sound to measure the uterus. Again, you will likely feel a strong cramping sensation at this time.
- Then, using the applicator, your provider will place the IUD into your uterus. Once more you will probably feel – you guessed it – a cramping sensation.
- Last, your provider will cut the strings on the IUD. The scissors they use have long handles and very short blades – different from the scissors you usually use at home.
- After cutting the string, your provider may use a dry, cotton swab to clean any blood. Again, this is totally normal and doesn’t mean anything is wrong.
Can you be sedated while getting an IUD?
IUDs can be placed with or without sedation. Sedation means getting a medication which will make you kind of sleepy without actually going to sleep.
Some people use nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, while others choose IV sedation such as propofol. Nitrous oxide helps you feel less nervous and experience less pain during the procedure. With IV sedation, you will continue breathing on your own, but you won’t feel or remember the procedure at all. If you wish to use sedation during your IUD placement, speak with your clinician about which option will work best for you.
“When I had the IUD placed, I was pretty nervous, I had heard some almost-horror stories from friends and family and that had got in my head,” said Claire, a Children’s Minnesota patient. “But once I got into the office and talked to some of the staff, they helped calm my nerves and the whole process was actually pretty smooth.”
After an IUD is placed
Fun fact! After your IUD is put in, you can go right back to school or work. However, you can expect some bleeding and cramping. About 4-6 weeks after your IUD placement, you should have a follow-up visit with your clinician.
“I definitely was feeling cramps for those first seven days, but now, a few months later, I don’t even know it’s there,” said Amber, a Children’s Minnesota patient.
Most people have daily or irregular bleeding for a few days, or weeks, after the IUD is put in. Bleeding or spotting can continue for 3-6 months, but usually gets better over time. Remember, this is totally normal.
You may also feel some severe cramping the first few days, and possibly up to six weeks, as your body is getting used to the IUD. Again, this is totally normal. If you have cramps or pain, you can take ibuprofen or naproxen as instructed by your clinician.
Of course, as with any medical procedure, there is a risk of infection. However, you are only at risk of infection during the first three weeks after the IUD is put in, and this is very rare.
Side effects after getting an IUD placed
If you notice any of the following side effects, call your clinician:
- You have severe belly pain.
- You have heavy bleeding, which means soaking through a pad or tampon every hour for more than two hours.
- You have excessive cramping not controlled by over-the-counter medications.
- You have a high fever.
- You have abnormal discharge, for example resembling puss.
- Your IUD comes out.
How long does an IUD last?
A hormonal IUD can stay in place for a long time. However, you are in control. If you ever want to remove your IUD for any reason, a clinician can easily remove it.
“I don’t have to remember to take a pill every day,” said Claire, a Children’s Minnesota patient. “It’s nice that I know I have a form of protection and that it works for me.”
If you ever have any questions about IUDs, please contact your clinician. You can also visit Children’s Minnesota’s gynecology website for more information.