After years of being on the pill, I did my research on switching to an IUD (intrauterine device), and a few months ago — I got one. Today, I’m going over the IUD basics, clarifying a few misconceptions and sharing my experience.
I have always had heavy and extremely painful periods. It wasn’t until university that my doctor recommended going on the pill to help with my symptoms. I tried several brands and types before settling with Lo Loestrin Fe, which is the only birth control pill that provides effective pregnancy prevention with the lowest amount of daily estrogen available, and gives women short, lighter periods.
Even though I had a few days of forgetting to take the pill, I was happy using this option as I did not have any side effects on it, and it greatly improved my period symptoms. However, when I moved to Ontario to pursue my dietetic internship and grad studies — my university healthcare insurance did not cover the cost and it just wasn’t in my budget. So I returned to a messy, painful time for a whole year.
Since moving to Alberta, starting a new job, and getting a new healthcare insurance plan — I debated starting the pill again. But, I also feared dealing with insurance changes, and the hassle of visiting my doctor and renewing my prescription constantly. I wanted an effective, long-acting method of birth control that required little effort and was easily reversible. This made me look into IUDs.
What is an IUD?
An IUD is a small, T-shaped plastic device that is wrapped in copper or contains hormones – both types of IUD prevent fertilization or implantation. IUDs are one of the most effective methods of birth control — they’re up to 99% effective.
Mirena, Skyla, Liletta, Jaydess and Kyleena are all hormonal versions that thicken cervical mucus and prevent sperm from reaching the uterus, and last from 3 to 5 years. A copper IUD works by functioning as a sort of spermicide inside your body and lasts up to 10 years. I personally discourage anyone from getting the copper IUD as it comes with several side effects, such as making periods and cramping more intense. Doctors may suggest the copper IUD (mine did) as it is cheaper and desirable among women who want to avoid synthetic hormones. Here is a comparison of a few IUD options available in Canada — you can evaluate the cost, advantages and possible side effects to help find the right choice for you.
I chose the Mirena IUD, which is hormone-releasing and is the only IUD used to treat heavy periods. It’s over 99% effective at preventing pregnancy for as long as you want, for up to 5 years (can be removed at any time). It’s estrogen-free, and instead delivers small amounts of progestin locally into your uterus.
Process to get an IUD
Once your doctor writes your IUD prescription, you pick it up at the pharmacy and can have it inserted at any time, as long as you are not pregnant and you don’t have a pelvic infection. IUD insertions in Canada are covered by universal healthcare, however cost of the IUD is not — my insurance covered a majority of this expense.
My doctor referred me to a female physician who specializes in IUD insertions. I had a morning appointment, the insertion procedure took only a few minutes, the physician provided me with pain killers, and after my appointment I went to work. Sometimes a local anesthetic is injected into the area around the cervix, but this is not always needed.
I experienced some cramping for the day — and would recommend spending the day at home, cuddled with tea and a movie instead. The cramping lasted for two days, and some people may have light spotting. It takes 3 to 6 months for your period to regulate after an IUD insertion — I found a noticeable change in my period within the first month (shorter, lighter, and incredibly less painful cramps). Like with any new regimen you are introducing into your life, you might want to give your body time to adjust before calling it quits or getting worried/frustrated.
Even though the cost of an IUD is affordable over time, it can be expensive up-front. My experience and those who I know have hormonal IUDs are all positive — however some people may have negative side effects, and choosing to have your IUD removed can be difficult due to the cost to buy it in the first place. This was my biggest internal struggle pre-IUD. Here is an article about a women’s need to remove her IUD.
The IUD is not the perfect birth control option for everyone (studies suggest people with certain types of breast cancer shouldn’t use IUDs, for example), nor is it the only long-acting reversible contraceptive out there — make sure you learn about all your other options (the pill, ring, implant, patch, sponge, etc.) and find the method that works best for you.
Want it out?
Although the IUD lasts for years, you can have it taken out at any time. IUDs do not negatively affect your fertility or ability to get pregnant after they’re removed.
Got contraceptive-related questions? Let me know and I am open to answer anything and everything.