Everything I Wish I Knew Before Getting a Copper IUD

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Choosing a contraceptive can be overwhelming. Which type is best for you and your body? What are the side effects? Are any long-term? There’s a lot to think about.

In my case, the copper IUD—a small T-shaped piece of plastic, also known as polyethylene, wrapped in copper metal—made the most sense for me. However, there’s more to the IUD world besides this option, known as Paragard. There are many different types of birth control, but “there are only two general classes of IUDs: hormonal and non-hormonal,” says Hillsborough, NJ gynecologist Carolyn Delucia, MD.

There are four different hormonal IUDs—Mirena, Kyleena, Liletta and Skyla—and only one brand of non-hormonal IUD: Paragard. “The reason for the different types of hormonal IUDs is that they vary in progesterone concentration, as well as the number of years they can remain effective,” says New York gynecologist Dr. Monica Grover. “The Mirena and Lileta last up to seven years, whereas Kyleena and Skyla last between three and five.”

Dr. Delucia says the copper IUD lasts a bit longer. “It provides birth control for 10 years.” However, no matter how long your intrauterine device lasts, you can go back to your gynecologist any time to get it removed.

In my experience, there was one main factor that lit the path towards the copper IUD and away from the hormonal option: I don’t like the effects hormones have on my body (i.e. bloating, mood swings and headaches). However, Dr. Grover says the hormones in the hormonal IUD don’t make it into the bloodstream. “Because there is a local release of hormones versus oral contraceptives, which are systemic, the side effects are much less,” she explains.

But, I still wanted to play it safe and stick with the option I knew my body would agree with. “The Paragard works with the science of copper,” says Dr. Grover. “It has 176 milligrams of copper wire that is finely coiled around the stem of the T-shaped IUD, and 68.7 milligrams of copper wrapped around each part of the horizontal arm.” So how does copper prevent pregnancy? By creating a “localized inflammatory reaction within the uterus and cervix,” says Dr. Grover, explaining that this prevents the sperm from interacting with an egg.

Although I never once doubted the effectiveness of the Paragard—it’s 99.9 percent effective at preventing pregnancy—what I was most hesitant about was the insertion process. (Note: Do not read the forums about all the horrible things that could go wrong before going in for the procedure like I did.) Eventually, I came to the conclusion that I was going to have to find out what it was actually like on my own.

The process ended up being fairly quick and easy. “First, the speculum is placed into the vagina and the cervix is visualized and cleaned,” says Dr. Delucia. “Then an instrument is placed on the cervix to stabilize it, and the opening of the cervix is assessed to see if it is wide enough to pass the IUD delivery system into the uterus. Once the pathway is assured, the device is placed using the delivery system provided by the manufacturer.” From the moment you step foot in the office to the moment you step out, the entire process only lasts about 10 minutes and was actually quite painless.

The worst part about getting the IUD was the severe cramps that lasted a few days post-procedure. Not only was it hard to sleep at night, but even the fetal position couldn’t cure the pain. It felt like a bad menstrual cramp that slowly moved up my uterus, but only lasted a few minutes. With consistent breathing and the three Tylenol I took, it was completely manageable—I would recommend the copper IUD to anyone.

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