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The IUD (Intrauterine Device)

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The IUD (Intrauterine Device):
Answers to Your Questions

What is an IUD?
Is it effective?
How does it work?
How do I use an IUD?
When may an IUD be inserted?
What happens during the procedure?
When does the IUD take effect?
How to check the IUD strings
How often to check the IUD strings
Changes in menstrual periods and other side effects
Warning signs
Other instructions
What are the advantages and disadvantages of the IUD?
Is the IUD the right method for me?

The information provided here is meant to give you general information about IUDs and does not replace the need to talk to a health care provider if you would like to use an IUD as a contraceptive method.


What is an IUD?

An IUD is a long-acting contraceptive method intended to be used for several months or years. It is a small device that is usually made of plastic or of plastic and copper. A doctor or trained health care worker places the IUD in the woman's womb. The most commonly used IUD, the Copper T380-A, can be left in place for 10 years.

Is it effective?

The IUD is very effective. The Copper T380-A is effective for up to 10 years.

NOTE: IUDs do not provide protection against HIV infection and other sexually transmitted infections. Aside from abstinence, latex condoms offer the best protection against these infections.

How does it work?

The IUD stops the man's sperm from meeting the woman's egg.


How do I use an IUD?

As with any other method, you should talk to your doctor or a family planning counselor at a local clinic or hospital before using an IUD as a contraceptive method. The following instructions are provided to help you decide whether an IUD may be right for you.

When may an IUD be inserted?

  • The IUD may be inserted at any time during your period, or at any time you and your health care provider believe you are not pregnant.
  • If you have just delivered a baby, you may have the IUD inserted while you are at the hospital following delivery, six weeks after delivery, or at any time you and your health care provider believe you are not pregnant. You may use the IUD whether or not you are breastfeeding.
  • If you have just had an uncomplicated abortion and the uterus is not infected, you may have an IUD inserted on the same day as the abortion or at any time you and your health care provider believe you are not pregnant.

What happens during the procedure?

  • The doctor or nurse will perform a pelvic exam on you and then insert the IUD. The exam and procedure usually take less than half an hour. You may feel some cramping or pain during the procedure.
  • If you are having an IUD inserted postpartum, you may or may not have a pelvic exam before the procedure.

When does the IUD take effect?

The IUD is effective as soon as it is inserted.

How to check the IUD strings:

It is important that you learn to check the IUD strings so that you can be sure the IUD is still in place. Here are the steps to follow:

  1. Wash your hands with soap.
  2. Sit in a squatting position or stand with one foot up on a step or ledge.
  3. Gently insert your finger into your vagina. Feel for the cervix. It feels firm, like the tip of your nose.
  4. Feel for the strings, but do not pull the strings. Pulling the strings might move the IUD or cause it to come out.

How often to check the strings:

After the IUD has been in place for one month, check the strings every menstrual period. Use another contraceptive method, such as condoms or spermicides, and go to the health facility for a check-up if:

  • You do not feel the strings.
  • The strings feel longer than they used to be.
  • You feel the hard part of the IUD in your vagina or at your cervix.

Changes in menstrual periods and other side effects

  • You can expect to have some cramping within the first few days after insertion.
  • You may have some changes in your menstrual periods. You may have more cramping and heavier bleeding during your periods.
  • You many have longer periods than before.
  • You may have some spotting or bleeding between your menstrual periods.

These side effects usually go away after a few months of use. If they bother you or continue beyond a few months, return to the health facility.

Warning signs

Return to your health facility or go to a hospital at once if you have any of the warning signs listed here. IUD users are at increased risk of infection in the uterus for the first month after insertion, so watch closely for warning signs during that time. Be sure to tell the health care provider that you are using an IUD for contraception.

  • You have a late period or other signs of pregnancy.
  • You have bleeding or spotting between periods or after intercourse that continues beyond a few months after insertion or that starts a few months after insertion.
  • You have severe pain in your belly.
  • You have pain during intercourse.
  • You have unusual discharge from your vagina.
  • You notice a missing string, or a shorter or longer string.
  • You can feel the hard part of the IUD when checking for the strings.

Other instructions

  • After the IUD has been inserted, you may have sexual intercourse as soon as it is comfortable for you.
  • If you have no problems, return to the health facility for a check-up as suggested by your health care provider (usually in 3-6 weeks) when you are not menstruating.

Return to the health facility if:

  • You are not happy with the method.
  • You want the IUD removed.
  • You want information about, or want to start using, another family planning method.
  • You think there is any chance you may have been exposed to HIV infection or any other STI.

Any time you visit a health service, tell the doctor or nurse that you are using an IUD for contraception.


What are the advantages and disadvantages of the IUD?

Advantages:

  • The IUD prevents pregnancy for a long time (several years).
  • The IUD is not linked to sexual intercourse.
  • You do not have to remember to do something every day.

Disadvantages:

  • The IUD does not provide protection against HIV infection and other sexually transmitted infections.
  • The IUD may cause spotting or heavy periods, or more menstrual cramping. These side effects usually go away after a few months of use.
  • A trained doctor or health care worker must insert and remove the IUD.

Is the IUD the right method for me?

There are a number of factors that you should consider before deciding whether the IUD is right for you. These questions can help you determine whether the IUD might be an effective contraceptive method for you.


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