One Doc's Personal Experience With an IUD

Birth control is always a hot topic, especially IUDs. Questions prevail about Mirena and ParaGard, so here is a comparison of these two popular IUDs from a board-certified physician. She even explains her personal experience with this form of contraception.

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To continue our ongoing series of gynecological topics, I have decided to write about intrauterine devices (IUDs) as a form of birth control. Even though I learned about IUDs through many outlets (sex ed in school, medical school), I decided to research them more thoroughly since the birth control pills I started taking after having my baby negatively affected my milk supply. I had to find an alternate mode of contraception so I could continue to have an abundant milk supply for my little one. I had a ParaGard (copper) IUD inserted a couple of weeks ago and I'll share my experience as well as more information about two types of IUDs in today's column!

IUDs are small T-shaped devices that are inserted into a woman's uterus to prevent pregnancy. Currently there are two FDA-approved IUDs. The ParaGard, made out of copper, is a nonhormonal type of IUD and can prevent pregnancy for up to 10 years after insertion. You may be wondering how it prevents pregnancy, since it's nonhormonal and nonbarrier. According to WebMD, copper is toxic to sperm. The ParaGard also makes the uterus and fallopian tubes produce fluid that kills sperm. However, if fertilization of an egg does occur, this IUD keeps the fertilized egg from implanting on the wall of the uterus. Other benefits of ParaGard include removal at any time with a quick return to fertility, decreased risk of endometrial cancer, it can be used while breastfeeding, and it doesn't carry the risks that hormonal birth control has.

Mirena is a hormonal IUD and is the only FDA-approved hormonal IUD. Mirena can be used to prevent pregnancy for up to five years. WebMD reports that Mirena prevents fertilization of an egg by damaging or killing sperm and making the mucus in the cervix thick and sticky so sperm have a hard time getting through to the uterus. It also keeps the lining of the uterus from growing very thick, which makes the lining a poor place for a fertilized egg to implant and grow. Mirena also partially suppresses ovulation due to the hormones in the IUD. The hormones in Mirena also reduce menstrual bleeding and cramping. A surprising fact about Mirena is that it can also reduce the chance of developing pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).

According to the Mayo Clinic, ParaGard can cause cramping, severe menstrual pain and heavy bleeding, nausea, backache, and painful sex. Mirena has different side effects that include headache, acne, breast tenderness, irregular cycles at first followed by a possibility of lack of menstrual periods after one year of use, mood changes, weight gain, nausea, ovarian cysts, and abdominal or pelvic pain. Both Mirena and ParaGard also carry the possibility of getting dislodged and expelled from the body. Neither IUDs protect against sexually transmitted infections.

In my own personal experience, the actual insertion of the ParaGard IUD was not painful, but this may have only been because my OB-GYN numbed my cervix with local anesthetic (which was actually quite painful in and of itself!). After the procedure, I had mild cramping for about three days and light spotting for about one day. Other than that, I have not had any long-lasting symptoms or concerns!

I hope that this information helps broaden your knowledge about the different types of contraception that are available, other than birth control pills. Again, if you have any questions about IUDs or want to determine if an IUD is a good option for you, you should take time to speak with your primary care physician or your OB-GYN.

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