How do copper IUDs work?
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IUD stands for Intrauterine Device — a birth control method that sits inside your uterus. A non-hormonal IUD is a small piece of flexible plastic shaped like a T that has copper wrapped around it. That’s why it’s also called the copper IUD.
Non-hormonal IUDs use copper to prevent pregnancy. Sperm doesn’t like copper — it changes the way sperm cells move so they can’t swim to an egg. If sperm can’t make it to an egg, pregnancy can’t happen.
One of the awesome things about IUDs is that they last for years, but they’re not permanent. If you decide that you want to get pregnant, or if you just don’t want to have your IUD anymore, your nurse or doctor can take it out. After you get your IUD removed, your fertility goes back to what's normal for you.
What are the kinds of non-hormonal IUDs?
There’s only one brand of copper IUD in the U.S. It’s called the Paragard IUD. It lasts for up to 12 years.
You don’t have to keep your IUD for 12 years though — you can get your IUD taken out whenever you want. If your IUD is going to expire but you want to keep using an IUD, your nurse or doctor can replace it.
What are the benefits of non-hormonal IUDs?
The copper IUD is really good at preventing pregnancy, and it’s totally hormone free. So it’s a good option for people who prefer non-hormonal birth control, or can’t use methods with hormones because of medical reasons.
The copper IUD can be used as emergency contraception — a way to prevent pregnancy AFTER unprotected sex. IUDs are the most effective form of emergency contraception. If you get one inserted within 120 hours (5 days) after having unprotected sex, it’s more than 99% effective against pregnancy. And you can leave your copper IUD in to keep preventing pregnancy for as long as you want, up to 12 years.
There are lots of other benefits to IUDs too. They’re super convenient — once your copper IUD is in place, you don’t have to think about birth control for up to 12 years. IUDs are also one of the most effective methods of birth control you can get. They’re more than 99% effective at preventing pregnancy. But if you decide you want to get pregnant, you can get your IUD removed whenever you want and your fertility will go back to what's normal for you right away.
What are the disadvantages of non-hormonal IUDs?
Non-hormonal (copper) IUDs can make your periods heavier and cause cramping, especially in the first 3-6 months. And you may have some IUD cramps when you first get your IUD. For many people, these side effects get better once your body gets used to the IUD. So if you can stick it out for a few months, there’s a good chance the side effects will ease up. Read more about side effects.
It’s normal to have some cramping during your period with a copper IUD. But if your cramps are really bad and over-the-counter medicine doesn’t help, talk with your nurse or doctor. It’s also a good idea to call your nurse or doctor if you’re still having bad IUD cramps after a year, or you have pain or IUD cramps when you’re not on your period — this can be a sign your IUD has moved, and they may want to check to make sure it’s still in place.
IUDs are one of the most effective and convenient ways to prevent pregnancy, but they don't protect you from sexually transmitted infections. So use condoms with your IUD every time you have sex to lower the chance of getting or spreading STDs.