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The contraceptive IUD

An intra-uterine device (IUD) – also known as the copper coil, the copper IUD or the coil – is very effective at preventing pregnancy.  

It is inserted into the womb and will work for between five and 10 years, so you don’t need to remember to do anything else to prevent pregnancy during this time. 

IUDs do not protect against HIV or other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). So even if you decide to use an IUD you should use condoms as well.  

What is a contraceptive IUD?

A small device, shaped like a ‘T’, which is made out of plastic and copper (which is why a lot of people call it the copper IUD). It has two thin threads that hang down from your womb into the top of your vagina. 

Where can I get the contraceptive IUD?

A trained healthcare professional will fit your IUD, normally at a sexual health clinic or your local health clinic. 

How does an IUD work?

The IUD releases copper into the womb. This changes the mucus inside the cervix (the womb’s entrance), which makes it harder for sperm to reach an egg and survive. It also stops a fertilised egg from implanting itself in the womb and growing. 

The coil is fitted by gently putting a smooth, tube-shaped tool (a speculum) into your vagina so that the IUD can be inserted into your womb. Fitting it should take around five minutes, and you are likely to be tested for STIs beforehand. 

The healthcare professional who fits your IUD will show you how to find the threads so you can check each month that it is still in place. 

What are the advantages and disadvantages of using a contraceptive IUD?

Advantages  

  • you do not have to think about birth control for five to ten years 

  • you are in control of whether you get pregnant or not 

  • once fitted, it works straight away 

  • it is safe to use and can be removed if you have side effects 

  • you can have it taken out at any time, and your natural fertility will quickly return  

  • you can get an IUD fitted four weeks after giving birth, and it’s safe to use if you’re breastfeeding  

Disadvantages  

  • having it fitted can be uncomfortable and even painful. You can have a local anaesthetic (numbing medication) to help if so  

  • it doesn’t protect you or your partner from STIs, including HIV – only condoms prevent pregnancy and STIs 

  • it's very unlikely that your IUD will come out, but if you cannot feel the threads or think it has moved, you may not be protected against pregnancy 

  • your periods might become heavier, longer or more painful. This is likely to improve after a few months. 

How often do I need to get a contraceptive IUD?

Every five to 10 years, depending on the type of IUD.  

What do I do if forget to replace my IUD?

You should go to your doctor. You might also consider taking emergency contraception.

You should also use condoms if you continue having sex, at least until you get a new IUD or swap to a different contraceptive method. 

Do I still need to use condoms if I’m using an IUD?

Condoms are the only type of contraceptive that protect you and your partner from HIV and STIs, so it is worth using them even if you have an IUD. 

Will using an IUD harm my chances of getting pregnant later on?

No. Once the IUD is removed, you’ll be able to get pregnant straight away. 

Let's talk about the contraceptive IUD!

Here are a few questions to help kick-off discussions on the issues you need to talk about! You can share them on social, on WhatsApp or just get talking.

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Can IUDs tear the womb?

This is very unlikely to happen, it only happens in rare cases. And if a tear does happen it won’t cause any lasting harm. 

Can an IUD get lost in my body?

On very rare occasions an IUD can work its way down through the cervix. This means it won’t be effective at preventing pregnancy but it’s not dangerous.  

Can I only have an IUD if I've already given birth?

No, anyone with a womb can use an IUD, whether you’ve had children or not. 

Can an IUD cause a pelvis infection?

Yes – but only if you have an STI. If you have an undiagnosed STI when you have an IUD fitted it increases your risk of getting a pelvis infection during the first 20 days of having the coil. After this, your risk is the same as anyone else’s. If you think you might be at risk of STIs, it’s a good idea to use condoms as well, or consider using a different type of contraception. 

If you have an IUD and are worried about side effects, talk to your healthcare professional as there are plenty of other birth control methods you can try. 

What advice can I give to someone about IUDs?

The best thing you can do is to give them clear and accurate information, respect their decisions, be open and do not judge. 

They might feel embarrassed about discussing sex with you. If they are, connect them with a friendly healthcare professional, a helpline or factual online resources, like this website. 

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  • Last updated: 21 March 2022
  • Last full review: 01 March 2022
  • Next full review: 01 March 2025
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