Hesperian Health Guides
An IUD (Intra-Uterine Device) is a small plastic, or plastic and copper, object put into the womb by a trained health worker. It prevents pregnancy in different ways by affecting the egg, sperm, or lining of the womb. For information on inserting an IUD, see chapter 21 of A Book for Midwives, available from Hesperian.
Some kinds of IUDs contain hormones that slowly release over time. IUDs work for either 5 or up to 12 years, depending on the type. IUDs do not protect against HIV or other sexually transmitted infections.
IUDs are safe for both women who have been pregnant and those who have never been pregnant. They can be put in any time, as long as the woman is not pregnant and does not have a vaginal infection or STI. When an IUD is taken out, you can become pregnant right away.
Once inserted in the womb, it is unlikely for an IUD to come out but not impossible. Once a month, you can check if the IUD’s strings that hang from the cervix are still there by reaching into your vagina and feeling for them (but not pulling on them). If you cannot feel the strings or if you think the IUD has come out, use condoms or avoid having sex until you check with a health worker.
Possible side effects of using an IUD
The most common side effect is heavier, more painful monthly bleeding. This may be uncomfortable but it is not dangerous and will usually lessen after a few months. Some kinds of IUD contain the hormone progestin, which can help reduce the discomfort and bleeding. IUDs with progestin can cause the same side effects as the minipill.
Who should not use an IUD
- Women with cancer of the cervix or uterus (womb). Women with breast cancer should not use the IUD that has progestin, but they can safely use the IUDs with copper.
- Women with gonorrhea, chlamydia, or pelvic infection (PID). For more on gonorrhea and chlamydia, see Sexually Transmitted Infections.
- For more on PID, see "Pelvic Infection" in Belly Pain, Diarrhea, and Worms.