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An IUD is a small T-shaped plastic and copper device that’s put into your womb (uterus) by a doctor or nurse.
It releases copper to stop you getting pregnant, and protects against pregnancy for between 5 and 10 years. It’s sometimes called a “coil” or “copper coil”.
The IUD is similar to the intrauterine system (IUS), but instead of releasing the hormone progestogen like the IUS, the IUD releases copper into the womb.
The copper alters the cervical mucus, which makes it more difficult for sperm to reach an egg and survive. It can also stop a fertilised egg from being able to implant itself.
If you’re 40 or over when you have an IUD fitted, it can be left in until you reach the menopause or you no longer need contraception.
An IUD can be fitted at any time during your menstrual cycle, as long as you’re not pregnant. You’ll be protected against pregnancy straight away.
Before your IUD is fitted, a GP or nurse will check inside your vagina to check the position and size of your womb. You may be tested for any existing infections, such as STIs, and be given antibiotics.
The appointment takes about 20 to 30 minutes, and fitting the IUD should take no longer than 5 minutes:
Having an IUD fitted can be uncomfortable, and some people might find it painful, but you can have a local anaesthetic to help. Discuss this with a GP or nurse beforehand.
Let the person fitting your IUD know if you feel any pain or discomfort while you are having it fitted. You can ask to stop at any time.
You can also take painkillers after having an IUD fitted if you need to.
You may get period-type cramps afterwards, but painkillers can ease the cramps. You may also bleed for a few days after having an IUD fitted.
Once your IUD has been fitted, you may be advised to get it checked by a GP after 3 to 6 weeks to make sure everything is fine. Tell the GP if you have any problems after this initial check or if you want the IUD removed.
See a GP if you or your partner are at risk of getting an STI, as this can lead to an infection in the pelvis.
You may have an infection if you:
An IUD has 2 thin threads that hang down a little way from your womb into the top of your vagina.
The GP or nurse that fits your IUD will teach you how to feel for these threads and check that it’s still in place.
Check your IUD is in place a few times in the first month and then after each period, or at regular intervals.
It’s very unlikely that your IUD will come out, but if you cannot feel the threads or think it’s moved, you may not be protected against pregnancy.
See a GP or nurse straight away and use additional contraception, such as condoms, until your IUD has been checked.
If you have had sex recently, you may need to use emergency contraception.
Your partner should not be able to feel your IUD during sex. If they can, see a GP or nurse for a check-up.
Your IUD can be removed at any time by a trained doctor or nurse.
If you’re not having another IUD put in and do not want to get pregnant, use additional contraception, such as condoms, for 7 days before you have it removed.
It’s possible to get pregnant as soon as the IUD has been taken out.
Most people with a womb can use an IUD.
A GP or nurse will ask about your medical history to check if an IUD is suitable for you.
The IUD may not be suitable if you:
People who have had an ectopic pregnancy or who have an artificial heart valve must consult their GP or clinician before having an IUD fitted.
An IUD can usually be fitted 4 weeks after giving birth (vaginal or caesarean). You’ll need to use alternative contraception from 3 weeks (21 days) after the birth until the IUD is put in.
In some cases, an IUD can be fitted within 48 hours of giving birth. It’s safe to use an IUD when you’re breastfeeding, and it will not affect your milk supply.
An IUD can be fitted by an experienced GP or nurse straight after an abortion or miscarriage. You’ll be protected against pregnancy immediately.
Although an IUD is an effective method of contraception, there are some things to consider before having one fitted.
There’s a very small chance of getting a pelvic infection in the first 20 days after the IUD has been inserted.
You may be advised to have a check for any existing infections before an IUD is fitted.
See a GP if you’ve had an IUD fitted and you:
There’s some limited evidence that if you have an IUD fitted, you may have a slightly higher chance of getting thrush that keeps coming back.
Speak to a GP if you have an IUD and keep getting thrush. You might want to think about trying a different type of contraception.
There’s a small chance that the IUD can be rejected (expelled) by the womb or it can move (displacement).
If this happens, it’s usually soon after it’s been fitted. You’ll be taught how to check that your IUD is in place.
In rare cases, an IUD can make a hole in the womb when it’s put in. This may be painful, although sometimes there may be no symptoms.
If the GP or nurse fitting your IUD is experienced, the risk is extremely low. But see a GP straight away if you’re feeling pain or cannot feel the threads of your IUD, as you may need surgery to remove it.
If the IUD fails and you become pregnant, there’s also an increased risk of ectopic pregnancy.
You can get the IUD for free, even if you’re under 16, from:
Contraception services are free and confidential, including for people under the age of 16.
If you’re under 16 and want contraception, the doctor, nurse or pharmacist will not tell your parents or carer as long as they believe you fully understand the information you’re given and the decisions you’re making.
Doctors and nurses work under strict guidelines when dealing with people under 16. They’ll encourage you to consider telling your parents, but they will not make you.
The only time a professional might want to tell someone else is if they believe you’re at risk of harm, such as abuse.
In these circumstances, the risk would need to be serious, and they’d usually discuss it with you first.