*I am not a doctor or medical professional. This post is simply relaying my own personal experience with getting an IUD. This post was most recently edited on May 16, 2019.
The first method of birth control I ever used was the pill. I chose it mostly because I was afraid to get an IUD. I’d heard stories from friends about how painful the insertion process was and I got squeamish even considering it. When I decided to go on the pill, I was traveling on the west coast. I’d previously run into challenges using my health insurance in Colorado during a nightmarish bout of laryngitis (yep, that was fun). Since the pill requires a prescription written by a doctor, I decided to minimize any health-insurance related hassle by scheduling an appointment at the nearest Planned Parenthood (if you do not have health insurance, Planned Parenthood is one of the most affordable options out there—simply give them a call to get specifics on their costs. And if you do have insurance, check to see if you can use it at Planned Parenthood! They do important work in our communities, so supporting them with your business is always a good idea).
Why I switched from the pill to an IUD
I was diligent about taking my pill every day. I put TWO reminders on my phone—one in my “reminders” app and one in my “Clue” app (you can never be too cautious). While having to remember to take a pill every day is slightly inconvenient, I didn’t really mind. The whole time I was on the pill, I never experienced any notable issues. My health insurance informed me that in order to get my BC pills covered, I had to pick them up from Walgreens specifically. It was a hassle because that was literally the only reason I ever went to Walgreens. But since I was able to get a three-month supply each time, it wasn’t that big of a deal—until the day I showed up and found out it wasn’t covered anymore. At that point, I was kind of over it. I did not want to have to think about my birth control anymore—taking it every day, contacting my health insurance about covering costs, keeping track of when my prescription ran out, etc. I will also be taken off my parent’s health insurance in January when I turn 26. So I decided to get an IUD.
Why I chose the ParaGard copper IUD
The main reason I decided to go with a copper IUD is because it is 100% hormone-free and I still wanted to have my period (crazy, I know). I like the reassurance. I remember asking my doctor, “If I got a hormonal IUD, how would I know if I was pregnant or not?” and she said IUDs are one of the most effective methods of birth control and because of that, many women just trust that it’s working after they’ve had it in for a while. She said some women like to take a pregnancy test for reassurance.
Another reason I chose the copper IUD is because I wanted a method of birth control that would keep my body doing it’s most “natural” thing as possible. Two potential side effects of the copper IUD are worse cramps and heavier periods. This definitely turned out to be true for me. I naturally have pretty light periods that last 3-4 days on average. With the copper IUD, my periods are heavier and last about 6 days on average. So if you already have a naturally heavy period, keep this in mind. Note: I use a menstrual cup and had to switch to the Model 2 Diva Cup due to the heavier periods. You can read my blog post on menstrual cups here.
The cramping has definitely been more difficult to deal with than the heavier periods. I’ve had days when I am not on my period (or even close to it) but experience cramps as if I am on my period. There have been moments where the intensity of my cramps has made me question if I should go back in to my doctor’s office just to make sure everything is normal. If you have a hard time tolerating cramps, the copper IUD may significantly exacerbate your pain.
I also want to note another contributing factor to my decision: insurance covered the cost of my IUD. If you do not have insurance and want an IUD, I highly recommend contacting your local Planned Parenthood because many locations offer programs to make it more affordable if you don’t have or can’t use insurance.
Other neat facts about the copper IUD:
It can act as emergency contraception (read more about that HERE)
It can last up to 12 years!
Getting the IUD inserted
The insertion process took approximately 30 minutes. This is much longer than normal. According to Planned Parenthood (and feedback from my friends) the process usually takes less than 5 minutes. So I’ve basically endured one of the “worse case scenarios” when it comes to how long it took. And I’m still alive to tell the story! So there is hope for you, too.
The IUD insertion felt like super intense cramps. I found it helpful to take steady, audible breaths to stay as calm and relaxed as possible. I am prone to fainting/nausea and I’d read online that some women get nauseous/dizzy. Luckily, that didn’t happen to me even with it taking 30 minutes.
When my doctor was struggling with the insertion, she wondered if my uterus might be too small for an IUD. I was already halfway through the process (feet in stirrups, CRAMPING, with a speculum shoved up my vagina) so I was like, “DON’T TELL ME MY UTERUS IS TOO SMALL TO PUT AN IUD IN!!!” I didn’t actually say that, but I was thinking it. Her assistant performed an ultrasound to confirm that my uterus was, in fact, an okay size. PHEW. Then my doctor informed me she would need to use a larger instrument to further dilate my cervix and a local anesthetic to minimize the pain. After she got it inserted, I was relieved!
Post IUD insertion
Afterwards, I had to walk very slowly because of the intense cramping. I could’ve driven myself, but I will say—it was very nice to have my mom drive me. About 30 minutes after the insertion, I did end up driving to the grocery store for ketchup and was fine. However, I made the mistake of attempting to “jog” into the store because it was raining. Intense cramping ensued. Moral of the story: don’t try to jog.
The rest of the day, all I wanted to do was sit or lay down and take Ibuprofen. The cramping was more intense if I went from sitting to standing (to go get snacks, duh). I wanted to paint, but really only had enough energy to scroll on my phone or watch Netflix. I had a little spotting/bleeding that first day.
I got my IUD on a Thursday. Cramping subsided significantly after 24 hours. By the afternoon the next day I was able to resume life as normal. The bleeding had pretty much stopped after 24 hours, too. However, the following day I noticed some bleeding start up again—but nothing major. Then on Sunday, it felt like I got the equivalent of my period. My period wasn’t supposed to come for another week, so this surprised me. The bleeding continued through Monday. I attributed this early period to the IUD and the fact that my body was adjusting (like, “WTF IS THIS FOREIGN OBJECT DOING IN HERE?!”).
Getting an IUD? Here are my suggestions:
Take Ibuprofen before the insertion
Don’t expect to have much energy afterwards (maybe even consider taking the day off from work depending on your pain tolerance)(Video) Let's Talk About the Copper IUD
Prepare food beforehand (have leftovers in the fridge that are easy to reheat, have food delivered, or if a friend/family member/partner can come help you make food and bring it to you, that’s even better!)
Use a heating pad or warm cloth on your lower abdomen
Apply dōTERRA ClaryCalm essential oil to your lower abdomen
Buy pads (I usually use a menstrual cup, but you may feel more comfortable with pads that day)
Wear comfy clothes/shoes to the doctor
Buy everything in advance. You won’t want to have to drive and walk around a store.
Watch Netflix or read a book
What NOT to do:
Run or even walk fast. Just trust me on this.
Think, “I’m not bleeding right now so I don’t need pads!” At the very least, I would use a panty liner for a few days just in case. You don’t want to ruin your favorite pair of pants (because let’s be real—we’ve ALL been there)
Push yourself too hard. It’s natural to want to immediately “bounce back” to your normal, uber-productive self, but be patient and remember it’s OKAY if you need some time to recover
I love the convenience of my IUD. I love not having to take a pill every day. However, I do not love the intense cramps. I try to reduce the pain by taking ibuprofen the second I begin feeling even the slightest sign of a cramp. I also apply a LOT of dōTERRA ClaryCalm essential oil on my lower abdomen (while simultaneously inhaling the scent for aromatherapy relief).
Most of my friends echo the same sentiment: getting an IUD is uncomfortable but they’d all do it over again if they had to. If I could do it all over again, I might be tempted to get a hormonal IUD because of my low pain tolerance to cramps. But if the only reason you are on the fence about an IUD is because you’re freaked out about the insertion pain, let my experience serve as one of the “worst case scenarios” as far as how long the procedure took. I survived and am here to tell the tale!
Of course, each person’s experience with an IUD is different. I’m simply sharing mine in hopes that we can open more dialogue to make discussions about sex and reproductive health less taboo. If you found this post helpful, please let me know by leaving a comment! Knowing what topics you find interesting, informative, or useful really helps me when I’m brainstorming to write future blog posts :)
The standard adjustment time for an IUD is about six months. In that time, expect varied cycles and heavier bleeding, plus more intense cramping. Those first two to three months drag on like a Minnesota January, and it seems as if your body will never adjust, and your symptoms and pain will never improve.
My experience actually having the IUD was positive. I did not experience especially heavy or painful periods like I was warned with the copper IUD. I was able to track my cycles without the use of hormones, which cued me into some issues with my cycle that I have since been able to treat.
You also shouldn't get a Paragard IUD if you have a copper allergy, Wilson's Disease, or a bleeding disorder that makes it hard for your blood to clot. And you shouldn't get a hormonal IUD if you have had breast cancer. Very rarely, the size or shape of someone's uterus makes it hard to place an IUD correctly.