Is IUD Insertion Painful? Here's What You Should Know If You're Considering The Procedure

The IUD is an alternative to the birth control pill that many more women are considering these days. But what is the IUD insertion process really like? Is it painful?

By Gina Florio4 min read
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More and more women are realizing that the birth control pill comes with a host of unwanted side effects that aren't worth dealing with, such as intense mood swings, gut issues, poor mental health, and low libido. It's also becoming clear to a lot of women that the pill completely shuts down ovulation in the body, which has tremendous effects on your natural hormonal cycle, immune function, muscle maintenance, mood, sleep, and more. This has resulted in thousands of women searching for an alternative to the pill. The IUD is becoming increasingly more popular. In the early 1990s, roughly 1.5% of women used an IUD, but by 2013, that number jumped to 7.2%. Data shows that this number increased even more in 2019. But for the women who are IUD curious, there are many questions, particularly about the insertion process.

What Is an IUD?

The IUD is an intrauterine device that is placed inside your uterus by your doctor. It's known as one of the most convenient forms of contraception because you don't have to remember to take a pill every day, put on a patch, etc. Experts say that, when inserted correctly, the IUD is 99% effective at preventing pregnancy. Depending on what kind of IUD you get, it can last anywhere between 5-10 years.

The IUD is an intrauterine device that is placed inside your uterus by your doctor.

The IUD is a small, T-shaped device that is fitted into your uterus by your doctor (more on the insertion process later), and there are two main kinds of IUDs: the hormonal IUD and the copper IUD. There are four main brand names for the hormonal IUD: Mirena, Kyleena, Skyla, and Liletta. They release low levels of the progesterone-like hormone called progestin and they contain no estrogen. That's one of the reasons they are becoming more attractive, because the synthetic estrogen found in the birth control pill can cause some nasty side effects.

The hormonal IUD, which prevents pregnancy by thickening the muscle in your cervix to stop sperm from reaching and fertilizing an egg, will minimize menstrual symptoms and, in some cases, either eliminate your period altogether or give you very light periods. The hormones in an IUD such as the Mirena will also stop eggs from leaving your ovaries, which means you're not fully ovulating. The copper IUD works by creating an inflammatory reaction that is toxic to sperm and eggs, which prevents pregnancy. It can usually stay in your uterus for longer, about 10 years, but the caveat is that it usually produces heavier, more painful periods.

I had the copper IUD for over a year, and I chose it because I nearly died from a pulmonary embolism in 2009 that was caused by hormonal birth control. My doctor told me my best bet was to stay away from birth control that used any type of hormones, so I thought the copper IUD would be appropriate. It gave me the heaviest, most painful periods I'd ever experienced in my life—and it didn't get any better after a few months. For more than a year, I had to stop my day-to-day life every time my period arrived because I was in so much pain and discomfort. I ended up removing the IUD in 2013, and it was the best decision I ever made.

I had the copper IUD for over a year.

What Is the IUD Insertion Process Like?

How does that small T-shaped device end up in your uterus, and what does it feel like when it's being inserted? This is one of the most common questions about the IUD. You can get the IUD inserted at any point in your menstrual cycle, as long as you're not pregnant. It starts working right away to prevent pregnancy. Before you start with the process, a medical professional will check inside your vagina, look at the size of your womb, perhaps test for existing infections, etc. From start to finish, the appointment will take about 20-30 minutes.

Your vagina is held open with clamps, as if you're having a screening. Before they insert the IUD, your doctor needs to "sound" your uterus. That's when they take a small measuring device, push it through a wider device in which the IUD goes, place it all to the top of your uterus to make sure it's being fitted correctly, and take out the larger device and leave the IUD in. This part only takes about five minutes—but it is deeply uncomfortable. I personally found it to be very painful, even if it was brief.

It's a very odd type of pain, something that I had never experienced before. It wasn't like a cramp; it was more like an invasive pain that made it very clear a foreign object was being shoved into my insides. It is honestly a moment I will never forget, and one of the most haunting things that I've ever experienced in the world of modern medicine. My doctor recommended I take some ibuprofen before I went in for the procedure, which I did. I don't think it did anything at all. I experienced cramping afterward, and I felt really weak. I was able to walk, but I found myself limping, and I remember distinctly that my then-boyfriend came to pick me up and was concerned about how pale I was and how difficult it was for me to walk. He essentially carried me to his car and took me home so I could lay down and rest. However, after the cramping went away that day, it was business as usual, and I didn't feel the IUD for the remainder of the time I had it. My periods were extremely painful, though.

It's a very odd type of pain, something that I had never experienced before.

There's a small risk of infection after you have the IUD inserted, so if you have a fever or abnormal, smelly discharge, you need to speak to your doctor immediately and go to the hospital. There are two small threads that hang down from the IUD in the top of your vagina. You could reach into yourself and feel it to make sure it's still there; at least, that's what the doctor told me, but no matter how many times I tried to reach in and feel it over the course of the year I had the IUD, I never could.

When it comes time for you to have your IUD removed, that's really the easy part. I was extremely nervous going to the doctor to have it removed because I was slightly traumatized by the insertion process. But it was pretty simple—she just asked me to cough, and while I coughed, she pulled it right out. It only lasted a couple of minutes, and I felt so relieved after it was done that I don't even remember any cramping or pain.

Is the IUD Right for You?

You'll have to discuss this with your doctor to decide if the IUD is the right for you. I can just tell you my personal experience: I hated the copper IUD, and it wasn't worth it for me. After I got the IUD out, I learned my natural menstrual cycle and prevented unwanted pregnancy just fine over the last 10 years. When I got married and my husband and I were ready for a baby, I looked at my ovulation schedule, and on the first try, I got pregnant. For me, knowing my natural cycle and keeping foreign objects and artificial hormones out of my body has been infinitely better than any contraception I used in the past.