What You Need To Know About The Copper IUD

Since I talk about the effects of hormonal birth control and how to transition off so frequently, I often get asked about the copper IUD.

I personally had the copper IUD for 7 years since I wanted a non hormonal form of birth control and wasn’t ready to rely 100% on the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) yet.

In this post I’ll be sharing the history of the copper IUD, how it impacts the body, possible side effects, and how to be healthy with a copper IUD.

History of Copper IUD

The first IUD was made in 1909 by a German physician Richard Richter. His IUD was made of silkworm gut, but wasn’t widely used (wonder why). IUDs started to get more popular in the US in the 1950’s as they began to improve the design making them easier to insert and remove.

The copper IUD was invented in the 1960’s and made the T-shape design more popular since it fit better inside the uterus, and would go on to reduce the rates of IUD expulsion (cringe).

The physician that invented the copper IUD, Howard Tatum, discovered that copper could be an effective spermicide and that’s when the copper IUD was born.

The hormonal IUD was invented in the 1960s and 1970s but I’ll go into that in another post!

Image from: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intrauterine_device

How It Works

The copper IUD is a plastic device wrapped in copper (see image above) that gets inserted into your uterus in order to prevent pregnancy.

Insertion takes place in your doctor’s office and only takes a few minutes. When I had my copper IUD put in, it hurt. I’ve since had friends and clients that have taken a prescription medication prior to insertion that helps with the pain. Either way, it’s a quick process. You will likely have cramping after though so if you plan on getting one, plan to rest of the rest of the day post insertion.

The IUD has two little strings on there (pictured above) that make it very easy to take out. You do have to go back into your doctor’s office for removal, but it’s another simple procedure. I didn’t experience much pain when they took it out and just had a little spotting after.

Prevents Pregnancy Without Hormones

Unlike hormonal birth control, the copper IUD does not contain hormones and does not technically change your hormones (more on that below). It also does not suppress ovulation (yay!) and works to prevent pregnancy in two ways:

  1. The copper ions act as a spermicide and impair sperm motility.
  2. The presence of something in your uterus prevents embryo implantation.

The copper IUD is effective as soon as it’s placed in your uterus and is safe to keep in for up to 10 years. The failure rate is only .6% making it the most effective method of birth control.

This all sounds super amazing, but I’m going to be honest. It’s not all sunshines and roses with the copper IUD. Below are some of the side effects and then I go through the pros & cons to give you more perspective on if it’s right for you (only you know that).

Side Effects of the Copper IUD

Although the copper IUD is the most popular form of birth control in the world, there are some side effects that I feel women should feel aware of when deciding if it’s right for them.

Pain During Insertion

There is typically pain when the IUD is inserted and cramping and/or back aches for a few days after. This is all considered a normal reaction.

Spotting Between Periods/Irregular Periods

There is a risk of spotting between periods with any IUD, but also the copper IUD as well as bleeding for a few months after insertion. This is technically considered “normal.”

Heavier and/or Longer Periods

Research has shown that the copper IUD increases period blood loss 20-50% at least for the first 12 months. I experienced the increase the entire time I had my copper IUD. Everyone is different.

Cramping During Your Periods

I’m sorry but this is an understatement. One of the main reasons I got mine out (after 7 years) was the intense period cramps. I would literally be doubled over in pain. For a long time it was worth it because I didn’t have to use hormonal birth control, but eventually it wasn’t. In fact, here’s a study that shows pain does not always clear up over time for everyone.

Expulsion–it might come out

This is always a risk with an IUD, especially within the first month, but decreases the longer you have it in. Some signs of expulsion include pain, spotting, and/or if you no longer feel the string (or if it gets longer).

Pelvic Inflammatory Disease

Less than 1% of women experience this from the copper IUD and it only occurs if you have a pre-existing infection of gonorrhea or chlamydia. Your doctor should screen for those prior to insertion. Mine did require testing before I got it in.

Bacterial Vaginosis

A bacterial overgrowth in the vagina aka bacterial vaginosis has been shown to to be increased in IUD users, however, more research is needed. If you begin to get a fishy smelling vaginal discharge, then this is a sign there is an imbalance. Learn more about how IUDs impact the vaginal microbiome in this article.

Copper Excess

There are quite a few studies that show that copper levels are increased in copper IUD users vs those that do not have the copper IUD. There’s also a study that shows copper accumulation in the fallopian tubes that could potentially be causing inflammation. The problem is that these studies aren’t showing toxic levels so we aren’t sure how it’s impact the body, but some women report anxiety and depression when using copper IUD. Toward the end of my copper IUD journey, I was experiencing increased depression and anxiety (not my norm) and could not handle it so I got mine out.

The Paragard website says that these symptoms (cramping/heavy periods) should clear up for most women after 2-3 months, but I did not experience this. And most doctors I’ve talked to do warn you that it’s common to have heavy periods and more cramping the entire time (this is usually when they are trying to convince you to use a hormonal option–at least in my experience).

If you have issues with your copper IUD, such as the commonly seen increased bleeding and pain, your doctor will likely recommend Ibuprofen or other anti-inflammatory drugs. This study showed that even when following the recommended doses of Ibuprofen, it did not reduce removal rates. All this to say, listen to your body.

Copper IUD & Estrogen Excess

The copper IUD does not directly alter estrogen levels in the body, however copper has an affinity for estrogen. This means that when one rises in the body, the other also rises.

This is why women that take hormonal birth control that contain estrogen (the synthetic form) often have higher copper levels. And low copper is associated with low estrogen levels.

I went from taking the pill to getting the copper IUD put in and I feel that I really did not set myself up for success. I had clear signs of estrogen dominance post pill, but did not understand that at the time. They worsened when I got my IUD and I didn’t realize until a few years later that they were all connected. Don’t make that mistake! 👇🏼

If you do want to get a copper IUD, consider having your doctor test your copper and zinc levels prior to insertion so you can monitor any changes. Zinc and copper compete for each other so you don’t just want to supplement with high levels of isolated zinc without testing your levels.

Copper also impacts thyroid health. If you have a history of thyroid issues, then you may want to consider a different form of birth control.

Pros & Cons

I recommend making your own list of pros and cons if you are considering getting the copper IUD. Below is a list from my perspective as a women’s health practitioner and personal user.

Pros:

  • Non hormonal birth control that allows you to ovulate.
  • You insert it and forget it and can leave in for up to 10 years.
  • Your partner can’t feel it.
  • Women of any age can get this (even if you haven’t had kids).
  • Your fertility returns to normal as soon as you remove it.
  • It’s the most effective form of birth control–failure rate is .6%.

Cons:

  • Painful when inserted.
  • Can lead to painful, heavy periods.
  • Can potentially lead to copper excess and the unwanted symptoms that come with that.
  • Increases your risk for bacterial vaginosis.
  • Although it’s non hormonal–estrogen has an affinity for copper and vice versa so this could potentially lead to estrogen dominant symptoms.
  • Risks of expulsion, perforation, though small, are present.
  • Cannot use if you have current infections.
  • You might have to pay for it–some insurance companies cover and some don’t. I had to pay $150 for mine, but I had it in for 7 years and felt it was worth it.

That wraps it up! Again, I can’t say this enough, you have to do what works for you. If you have a history of painful, heavy periods, or maybe low iron–probably not the best option. If you don’t have a history of period problems, then this could be a good fit.

Need Help? Want Support?

That was a lot of information on the copper IUD, but I truly hope you found it helpful.

If you’re thinking of transitioning off hormonal birth control or maybe you already have and are experiencing negative symptoms, I would love to chat! Fill out this form. Once that is filled out you will get an email to schedule a free, 30 minute discovery call with me. I am happy to chat with you about your main concerns, what has worked/not worked, and where you need the most help. Hormone imbalances can have cause a lot of unwanted symptoms and make life more difficult that it has to be. Let me help you balance your hormones, BOOST your energy, and feel good for LIFE. 

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