The Copper IUD and Breastfeeding

Contraception Copper IUD
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If you're pregnant and planning to breastfeed, or you're breastfeeding a baby you just had, you may be wondering about birth control. Since you can get pregnant again even if you're breastfeeding, it's a good idea to talk to your doctor and your partner about your family planning options. There are many safe and effective forms of birth control available for breastfeeding mothers. The copper IUD, or intrauterine device, is one such option.

What Is the Copper IUD?

The copper IUD, also called ParaGard, is a soft, flexible, T-shaped piece of plastic that is wrapped in copper wire. It's placed inside your uterus by a doctor. The action of the copper kills the sperm and prevents the sperm and egg from coming together (fertilization). Plus, the shape of the device works to prevent pregnancy by interfering with the ability of a fertilized egg to attach to the wall of the uterus (implantation).

Is the Copper IUD Safe While You're Breastfeeding?

The copper IUD is a safe and effective method of contraception for breastfeeding women. Your doctor can place it into your uterus right after your baby is born. It can also be inserted at your first postpartum doctor visit at approximately four to six weeks after the birth of your baby. The copper IUD does not contain any hormones, so it will not have a negative effect on your baby or decrease your supply of breast milk.

Insertion

The copper IUD is put into place by your health care provider. The procedure can be carried out right in your doctor's office. You may have some bleeding and mild cramping while your doctor is inserting the IUD, and for a short time after the procedure. Ask your doctor about taking an over-the-counter pain reliever such as Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or Ibuprofen (Motrin) one hour before your appointment to help make the procedure more comfortable.

Once your doctor places the IUD, all you have to do is check the strings once each month to be sure it remains in place. Your doctor will advise you when to return for an examination. Typically you will see your doctor after one month, and then once a year after that. 

Removal

The copper IUD can remain in place for up to 10 years. However, you can have it removed sooner if you wish to get pregnant again. When it's time to remove the device, you MUST see a trained healthcare professional. You should never try to remove an IUD on your own because it could cause serious damage to your body.

The removal of your copper IUD can take place right in your doctor's office. Just like during the insertion, you may feel mild pain or cramping during the procedure. So, once again, talk to your doctor about taking a pain reliever one hour before to decrease the discomfort. Once the IUD is removed, your fertility will return quickly. If you do not wish to become pregnant, you can have another IUD inserted during the same visit, or switch to another form of birth control.

The Pros and Cons

There are pros and cons to using any type of contraception. Here are some of the things you should think about if you are considering the copper IUD. 

The Advantages of the Copper IUD are: 

  • The copper IUD is a reliable form of birth control. It's 99% effective in the prevention of pregnancy. It is as effective as sterilization, but it is not permanent.
  • Unlike the hormonal IUD Mirena, the copper IUD does not contain any hormones.
  • It's safe to use while you are breastfeeding.
  • It can be inserted within 48 hours of childbirth.
  • It is a long-term birth control solution that can stay in place for up to 10 years.
  • It's easy. Once inserted, the only thing you have to do is check the strings once a month. There are no pills to remember to take or patches to change.
  • It is a reversible form of contraception. Once your doctor removes it, fertility quickly returns. You can begin trying for another child right away.

The Disadvantages of the Copper IUD include: 

  • The copper IUD does not provide any protection against sexually transmitted diseases or HIV.
  • An IUD can move out of place or fall out of your body.
  • The copper IUD can cause cramping, heavier periods, and spotting in between periods.
  • Even though it is cost-effective over time, the upfront cost can seem expensive.
  • Rare side effects include infection or a tear in the uterine wall. Both of these situations are dangerous and need to be taken care of immediately.
  • You should not use the copper IUD if you are allergic to copper.

How the Copper IUD Differs From the Hormonal IUD

The hormonal IUD is also called Mirena, Skyla, or Liletta. This type of IUD contains the hormone progestin. The progestin in the IUD prevents pregnancy by causing changes in the cervical mucus and uterine lining. Since progestin-only methods of birth control are considered safe to use while you're breastfeeding, it is another option for breastfeeding moms.

The hormonal IUD, like the copper IUD, is also 99% effective and reversible. And, while it is still a long-term method, it can stay in place for up to 5 years where the copper IUD can remain in the uterus for up to 10 years. Another difference is that the copper IUD can be inserted right after childbirth, but the hormonal IUD is not usually inserted right away. In theory, the immediate insertion of a hormonal IUD could interfere with the production of breast milk. However, there isn't enough research to show that it does or doesn't have a negative effect. Therefore, your doctor may recommend waiting approximately six weeks before inserting the hormonal IUD to prevent any issues with the establishment of a healthy breast milk supply.  

The Bottom Line

An intrauterine device or IUD is an easy, convenient, reliable method of birth control that's a safe option for breastfeeding women. Once it's put in place, you really don't have to think about it other than to check the strings once a month. If you're in a committed relationship and you're comfortable with the device, it's a great choice for long-term contraception.

Of course, birth control and family planning are very personal decisions. While you're pregnant, talk to your doctor and your partner about your desire to breastfeed and your birth control options. Work together to make a plan that best fits your situation and your lifestyle.  

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