The Copper IUD and Breastfeeding

Contraception
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If you're pregnant and you plan on breastfeeding, or you just had a baby and you're breastfeeding, 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 4 to 6 weeks after the birth of your baby. The copper IUD does not contain any hormones, so it will not have a negative affect on your baby or decrease your supply of breast milk.

Insertion of the Copper IUD

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 of the Copper IUD

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 health care 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 Advantages of the Copper IUD

  • 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, and it's safe to use while you're 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 it is removed, fertility quickly returns and you can begin trying for another child right away.
     

The Disadvantages of the Copper IUD

  • 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.
     
  • 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.

The Bottom Line

The copper 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.   

 

Sources:

Hale, Thomas W., and Rowe, Hilary E. Medications and Mothers' Milk: A Manual of Lactational Pharmacology Sixteenth Edition. Hale Publishing. 2014.

Heinemann K, Reed S, Moehner S, Do Minh T. Comparative contraceptive effectiveness of levonorgestrel-releasing and copper intrauterine devices: the European Active Surveillance Study for Intrauterine Devices. Contraception. 2015 April 30;91(4):280-3.

Hubacher D, Chen PL, Park S. Side effects from the copper IUD: do they decrease over time?. Contraception. 2009 May 31;79(5):356-62.

Kaneshiro B, Aeby T. Long-term safety, efficacy, and patient acceptability of the intrauterine Copper T-380 A contraceptive device. International Journal of Women's Health. 2010 August 9;2:211-20.

Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Eighth Edition. Elsevier Health Sciences. 2015.

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