But you may not have given much thought to what happens when it’s time to take out this one-inch, T-shaped device—either because you plan to start having kids, it’s reached the end of its lifespan (which can be up to 12 years, depending on the type you have), or you just don’t want the thing in you anymore.
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Here's what happens in a nutshell. You'll make an appointment with your ob-gyn, just as you did when you had the IUD put in. While you're on your back on the exam table, your doctor (or sometimes a nurse) will insert a speculum. This lets her see the IUD strings, which should be in the cervix. Once she finds them, she'll gently pull on them with a forceps until the IUD slides out of the cervical canal and then out of your vagina. Voila—you're done.
Sometimes it takes a little longer. For example, if the strings aren’t clearly visible, your doctor might do an ultrasound to find them and make sure the IUD is in the proper place. In rare cases, the IUD could be stuck in the wall of the uterus, which calls for minimally invasive surgery to get it out.
But for the vast majority of women, the process is quick and easy, and no extra preparation or anesthesia is needed, says Leah Millheiser, MD, director of the Female Sexual Medicine Program at Stanford University. As for side effects, you might have a little spotting for a few hours or mild cramping, says Dr. Millheiser. Still, “you can go back to your regular routine immediately,” she adds.
Okay, so could it really be that simple? To find out, we asked five women to be totally candid and tell us what they felt and experienced when they had their IUD removed.
“It honestly feels kind of like taking out a big tampon”
Krystal, 35, a writer, had her first IUD (the copper kind, which does not contain hormones) for nearly eight years—until she and her husband decided to have kids. She also had a hormonal IUD for about two years after having her son. The side effects of the hormones were bothering her, so she wanted it taken out.
She says she wouldn’t describe the removal process for both IUDs as painful, but each time was definitely uncomfortable. The process was quick for both. “It honestly feels kind of like taking out a big tampon.” She did experience some cramping afterwards and the following day, but ibuprofen helped ease the cramps.
“It was much easier than insertion”
After giving up on birth control pills, the contraceptive shot, the ring, and the patch, 34-year-old Kole, a personal trainer, gave an IUD a try. She ended up using it for five years. Getting it in was quite painful, she says. But when she decided to have it taken out, she was surprised at how easy it was. “It was much easier than insertion,” she says.
Kole had a second IUD for only a year, after noticing it was causing severe mood swings (a possible side effect for hormonal IUDs). She had a few more cramps while getting the second one out, “but it was over quickly,” she says.
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“The removal was so quick, I almost missed it”
Jameca, a 43-year-old psychologist, opted for an IUD because she wanted a birth control method that she didn’t have to think about. She had one in for 10 years, and then used a second IUD in for a year before deciding to have it taken out because fibroids in her uterus where pushing on the device, causing pain. “The removal was quick! So quick I almost missed it!” she says, adding that she had some spotting for a few hours afterwards, but otherwise experienced no side effects.
“It felt like really bad cramps or contractions”
Looking for a low-risk, low-maintenance, and effective form of birth control after having kids, Alegra, 37, a nutrition coach, chose a hormonal IUD—which was supposed to help minimize Alegra’s heavy periods as well. She used the IUD for two years, but found herself in the small minority of women for which the device moved and became uncomfortable.
“I could actually feel the device, not just the string,” she says. Getting it out, though, was tough. A nurse in her gynecologist’s office tried several times but was not able to remove it, so the doctor was called in. “He had to pull very hard to get it out. It felt like really bad cramps or contractions,” she says. “I was a little sore afterward, but that went away in a day or so.”
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“It will take you longer to drive to the ob-gyn”
Looking for a reliable, low-maintenance type of birth control without side effects, 39-year-old Adreena, a marketing manager, but had her first IUD for six years before getting it removed to have her son in 2014. The removal was slightly uncomfortable, she says, but the whole process took less than five minutes. “Easy peasy. Quick and painless,” she explains. “It will take you longer to drive to the ob-gyn than getting the IUD inserted or removed."