Interest in intrauterine devices (IUDs), a form of long-acting reversible birth control, skyrocketed after the 2016 presidential election and has been growing steadily in recent years—but there is one common reason why some women remain apprehensive about the method: the fear of pain during insertion.
Like so much else with birth control, IUD placement experiences can vary widely from person to person. So HealthCentral asked women around the country to tell us about their personal experiences, from the nerves they felt beforehand to whether the pain was more or less than they expected. Here’s what they had to say.
“I was nervous, but I had researched and determined that an IUD was best for me. The doctor came in and then saw the applicator on my packaged IUD was broken. He showed me what was wrong with it, but all I can remember is feeling overcome with nerves. The doctor called in the nurse and had her get another Skyla from storage that was in good working condition. I lay down and felt my body tighten in anticipation of the discomfort. I focused on the ceiling instead of feeling the foreign objects moving around inside me. I wasn’t in pain, but I was ready to feel still and adjust to the feeling of this new part of me. It didn’t take long. Afterward, I went home to lie on the couch and felt cramps for the first time in my life.” - Hannah, 25
"My IUD is one of my favorite items in life and one I plan to never live without. The majority of my friends who shared their experiences with me told me the pain was bad, but only that of a severe period cramp, so I was pretty relaxed going into the procedure. The doctor walked me through what she was doing, and when she clamped down my cervix to hold it in place, I felt the worst pain of my life. The actual insertion of the sound (a measuring instrument) and IUD were two more sharp, inside-ripping pains that left me achy for about six hours. Afterward, the doctor handed me my card that stated I would need to schedule a visit to check on the IUD in 2019, five years away. I was elated until I realized that meant they had inserted the Mirena, a hormonal IUD, instead of the copper IUD I had requested. In the end, I’m very happy with the Mirena as I’ve stopped having periods. But it should be noted, that was some serious
“I’ve had a Mirena for two years and absolutely love it. People always talk about how much it hurts to be inserted, but literally it was a few seconds of unbearable pain and a few recovery days … then five years of not having to worry about anything! They are the most effective form of birth control and the easiest to comply with. The best form of birth control is the one that women will use as they are intended. IUDs make this super easy!” - Valerie, 26
“My doctor explained that my Mirena IUD insertion would hurt. She compared the pain to something akin to the worst pain I had experienced when cramping during my menstrual cycle. I’d have to say that was an accurate description of the pain factor. Definitely not pleasant, but considering it’s something you only endure for mere seconds relative to five years of birth control, I’d say it was well worth it. After the IUD was inserted, I never felt it. Every once in a while I would spot, but the only evidence of a period is the occasional cramp. It has been glorious. I have been so happy with my IUD experience, and my five years are up this spring, and it coincides nicely with my plans to have a baby.” - Kathie, 29
“NuvaRing worked well for me for eight years to treat my polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and I had no intentions of changing to anything else until my future insurance coverage was put into question. The best option for me was Mirena. My insertion happened during my consultation appointment as my doctor felt that my insurance situation was rather urgent. This meant I did not have time to get nervous or to take any painkillers before the procedure. My doctor showed me a video that visually walked through what was going to happen, and then she went over it with me again, and did so again throughout the insertion. I have a history of extremely painful periods, and I found the process to feel like the bad cramps I have had in the past. The procedure itself only lasted a few minutes, but my legs were shaking when it was over, and I found myself to be emotionally exhausted. The cramps continued constantly for me for two days, but heat and painkillers made them mostly manageable. While I did not originally want to get an IUD, I am empowered by the decision I made to take control of my reproductive health.” - Tessa, 26
“I went through a few hurdles with my insurance and got passed around to a few doctors before one was actually willing to do the procedure. Two of my friends had easy procedures, so I really didn’t think much of it when I went in for my appointment. I guess I didn’t take into consideration that everyone has a different pain tolerance because mine HURT. I was screaming so loud the doctor was terrified she’d done something wrong. This was all before the actual insertion of the Skyla IUD. This was just the part where they [measure the uterus]. The actual IUD insertion was incredibly painful. I screamed, I cried, and immediately wanted it out of my body. I called out of work for a week. I bled for three months straight but was assured it was normal. The pain subsided after about two weeks, and the excessive bleeding eventually stopped as well. Seven months later, my cycle is back to normal and I’m confident that there will be no ‘scares’ to interfere with my personal and financial choices.” - Mary, 23
“I went through Planned Parenthood, which was so amazing. I forgot to take ibuprofen before the procedure, so it was pretty painful. First they put a clamp on the cervix, and then they insert the IUD. The clamp just feels like a lot of pressure, but the insertion was pretty painful [with] pretty awful cramps. The actual procedure takes a really short time, but it felt like forever. I had intense cramping the rest of the day, as well as spotting. The cramping continued (but to a lesser extent) for about a week, but the spotting happened for like three months. I got the Mirena IUD, and after about six months I stopped getting my period entirely, which is amazing.” - Emily, 25
“Based on my first experience [in 2011], I was kind of horrified [to get my IUD replaced this year]. I was going into the second time being like, ‘I’m going to be in so much pain.’ I was mentally psyching myself out about the experience. I had everything prepared, I let my boss know that I might miss work — but it ended up being fine. It didn’t hurt when she put the IUD in, and it didn’t hurt afterward. I had literally no pain at all. I kind of felt like she didn’t even put it in! The experiences were so different. I don’t know why that is — maybe it’s because […] at this point, my body has gotten used to it. Now I feel even better about [the IUD] than I already did.” - Jessica, 25
“I got my Mirena IUD at Planned Parenthood and was impressed with the entire process. My doctor was extremely knowledgeable and was able to tell me with incredible accuracy what sensations I would feel, when, and for how long. There were a few light cramps and then an intense and painful one. However, her warning that about what I was about to feel meant I was prepared. Immediately afterward I had uncomfortable cramps, but my doctor told me they would fade away as I sat up, and she was spot on again. By the time I was getting dressed, they had faded completely and I felt fine. My doctor did mention that IUD insertion is her favorite procedure and that she had performed it thousands of times. I’m sure her extensive experience made the process a lot easier than it could have been. It’s been three months and I’ve had no adverse side effects.” - Stella, 26
“I went into the placement process prepared for the absolute worst after hearing such stories from friends who already had one inserted, and I think that’s why it didn’t hurt nearly as much as I thought it would. As my nerves ramped up, I kept taking deeper and deeper breaths and trying to relax, and I think that eased the process as well as the pain. The nurse practitioner who was inserting it was also very calm and soothing, and she explained every step of the process, alerting me to when I would feel pressure or a pinch or pain. I definitely don’t want to go through the process again, but it wasn’t as bad as I anticipated. I’m beyond happy with my IUD. I don’t ever have to think about taking a pill or changing a ring, and I’m all set for the next three years.” - Akanksha, 25
“I got it done around 1 p.m., and I definitely needed to take the rest of the afternoon off. The placement itself was definitely uncomfortable. It was not painful, but it was very uncomfortable, and then that discomfort persisted for the rest of the day. It very much feels like there’s a little metal thing exactly where it shouldn’t be, and then your body gets used to it being there and you don’t notice it anymore. But for that first day I definitely needed to take a bunch of ibuprofen, and I had a hot pad, and I just slept in my bed for the rest of the afternoon.” - Gabby, 26
Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Lara is a digital editor for HealthCentral. She is the site’s staff writer, Sexual Health editor, and email newsletter chief. Previously, she worked as the patient education editor at the American College of OB-GYNs, where she became obsessed with learning about women’s health, and as a news writer/editor at WTOP.com. Connect with her on Twitter @laradesanto.