science of us

8 Ways to Make Your IUD Insertion Less Terrifying

Photo: Lalocracio/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Deciding to get an IUD can be overwhelming and intimidating: there are many factors to consider, including what kind might work best for your needs. And although IUDs are the most effective form of birth control available today, they haven’t always been popular — not least of all because some women find the insertion process painful and scary.

While the Mayo Clinic compares the pain of insertion to “mild cramping” — so described because, as in menstruation, the cervix has been opened, thereby causing cramping —  research has suggested that medical providers may underestimate the pain experienced by patients undergoing IUD insertion. Planned Parenthood acknowledges that the pain experienced may vary (depending on factors like pain tolerance, and how severe your period cramps are generally), but emphasizes that the process is quick, typically taking fewer than five minutes.

But once you’ve decided to get an IUD, there are things you can do to make the process more tolerable (and less frightening) for yourself — some of which you might not hear from your nurse or doctor. (Mayo, for instance, mentions only that “some women” might choose to take ibuprofen or acetaminophen before the procedure.) Here are some of the best tips we gathered from women who’ve had IUDs themselves, or who’ve picked up a few best practices from their own friends.

“Ask for conscious sedation at an appointment PRIOR to your insertion.” —Nicole

“Back in college I was going to get one and I decided I wanted to have a little dinner/party called an “IUDarty” like the opposite of a baby shower because we celebrate women’s reproductive choices like weddings, baby showers, etc. and so I thought it could be fun! I had a bunch of friends coming, but then Trump got elected and some of the women invited had voted for him, so I cancelled it. I ended up not getting an IUD, but I think the concept of having a little party or gathering would be fun especially if you’re nervous for it.” —Hannah

“I did LITERALLY nothing right but I have an anti-tip: I smoked a lot of weed for pain management, without realizing that my hormones would be fucked with in a way they never had been before, so I added paranoia to my sudden onset suicidal ideation. Don’t do that!” —Meredith

“My doctor told me I’d be fine just taking some ibuprofen beforehand but I regret not pushing back!! If you can, advocate for a pain med prescription.” —Shannon

“My tip is: Don’t plan to go to work or do anything besides sit on a couch after the appointment, and do take a car or ask a friend to give you a ride home, because I thought I was totally fine when I walked out of the doctor’s office and then got such awful cramps on the way home that I really thought I was going to pass out on the subway!” —Rachel

“I loved the woman who inserted my IUD, but I wish I had been offered more than just local anesthesia because it did NOT kick in soon enough, in my experience. I guess the best I can offer if you’re in the same position as me is to practice some deep yoga breathing beforehand so you’re prepared when/if painkillers don’t kick in.

My biggest tip to my friends is to call the office and ask specifically for painkillers for your IUD insertion. It can mean an extra trip to the pharmacy, but I’m envious of all the friends who’ve had the foresight to do better than me. Also, keep some post-procedure painkillers around because it’s essentially period cramps, which we can all agree fucking suck.” —Caitlin

“I was shocked and annoyed to learn that because they like to put the Mirena in when you’re actively menstruating you’ll need to use pads for a few days — apparently you’re not supposed to use a tampon for a little bit after (which is reasonable, but also ……….).” —Kaela

“I had a pretty easy IUD experience. I’d heard such horror stories, and I got it in my head that the insertion pain was from feeling the IUD go into your cervix. But it’s not — it’s just really bad cramps. I also had, for a few hours afterward, this vague feeling like something was wrong — I think my body knew there was a foreign object in it. So the best preparation for me would be to know what to expect: bad cramps and feeling out of it. I had a relatively easy insertion — my doctor used an ultrasound to guide herself — and I’ve had really awful cramps in the past, so the pain wasn’t extraordinary for me.

“So my advice would be to be ready to do for yourself whatever helps with awful cramps. For me, that’s a heating pad, loose clothes, and clearing my schedule. Definitely for the rest of the day after the insertion, it would be ideal to be able to hang out on the couch and just chill. Not even because you’ll be in excruciating pain, but because you’ve just done such a weird little thing to your body, and it feels nice to give it a break. If you have to be out and about, or at work, I love the disposable heating pads that you stick into the inside of your underwear. (The brand is Thermacare. Generic drug-store versions of this product are crap, DO NOT BUY THEM.)” —Jaime

8 Ways to Make Your IUD Insertion Less Terrifying