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Contraception: All you need to know about the copper coil

The copper coil is one of the most popular forms of contraception, with millions of women worldwide. using one. However, for the uninitiated, the idea of having something inserted in your womb can feel a little daunting! In today’s blog post we’ll answer any questions you may have about the copper IUD. We’ll also talk about its wide-ranging benefits. so you can decide whether it’s the right contraceptive for you. 

So, what is a copper coil?

The copper coil is a long-acting method of contraception. It’s sometimes known as an IUD – Intrauterine device – a device that is put in your uterus. Some coils contain progesterone – these are known as IUS – Intrauterine systems. However the copper coil is totally hormone-free – so a good contraception option if you are trying to avoid extra hormones in your body. 

Many women also opt for the copper coil over the pill, as once its inserted they can forget about it! The copper coil can stop you getting pregnant for up to ten years. This means no having to remember to take a pill every day – a win in our eyes! The copper coil starts working as soon as it is inserted. This means it can also be used as an emergency contraceptive. It does this by producing an inflammatory response to the endometrium (lining of the womb) because there is a foreign body in the womb. 

What does it look like? 

Many people think the coil resembles a little anchor. It’s actually a small T shaped device which is made from plastic and copper. Sometimes they contain a bit of silver. They vary slightly in size depending on the brand your doctor uses. However, as a rough guide, it will usually be about just over 1 inch wide and 1.5 inches high – weighing less than 1 gram – so it’s pretty small.

How does the copper coil work? 

The copper within the coil changes the cervical mucus in your body. This makes it an Inhabitatable environment for sperm – meaning they struggle to get to the womb before dying (RIP little guys). The coil also stops an egg implanting, even if it does get fertilised. Implantation is a crucial part of the conception process, so even if a super determined sperm manages to get through, it’s shouldn’t be able to get you pregnant. When inserted correctly the copper coil is over 99% effective at protecting you from pregnancy. 


Can you feel the coil once it’s in place?

Once it is in place you can usually feel one or two thin threads inside the vagina. They won’t hang down like a tampon string, but you should be able to feel them if you put your finger inside your vagina. These strings are generally about two inches long and will soften over time. Some women are concerned that their partner will be able to feel the coil during sex, but at the very most they would feel these little strings. If you can’t feel your strings – don’t panic! Many women can’t feel their strings because they have become curled up in the cervix or have been cut too short. However, it could mean that the coil has moved or been pushed out, so use backup contraception and give your doctor a call if you are concerned. 

Where and how is the copper coil inserted? 

Only a specially trained doctor or nurse can fit the copper coil. Call your GP and make sure they offer them (most surgeries do) or attend your local sexual health or contraception clinic. As with all contraception in the UK, the copper coil is totally free. 

The idea of having a coil inserted sometimes puts women off. Whilst it can be slightly uncomfortable, it’s not as painful as you would think. The process is very similar to having a smear test. First, a speculum is inserted into your vagina – so far so smear test.  Your cervix would be opened enough so the device can be inserted inside your womb. This part can be uncomfortable a bit like period pain. However, the doctor or nurse can use a local anaesthetic to help and painkillers can be used if you’re experiencing any cramps after the procedure. You may also have some light bleeding once the coil is inserted – so it’s a good idea to take some sanitary wear with you – but definitely go for pads instead of tampons. 

In some cases, you may need two appointments  – if they need to examine you for infection or to check the position or size of your uterus first – but often they will be able to do it one session. 

What are the risks?

With any invasive procedure, there is a chance of getting an infection. Whilst this risk is pretty minor when having the coil fitted, an infection could develop within the first month. Keep an eye out for any symptoms – such as pain or fever – and make sure to contact your doctor if you’re feeling unwell. 

To minimise the risks, it is worth having an up to date sexual health screening beforehand. STIs can make you susceptible to infection. Remember, the coil doesn’t protect you from STIs, so having a full check-up ahead of your fitting is good practice anyway. 

It’s possible that your body could reject the coil and push it out – it is a foreign object after all. On some occasions, it can also damage the womb when inserted – however, both of these are pretty rare. You will normally have a follow-up appointment with your doctor or nurse to double-check everything is ok. If you have any concerns after you’ve had the coil fitted, never be afraid to ask.  One other thing I just want to note. Whilst the IUD is highly effective, if you do manage to fall pregnant, there is a risk of ectopic pregnancy. This is very unlikely to happen, but it’s worth noting to your doctor if you ever notice symptoms of ectopic pregnancy. 


What are the side effects?

The most common unwanted side effect from the coil is heavier periods. In the first 3 months after having your coil fitted your periods may be heavier, more painful or longer. This is the most common reason women have the copper coil removed. The bleeding and your periods usually settle down after this the first few months. If it doesn’t or you find the pain to intolerable, it might just mean the IUD isn’t right for you. 

As with most contraception, whilst the coil does a great job of protecting you against pregnancy, it doesn’t keep you safe from STIs. Remember to use a condom with any sexual partners, unless you have both been recently tested and are only sleeping with each other. 

What are the advantages of the copper coil?

We may have laid out all the risks of the copper coil, but there are lots of advantages too! The biggest plus is that once it’s in – it’s in. There isn’t the chance you could forget a pill, or break a condom. IUD is a great option if peace of mind is a high priority for you.

Just as the coil’s protection starts instantaneously, your fertility returns to normal as soon as it’s removed. The lack of hormones makes it ideal for women who have struggled with hormonal contraception in the past and it also means there are no contraindications with other medications.  The coil is also safe to use after having a baby and during breastfeeding, making it a good option for mothers. 


If you would like advice on the copper coil or any other contraceptives, join Adia for free today! You can ask questions to our panel of experts, including Liz. You’ll also gain access to guided meditations, nutrition plans and at-home hormone tests. 


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