IUDs are growing in popularity, and with good reason — they’re one of the most effective birth control methods out there. But there is still a small chance that pregnancy can happen while a woman is wearing one when the directions aren’t properly followed.
Now, one new mom is joking about her IUD “failure” in a Facebook post that went viral (the post has since been removed). Lucy Hellein posted a photo of her newborn son, Dexter, clutching the Mirena IUD that was meant to prevent her pregnancy. The caption said, “Mirena fail! Dexter Tyler, 27 April 2017 @ 0840 (His original due date was May 4th). He is 9 lbs 1 oz, 21.5 in.”
The Fort Mitchell, Ala., mom tells Metro that she had used IUDs in the past that “worked great” and had her most recent IUD inserted in August. Hellein found out she was pregnant in December and assumed she “was only a few weeks along.” However, an ultrasound revealed that she was 18 weeks pregnant.
“My Mirena was nowhere to be found on ultrasound so my OB assumed that it had fallen out,” Hellein says. “But I wasn’t convinced.” (During Hellein’s C-section, doctors discovered that her IUD was hidden behind the placenta.)
According to Planned Parenthood, an IUD — a tiny, T-shaped device inserted in the uterus by a physician to prevent pregnancy — is “almost mistake-proof” and is more than 99 percent effective. By comparison, birth control pills are about 91 percent effective in real-life circumstances. “The IUD is actually better contraception than getting your tubes tied,” G. Thomas Ruiz, MD, an ob-gyn at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, Calif., tells Yahoo Beauty. But IUDs can and do fail.
“It’s very rare, but I have seen it several times before,” Christine Greves, MD, a board-certified ob-gyn at the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies in Orlando, Fla., tells Yahoo Beauty.
Planned Parenthood warns that women might need to use a backup method of birth control until the IUD starts to work — a time frame that varies depending on the type of IUD women get and when it’s put in place — to prevent an unplanned pregnancy. A ParaGard copper IUD, for example, prevents pregnancy as soon as it’s in place, but Liletta, Mirena, Skyla, and Kyleena — all hormonal IUDs — only prevent pregnancy right away if they’re put in during the first seven days of a woman’s period. If a woman gets one of these IUDs at any other time during her cycle, the protection doesn’t start working until after seven days, which provides a window that can result in an unplanned pregnancy.
Because of that, Greves recommends that her patients use a backup method of protection for the first month, regardless of their IUD type, “just in case.”
Another risk factor for IUD failure is malposition, meaning the IUD isn’t in the right place. If an IUD is in the wrong place or moves, it won’t protect against pregnancy. However, a woman may have noticeably increased pain or bleeding if that’s the case, Greves points out.
If a woman becomes pregnant with an IUD in place, Michael Cackovic, MD, a maternal-fetal medicine physician at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells Yahoo Beauty that doctors must check first to make sure that the pregnancy is in the uterus and not the fallopian tubes (known as an ectopic pregnancy) — the latter of which is dangerous to a woman’s health if left undetected.
Women who conceive with an IUD in place have a greater risk of pregnancy complications such as miscarriage and preterm delivery, Cackovic says, noting that the miscarriage rate among women who conceive with an IUD in place is 50 percent. That’s why Greves says it’s recommended that doctors try to remove the IUD if it’s detected during a pregnancy, if possible. However, if it’s incorporated in the gestational sac, doctors need to be especially careful, she says.
It’s also not recommended that doctors try to remove the IUD after a woman is 12 weeks pregnant, Jessica Shepherd, MD, an assistant professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology and director of minimally invasive gynecology at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago, tells Yahoo Beauty. “The earlier the pregnancy is, the more likely you are to not disrupt the pregnancy,” Shepherd says. “If the pregnancy is further along, it can potentially disrupt it.”
But if a pregnant woman’s IUD is removed, she’s still at risk for complications. “Although the risk of adverse events is highest when the IUD is left in place, women who have the IUD removed still have an increased risk of adverse events throughout pregnancy, including preterm delivery, compared with women who conceived without an IUD,” Cackovic notes. However, he adds, there does not appear to be an increased risk of birth defects in pregnancies conceived and carried with an IUD in place.
Women who have an IUD and think that they’re pregnant are usually given an ultrasound to confirm the pregnancy and determine the location of the IUD, Shepherd says. “Sometimes the reason it failed might be because the IUD was on its way out,” she says. “If it’s right by the cervix, that makes it easier for us to take it out.”
While Hellein’s story is eye-opening, experts say you shouldn’t panic and assume you’re going to have an unintended pregnancy if you have an IUD. “It’s such a rare occurrence that you really shouldn’t worry about it,” Ruiz says.
For mom Hellein, finding out she was pregnant with Dexter was a happy surprise. “Although he wasn’t planned,” she told Metro, “my family and I feel incredibly blessed.”
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