A long lasting birth control option, IUDs can remain inside your body for anywhere between 3 and 10 years, depending on the type.
But when time’s up, that sucker has to come out! Ditto goes if you decide you want to get pregnant.
IUD removal is usually easy-freaking-peasy. Typically, a healthcare provider just pulls on the string that hangs from the device, the “T” arms fold in, and the little bugger comes out.
Given that, you may be wondering if it’s OK to remove the device on your own at home.
The short answer: It’s best to have your IUD removed by a healthcare provider.
As Kimberly Langdon, an OB-GYN and medical adviser at telehealth provider Medzino puts it, “IUD removal is a medical procedure.”
But if that’s not feasible, at-home removal can be an option.
PSA: It’s possible to get your IUD removed for free or low cost, and by an affirming provider. And that stands even if your IUD insertion was costly or done by a provider who was not (ugh — sorry, loves) affirming.
To find an affordable and affirming provider, check out your local:
- Planned Parenthood
- nonprofit health clinic
- college healthcare center
That said, if getting to a provider isn’t possible because you can’t afford the removal or child care for when you’re at the appointment, or some other reason, there are safe and less safe ways to remove the IUD at home.
We’ll walk you through how to do it as safely as possible below.
Just know before going into it that should a complication occur, you’re going to have to get to a doctor ASAP.
Quick refresher: The IUD is a T-shaped device (about the size of a quarter) that gets inserted into the uterus through the cervix.
The cervix is known as the anatomical stopping point of the vagina. It’s what you or your partner bumps up against when it feels like you’re as deep as can be during sex.
It’s also as far back as you’ll need to reach to grab the IUD string that’s attached.
If you’re squeamish about reaching that far back, you may consider asking a trusted friend or partner to lend a hand.
Due to the angle of entry, their hand will likely be able to reach further into your vagina than you’d be able to.
Yes, you’ll need a set of hands.
But you’ll also probably want:
- nail clippers and a nail file to trim and smooth nails before removal
- ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) to take 30 to 60 minutes beforehand to reduce pain and cramping
- a towel or blanket to sit or lie on
- a hand mirror — or TBH, a phone with front-facing camera — you can use to see better
If your pal or partner is the one doing the removal, you’ll also probably want nitrile gloves, ring forceps, or both, which can help The Remover do said removal.
When the IUD is safely out, you’ll probably want some downtime.
So, be sure to have some comfy clothes, blankets and pillows, and your fave book or TV show within reach. Oh, and you’ll probably want some additional ibuprofen, water, and snacks, and a heating pad, too.
If there’s anything that living through a pandemic has taught you, hopefully it’s how to wash your hands. Welp, time to draw on that new skill set, babes!
Wash your hands with warm water and fragrance-free soap. Keep on washing them until you’ve finished singing “Happy Birthday.” K?
Fail to wash your hands correctly and you could introduce bacteria to your bits that disrupt your pH, which could lead to:
When your hands are dry, slip those nitrile gloves on.
You’ve got two options: reclined or standing.
Which you choose will depend on a variety of factors, such as:
- your leg strength
- your back and core flexibility
- your personal comfort
- whether you or someone you trust will be doing the removal
Lie on your back. If you’re going to be removing the device yourself, pop your firmest pillow under your hips. This will bring your vaginal opening closer to your hands.
(Even better: Use a sex wedge, which will be even firmer than your sleeping pillow.)
Next, spread your knees wide and tuck them in toward your belly, suggests Langdon.
From a standing position, prop one of your feet on a tub ledge or toilet. Then “take a stance similar to the one you’d usually use to insert a tampon,” Langdon says.
Once you get into position, you’re going to bare down, which is going to bring your cervix (and uterus) closer to the vaginal opening.
To bare down, think about pushing a fart out of your vagina. Seriously, it works.
When your provider first inserted the IUD, they likely left 1 to 2 inches of string hanging for the purposes of removal, explains Kecia Gaither, MD, who’s double board certified in OB-GYN and maternal fetal medicine, and the director of perinatal services at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln.
You’re going to pull this string straight down in one fluid motion when you find it.
Ready to go fishing? Slide one finger into your vagina and see if you can feel the string.
“The string is very, very thin. It’s not like a tampon string,” Langdon says. So don’t be discouraged if it takes you a minute to locate.
Really can’t find the string? Stop.
IUD strings can sometimes work their way up to the uterus. If this happens, removal must be done by a healthcare provider.
While rare, a missing IUD string could also be a sign of a larger issue like expulsion or perforation.
Once you find it, slide your forefinger and middle finger together and pinch the string between them. Pull straight down.
IUDs are supposed to come out pretty darn easily. If it’s not, something could be wrong.
The IUD, for example, could have become embedded into the uterus tissue or traveled outside of where it was initially planted, says Felice Gersh, MD, author of “PCOS SOS: A Gynecologist’s Lifeline to Naturally Restore Your Rhythms, Hormones, and Happiness.”
“The doctor will know exactly how to navigate these slight complications, but you at home can’t,” she says.
If you try to, you risk really injuring yourself. You could tear or puncture the uterus, says Langdon.
“This could result in scarring and make an infection, such a pelvic inflammatory disease, more likely to occur,” Langdon says.
An orgasm may make removal easier
Orgasms can cause muscle contractions in the pelvic floor. Those contractions may help the uterus “release” the IUD more easily.
Where you are in your cycle matters
The cervix naturally opens slightly during ovulation and menstruation. Removing the device during these moments in your cycle may be easier.
Just note: “As soon as the IUD is removed, pregnancy is possible,” Gersh says.
So, if you’re going to have P-in-V intercourse and don’t want to get pregnant, avoid removing the device around ovulation, which is when pregnancy is most likely.
Pull the IUD right out
As the IUD passes out of the uterus and into the cervix, you may experience cramping.
Expect that! Don’t be alarmed by it.
Instead, keep pulling the device out. Slight cramping isn’t a sign that something is wrong.
Congrats! Your uterus is free! But before you junk the little bugger, though, look at it.
Like, really look at it.
Are all the parts still there? Google the brand of device you have and compare your IUD to pictures to make sure.
It’s possible for a part of the IUD to snap off and remain in the body, says Huong Nghiem-Eilbeck, MD, MPH, a provider at Pandia Health and board certified OB-GYN in Los Angeles, California.
If it looks like part of it is missing, seek care immediately
“Save all of the parts of the IUD that did come out in a baggie and then come in for an evaluation by a doctor,” Nghiem-Eilbeck says.
The missing pieces can get embedded into the uterus — or travel elsewhere in the reproductive tract — causing things like discomfort, scarring, or even internal bleeding.
“Very mild discomfort, mild cramping, and maybe some spotting are normal symptoms after removal,” Nghiem-Eilbeck says. Typically, these last a few hours.
If you do experience cramping, Gaither says another dose of an NSAID like ibuprofen should be enough to relieve the pain.
If you need new contraception
Without a prescription, you can easily get and start using:
- internal condoms
- external condoms
If you’re looking to avoid a doctor’s office, you can still get access to certain prescription birth control options like the pill, patch, or ring via telemedicine companies.
“Any persistent discomfort, uncomfortable symptoms, fever, or changes in your discharge aren’t normal,” Nghiem-Eilbeck says.
If you experience these symptoms, avoid penetrative sex and see a doctor ASAP.
It’s best to go to a medical professional to get your IUD removed if at all possible.
But as Nghiem-Eilbeck says, “While typically not advised, self-removal is something that can be done, so long as the patient can learn how and reach the device.”
Gabrielle Kassel (she/her) is a queer sex educator and wellness journalist who is committed to helping people feel the best they can in their bodies. In addition to Healthline, her work has appeared in publications such as Shape, Cosmopolitan, Well+Good, Health, Self, Women’s Health, Greatist, and more! In her free time, Gabrielle can be found coaching CrossFit, reviewing pleasure products, hiking with her border collie, or recording episodes of the podcast she co-hosts called Bad In Bed. Follow her on Instagram @Gabriellekassel.