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What Are the Risks of an IUD Pregnancy?

by
author image Susan T. McClure
In 20 years as a biologist, Susan T. McClure has contributed articles to scientific journals such as "Nature Genetics" and "American Journal of Physiology." She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Maryland. She enjoys educating people about science and the challenge of making complex information accessible.
What Are the Risks of an IUD Pregnancy?
Close up on a woman's pregnant stomach as a doctor listens with a stethoscope. Photo Credit Comstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Intrauterine devices (IUDs) are extremely effective for birth control. A woman who uses an IUD has less than a 1 percent chance of getting pregnant in a year, according to Planned Parenthood. However, when pregnancy does happen despite using an IUD, there can be serious complications to the pregnancy and risks to the mother and the fetus.

Risks

When a woman is pregnant with an IUD in place, the likelihood of a miscarriage, vaginal bleeding, placental abruption, which is a separation of the placenta from the uterus before delivery, or premature delivery increase. According to Dr. Sun Kwon Kim and colleagues in the January 2010 issue of Journal of Perinatal Medicine, at least some of these outcomes result from uterine infections that occur more frequently in pregnant women with IUDs. Women who become pregnant while using an IUD also have a greater risk for an ectopic or tubal pregnancy, a potentially life-threatening complication. Dr. Kim’s study concluded that pregnant women with an IUD “are at very high risk for adverse pregnancy outcomes.”

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Statistics

In Dr. Kim’s study of 196 pregnant women with IUDs, 56 percent had a premature baby compared to only 21 percent of the control group, or women pregnant without an IUD. On average, women with an IUD gave birth at 28.5 weeks. Women with an IUD were three times more likely to have a placental abruption. In this study, miscarriages after 12 weeks of pregnancy occurred in 16 percent of women with an IUD, compared to only 1 percent of control women. According to Military Obstetrics and Gynecology, 5 percent of IUD pregnancies implant ectopically outside the uterus, compared to 1 percent of pregnancies without an IUD.

Time Frame

Dr. Kim’s study included women who retained their IUD throughout pregnancy. Military Obstetrics and Gynecology says that early miscarriages occur in half of all women who become pregnant while using an IUD, but the rate drops to 25 percent if a doctor removes the IUD immediately after confirming pregnancy. Planned Parenthood counsels women to have their IUDs removed as soon as they know they are pregnant to lower their risks of serious complications.

Warning

The Mirena IUD releases a synthetic hormone called levonorgestrel, similar to the naturally occurring hormone progesterone. This synthetic hormone is often used in birth control pills as well. If a pregnancy occurs while a woman is using the Mirena IUD, the embryo will be directly exposed to levonorgestrel as long as the IUD remains in place. The long-term effects of such exposure on the health of the baby are not known, according to Contracept.org.

IUD Removal

Immediate removal of an IUD by a health care provider during early pregnancy is usually straightforward and simple, according to Military Obstetrics and Gynecology. As pregnancy progresses, the removal strings that hang down from the IUD can retract up into the uterus, complicating removal. Contracept.org says that removing an IUD can cause a miscarriage, but retaining the IUD also increases the risk for miscarriage and other complications.

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References

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