Intrauterine Devices (IUDs): A Brief History In Birth Control

An intrauterine device, often called IUD, is a type of birth control that is put directly into a woman's uterus by a trained healthcare professional. It's very small, and usually shaped like a T.

​IUDs are more than 99% effective in preventing pregnancy and women who use them say they are very satisfied. For these reasons, it's gaining popularity after several bumpy decades.

Birth Control And IUDs Have Been Around For A Long Time

Birth control is an old idea. Condoms have been used since ancient times primarily to prevent sexually transmitted disease. But as a birth control method, it requires the man to use it the right way. Most women prefer to take control over their fertility.

Women in ancient Egypt put small round objects called pessaries they made from acacia tree gum into their uteruses. This was a great idea: the gum was soft, easy to shape, and has natural acids to kill sperm.

​In the late 1800s, pessaries were introduced that were made from glass and precious metals--some even from gold! Most were shaped like mushrooms or wishbones and were pushed up the vagina and anchored in place in front of the cervix.

​By the 1930s, sympathetic doctors created the early types of IUDs from silk and wire. One of these doctors, Ernst Gräfenberg, is credited with identifying the "G-spot" that bears his initial.

Contraceptives Took Off After World War II

World War II interrupted a lot of innovation in the US. When it ended, American creativity took off in many areas: computers, household innovations like refrigerators and washing machines, televisions--and birth control.

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    Dr. Jack Lippes, an ob-gyn from Buffalo, NY, created the "Lippes Loop," an IUD made from plastic wire that expanded into a snake-like shape once it was placed in the uterus. It was released in 1962 and became the best-selling IUD in the country. However, it didn't have an effective agent to kill sperm (spermicide).
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    In 1969, Chilean doctor Jaime Zipper took an idea from farmers who used copper to protect their apples and peaches from disease and wrapped IUDs with copper wiring. This reduced pregnancy by 95%!
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    The Dalkon Shield, a plastic disc with little fingers that stuck out to anchor it to the uterus, was introduced in 1972. Unfortunately, the design allowed bacteria from the vagina to get into the uterus and caused thousands of cases of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Eighteen women died from Dalkon-related PID and it was taken off the market.

Although most Dalkon users were unharmed, birth control research turned away from IUDs.

The Return Of The IUD

Other birth control methods weren't universally popular. Not all women tolerate birth control pills well many suffer from irritation from spermicides used with contraceptives like the diaphragm and sponge. It took about 25 years, but IUDs finally began to make a comeback. 

Today, there are several on the market. They are used for birth control and to reduce heavy periods. Here is a list from The Cut:

  • Hormone-free ParaGard
  • Mirena for women with heavy periods, and its low-cost alternative Liletta
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  • Lylena for women who want long-term birth control

These IUDs thicken the mucus in the cervix to prevent sperm from attaching to an egg. Some have spermicides or hormones as a backup as well. One interesting fact: while 12% of women who use birth control choose an IUD, it's the choice for more than 40% of women doctors!

Kimberly Dougherty Bio:

Kimberly Dougherty, Esq is a Partner and the Managing Attorney at the Boston office of Janet, Jenner & Suggs, which is a national plaintiffs’ law firm and a sponsor of Kim has taken on a number of large corporate defendants in her career, handling multiple lawsuits involving dangerous prescription drugs and medical devices. She is also the President for the Massachusetts Women’s Bar Association.

Kristi Cathey

Hi everyone! My name is Kristi Cathey and I’m glad you found your way to my blog. I am a mother of 3 beautiful angels. This blog was created in order to share my personal experiences in baby care and general health care for pregnant women. If you'd like to get in touch with me, please contact me by sending me an email via Welcome to

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