The photo of a newborn baby holding an IUD may have been debunked as a fake image, but people are still talking about it — can an intrauterine device really fail and still result in a woman getting pregnant? According to a leading OB-GYN interviewed in a recent report, it is possible, though it can be extremely rare.
For those who still aren’t aware of the hubbub surrounding this viral photo, an Alabama woman named Lucy Hellein posted a photo of her baby boy Dexter Tyler, who was born on April 27 at a healthy weight (nine pounds, one ounce), but apparently while holding an IUD in his right hand. In the one week since the photo was posted, it’s gotten more than 1,400 likes, and a lot of comments from social media users believing the photo to be genuine. And that isn’t even considering the numerous publications that picked up the “baby holding IUD” story and reported it as news.
Earlier this week, Snopes did as it often does, running a fact-check on a story that sounds dubious at best. In its report, the publication noted that Lucy Hellein had never specifically said that baby Dexter was born holding an IUD. As it turns out, it was a “cheeky photograph” – a joke photo – that was taken after doctors had located the missing IUD when Hellein gave birth to Dexter via C-section.
In other words, the “baby holding IUD” image appears to have been staged. And while Hellein’s original Instagram post remains online, she seems to have taken down her “Mirena fail” Facebook post featuring the same image in question. But given the now-established fact that the IUD was originally missing, and later found behind the placenta, many are wondering whether it is possible for women to get pregnant with an IUD.
In an interview with Buzzfeed News, OB-GYN Dr. Jennifer Gunter explained that the IUD is an “incredibly effective” birth control tool, but that doesn’t mean women absolutely cannot get pregnant while using it. In fact, she stressed that there’s no such thing as a 100 percent effective form of birth control, though IUDs come very close, regardless of type.
Mirena, which is the type of IUD used by Lucy Hellein, is considered 99.8 percent effective for up to five years, with a failure rate of only 0.2 percent. A smaller variant called Skyla is 99.6 percent effective for up to three years, with its failure rate at 0.4 percent. Copper IUDs are 99.2 to 99.4 percent effective with a failure rate of 0.6 to 0.8 percent. The first two options are inserted into a woman’s uterus and provide birth control by releasing levonorgestrel, a form of progestin hormone.
Why do women like Lucy Hellein still get pregnant despite their IUD use? According to Gunter, there’s no specific reason why Hellein may have had a “Mirena fail,” due to a lack of research papers on the matter, though she did offer some speculative ideas on why Lucy got pregnant.
“We don’t know exactly why the IUD fails and some women still get pregnant. It could be that it shifted or moved somewhere in her uterus where it stopped working, or since the IUD works by changing the cervical mucus, maybe her partner’s sperm had some incredible strength and mucus-penetrating ability, who knows.”
Gunter also noted that Dexter Tyler, the now internet-famous “baby holding IUD,” may not experience any risks despite being exposed to the hormones released when the Mirena was left in place during his mother Lucy Hellein’s pregnancy.
“If the IUD is still in the uterus during pregnancy, that doesn’t mean the baby is bathing in hormones — it’s still contained in a sac and the IUD is outside,” Gunter told Buzzfeed News.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s own literature on IUDs backs up Gunter’s statements, listing IUDs as having the lowest failure rates in preventing pregnancy. Conversely, fertility awareness-based methods like the so-called “calendar” method, as well as spermicide, have the highest failure rates at 24 percent and 28 percent respectively.
[Featured Image by Anna Grigorjeva/Shutterstock]