What is a tubal ligation?
Tubal ligation is a permanent form of female surgical contraception. If you have a tubal ligation, you will have surgery during which your fallopian tubes are clipped, cut and tied or sealed shut. This prevents any eggs from moving from the ovaries along the tube to the uterus, preventing fertilisation and pregnancy.
Also known as laparoscopic sterilisation, tubal ligation is very effective. Less than 1 woman in every hundred who has a tubal ligation will become pregnant later.
What are the benefits of tubal ligation surgery?
The main benefit of tubal ligation is that neither you nor your partner should need to use another method of contraception.
What does the operation involve?
If you have a tubal ligation, you will need to have a general anaesthetic. The operation is usually done using keyhole surgery known as laparoscopy. It is normally a day procedure, although an overnight stay in hospital may be possible. The operation usually takes about 20 minutes.
One or two tiny incisions are made in the lower abdomen and a small camera called a laparoscope is inserted so that the fallopian tubes can be seen. The tubes are then closed off by clips or sealed by heat.
Some women might need another form of operation known as a laparotomy, which involves a larger incision in the abdomen and several days’ stay in hospital.
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What are the risks and complications of tubal ligation?
After a tubal ligation, most women need a few days to recover from the anaesthetic. Some women have pain in their shoulders, and some have minor abdominal discomfort immediately after the procedure.
The general side effects and complications of any operation include:
- a reaction to the anaesthetic, such as feeling or being sick
- infection at the site of the surgery
- unsightly scarring of the skin
- development of a hernia in the scar
- a blood clot in the leg
- a blood clot in the lung
Specific complications of a tubal ligation procedure include:
- damage to structures such as the bowel, bladder or blood vessels
- making a hole in the womb or cervix
- failure of the procedure, leading to pregnancy or an ectopic pregnancy
- infection of the fallopian tubes or bladder
Can tubal ligation be reversed?
It is sometimes possible to repair the fallopian tubes after tubal ligation, but only half of all women who have a reversal procedure fall pregnant. The risk of ectopic pregnancy after a reversal also increases.
If you are thinking about a tubal ligation, talk about the risks and benefits with your partner and your doctor. The procedure is meant to be permanent, although it doesn’t stop you having in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) and other forms of assisted reproduction later on.
You should have a tubal ligation only if you’re absolutely sure you don’t want any more children. If you're not sure, you may regret the decision later in life.
What are the alternatives to tubal ligation?
There are many alternatives to permanent female sterilisation, including:
- permanent male sterilisation — vasectomy
- long-acting reversible contraception such as a coil, intrauterine device (IUD) or contraceptive implants in the skin of the arm
- short-acting reversible types of contraception, such as birth control pills, patches or vaginal rings, condoms, the diaphragm, a cervical cap or regular contraceptive injections
The only safe, non-permanent method of male contraception is to use a condom, but the risk of failure is higher.
How soon will I recover?
If you are having a tubal ligation you should be able to go home the same day.
Rest for 1 to 2 days after the operation and take pain relief, such as paracetamol, if you need to.
After a week it is usually safe to resume regular exercise, and this will help in your recovery. Check with your doctor first.
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Last reviewed: April 2018